Rosaleen Mc Donagh writes about her political inspiration.
When I am stuck and lost and confused, trying to work out what it is I’m achieving by running for the Seanad; I stop, think and look for a reference point. I find her, even as I grow older and corners get tighter. She’s still there. Encouraging me. Supporting me and saying ‘Give it one more shot.’ It’s Rosa Parks. The African American woman who gave credence to the Civil Rights Movement and to the Anti Racism Movement in the 1960’s. While the boys were out shouting and roaring and trying to change the world in a public way, Rosa, a little woman in her early forties, with no education, was changing people’s lives. Being asked to sit at the back of the bus because of segregated public transport policies was one thing, but being asked to get up off her seat for a white privileged able bodied man was something else. Her resistance was strong but peaceful. She just had enough. Her comrades, the boys, who were shouting for equal rights for black people very often forgot those equal rights needed to be stretched to black and marginalized women also.
I’m not Rosa, but when I decided to give the Seanad one more go, I asked her was I being foolish putting myself out there, not just against big party political candidates, but also lawyers , barristers and medicine men. I asked Rosa what do I do when the media start criticising the way I talk, the way I use my wheelchair or when I get really passionate about Traveller identity and the lack of respect given to my people in this country of ours. Like many a time before, Rosa just said, ‘Do it. For if you don’t do it, you allow them to silence you, ignore you, but mostly by not running, you allow them to take your dignity.’
The problem is Rosa Parks’ voice fades in and out. As a Traveller woman with a disability, I look around me and I see very little, if any, people like me in public life. Not just in politics, but in business and indeed in the arts. Some might argue we’re a small percentage in the population. Others would suggest it’s due to endemic systematic discriminatory practices. I think it’s a bit of everything. Putting yourself out there to be poked at and made fun of, to have your ethnicity ridiculed takes a lot out of a person. In my world, there is no big fat gypsy weddings. There are people with no water. No sanitation. Very little educational possibility or attainment. There are huge levels of suicide among our young men. Women’s roles are still quite narrowly defined. That’s how it is. That’s the life I know. Always being subservient to settled identity.
Being an independent candidate, I’m not bound by party politics. I won’t be told what to do or have to tow a line. I’ll have respect for a reformed Seanad and not just see it as an alternative option. Lastly, the great thing about being independent is my voice is my own. That voice is strong and determined. Just like Rosa Parks when she said, ‘No. No. No.’
Rosaleen McDonagh is an activist, advocate of Traveller, disability and LGBT rights and writer who is running as a Seanad candidate for Dublin University (Trinity College Dublin). You can find out more about Rosaleen and her campaign here.