Personal Account #6231

As part of the Irish Left Archive project, we are gathering personal accounts and recollections from activists on the Left of their involvement in political activity, parties, organisation and campaigns.

We hope that in addition to the document archive, these accounts will provide a social context to political participation. If you are or have been involved in Left political activity of any kind or at any level, we'd be grateful if you would also add your experience to the collection. You can submit your account here

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Camilla Fitzsimons #6231

Hi, my name is Camilla. I grew up in a middle-class part of Dublin and first became politically aware in my late teens/early twenties when I worked as a nurse. One particular catalyst was when I specialised in HIV/AIDS care and saw class prejudices regularly displayed by many middle-class healthcare professionals. My strong feminist identity was influenced by my mother’s life. She married at 23, had to give up work because of the marriage bar and then raised nine children whilst financially dependent on her husband in a highly patriarchal family.

I started going to protests and marches in my mid-twenties then joined the SWP around 1997. This was a hugely politicising time in my life. I remember long conversations with other new members, picket-lines (nurses strike, housing actions), paper sales, travelling to Belfast for a meeting to mark 5 years since the death of Stephen Lawrence, Marxisms’ in Dublin and London, branch meetings (I was a member in Rathmines then moved to the northside so a member of a tiny phibsboro/cabra branch). One thing that I got from the party and that is underreported including in your podcast is the role and impact of some of the women involved. I was hugely influenced by Mary and Brid Smith, Mary, Roisin and Crea Ryder, Melissa Halpin, Jo Tully, Marnie Holborow and others who were around Dublin at the time. I learned about the case for abortion and unpacked the many problems with liberal feminism. I still have a huge amount of respect for these women and stay in touch with many of them. I left the SWP in 2000, I slipped away coinciding with the birth of my first child.

But I was finding it difficult to be in the party for three reasons:

There was also a disconnect between the culture of the party and what I was experiencing in my paid work. By then I had left nursing and retrained in adult education and was working for a community development project. I set up an education group for women who were ex-drug users thanks to money from a Local Drugs Task Force. This was a deliberately politicising space influenced by the ideas of Paulo Freire meaning groups always sat in circles, everyone could speak and we worked hard to lateralise power-dynamics. This wasn’t my experience in the SWP (or other political spaces since then) where people sit in rows, the speaker is positioned as the ‘expert’ and only after they speak are there questions/comments. There is never small group work and rarely authentic expressions of uncertainty. Even to this day discussions are the bits that get cut short, open forums are dominated by mostly men who stand and give long monologues and there is a sense for ordinary members that policy is something decided elsewhere not by the collective.

The next period of my own activism was as an original member of the organising committee of the The Spectacle of Defiance and Hope’ (2010-2014). We were a broad-based creative resistance movement that used theatre and art to fight savage budgetary cuts to the community and voluntary sector. Here are YouTube links to two of our marches:

As a volunteer with the spectacle I was centrally involved in designing and delivering politicising workshops about the Anglo-Irish bail out and subsequent austerity cuts. This was a collaboration with DDCI and together we ran workshops with trade unionists, community leaders and the general public. I subsequently volunteered on the board of DDCI for 3 years. The spectacle was a democratic space and huge amount of work was put into it. We paired with other groups along the way including working closely with Occupy Dame Street at one stage and then being active in the water charges movement. One of my favourite memories is of singing one of the songs we wrote on stage at the end of the water charges march on Merrion Square. However, I have found in recent years that the story of this movement is often told as the story of some of the charismatic male leaders to the detriment of huge amounts of work put in by ordinary people in communities across Dublin and the women who were also centrally involved in organising the events.

In 2013, I began marching for abortion rights and designed consciousness-raising workshops for the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC). In 2017, I got involved with my local pro-choice group Dublin-West Pro-choice and canvassed to repeal the eighth amendment. I also started to actively support ROSA around that time.

Probably the biggest think I am known for is my book on repeal (). This is based on a study I began in 2018 when I made direct contact with over 300 canvassers before the referendum to repeal the eighth. Some raw data from this work is now archived with Digital Repository Ireland. I re-joined ARC in 2020 but left in 2022 because of political differences.

I am not part of a political organisation now although I do at times work with both PbP and ROSA/Socialist party. I have written for the IMR (as recently as last month’s publication) and have spoken at meetings and demonstrations. I also canvass for Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist party as she is in my constituency. I spent a good few evenings before Christmas delivering leaflets (on my own) to hundreds of doors in my neighbourhood supporting her work.

I am a full-time academic now and a branch member of my trade union. I recently convened ‘academics for reproductive justice’. I still sometimes think about joining a political party but the way these groups are organised (top-down, anti-dialogic) is too much of a barrier for me so instead I contribute through the research I do which is my way of documenting left-wing activism in real time. My current project is on radical feminist activism. I am interviewing 20-25 other activists as part of this as well as gathering stories from 50 ordinary activists.