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Archive for March 15th, 2011

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.

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Sometimes I get incensed as I stare at the tattered remains of my brilliant career, clutching weakly at the frayed fringes of what I like to think I once had or might have been, before I moved far away from home to be with a man simply because I loved him. Would he have done the same? Well, he didn’t, which perhaps says enough.

Anyway.

I like to think I helped him with his destiny, but some days I feel I put my own destiny in a box in a cupboard then moved continents and forget it was there. It’s easy enough to do when you’re a woman in love, when there are children, when your salary is a pittance compared to his, but still, perhaps I left part of myself behind somewhere.

Or did I?
Do any of us have a destiny or do we just get lucky? Or unlucky?

My brilliant career such as it was — half-witted, half-hearted, half-baked, half-arsed, two-thirds fantasy even – seemed to die, but then so had so many careers before. I was a nurse briefly but loathed the polyester uniform and the broad, flat-footed lecturers with their pep-talks about avoiding intern doctors and their advances.  

I was a waitress and a barmaid, a bank clerk and a check-out girl, and I can do the twirly wrist thing that makes a fabulous peak on softserve ice-cream, thanks to my tenure in a dairy parlour called Milky Lane.

I was a journalist for many years, still am, I hope, and I had a great gig on a daily paper in South Africa, but, like I said, love got in the way. Or that’s my excuse. Maybe I got tired. Maybe I got lazy.

I’ve written three books, although I suppose they’re nothing more than manuscripts really, blinking computer files that no publisher wanted, yet still they taunt me every day on my hard drive.

And once, for a moment in time, I was even a poet…

I was 19 and working near Johannesburg at what was then Beecham, the Aquafresh people, and I was the bored receptionist living on a diet of Smarties, magazines and desperate snatched conversations with people who walked through my little prison, where I sat shut away from the company on the wrong side of the glass security doors. In my sunless brick box, passing sales reps felt like serendipity, their cheap Golfs were chariots to a better place. Anyway, no doubt tiring of me yawning at the visitors, the personnel department agreed to give me extra work, and so I was charged with sending the photocopied rejection letters to the countless, faceless people who applied for non-existent jobs in our factory. Remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where poor Charlie’s dad spends his days screwing the lids on toothpaste tubes? It’s bizarre to think how many people were queuing up to take his place. And we had a machine for screwing the lids on anyway.

So I’d address the standard rejection, scrawl a signature, lick the envelope shut, stick a stamp on it and crush someone else’s dreams, hundreds and hundreds of them each day. But one morning a grubby letter arrived with no return address, hand-printed on a torn sheet of paper, with just a plea to meet the writer at the factory gate, to give him work please, to give him a job.

The man was called Marais Qulu, of No Known Address, County Homeless. I showed it to the HR person, begged him to try to find the man.

“Jennie,” he said, “Do you know how many people queue outside the factory gates every day?”
The question was rhetorical.

I wrote a poem about it, or rather a terrible attempt at one, but still 21 years later I remember it by heart and, soaking in my cesspit of self-pity of late, it came back to me like a slap from my younger self.

Thousands queue for 200 jobs offered in Durban, South Africa. (Picture: Reuters)

It’s called “The Aims of a Job”:

Here I sit
fat as shit,
got a job
Grinning a bit.
Mister Marais Qulu
(he’s a Zulu)
has no job,
like you and I do:
“There is nothing food.
I am write this letter to you
with the aims of a job.

The writing is just as terrible as I recall, I don’t know if he was Zulu at all, but in the current world climate (lashing rain, with more expected) it’s just as apt. And as Japan is shaken and washed away, as people lose their homes, offices, possessions, security, children, their very lives just because the world doesn’t play fair, as they scramble for food, for fresh water, for warmth, I know how lucky I am that I can afford to stare out of the window, that I have the full tummy and the spare time to lament my battered dreams. A room of one’s own? My God, I have several.

Marais Qulu: in hope, I googled his name. No results were found.

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