Ry is a force of nature. From the first time we met, their infectious energy and their unwillingness to compromise on the fundamental needs of their community contaminated a proverbial room that was once reserved for apathy. Walking with them around Derry and Belfast, with or without the poster, means stopping so they can have a wee chat with local young people that never fail to recognize them, and engage them about their activities. Ry was the recipient of the 2021 Helen Harris award for service to the LGBTQIA community, after single-handedly managing a mutual aid fund for marginalized communities in Derry in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Identifying as anarchist communist, and fueled by the need to give and receive love in spaces that see way too little, if at all, sitting down with Ry feels like re-reading a bell hooks essay and seeing it translated into one tiny package of a human. Eternally generous, unfalteringly angry, Ry oozes the need for change. It felt only natural to let them with the poster, and explain why it won't always be like this.
"Derry is my home, where I’ve put down roots like an oak tree. I left in my teens for a bigger city only to learn for myself that Britain can be a draining place for an Irish person. Especially a queer trans Irish person of colour. It wasn’t until I returned in my twenties to raise my son here that I started to put the work in to making Derry a more progressive place. This town has shown me camaraderie, compassion and love. Derry taught me all I know about anarchism, we’re a hearty bunch. I want everyone to experience that."
When the idea came to do portraits, Bethany was the first name that came to mind. Bethany is hope, and extends it wherever she is. Currently the welfare representative for the Queen's University Student Union, Bethany already has consequential and impactful experience on grassroots organizing. Out and proud, and fiercely defensive of the rights to which we are entitled, Bethany works on LGBTQIA welfare, support, and rights, but her bright pink hair is attracting conversations in the streets of Derry on the right to abortion. Part of Alliance for Choice and Project Choice as well as linking with the Abortion Access Network, Bethany educates about reproductive rights, radical and intersectional feminism, safe spaces, sexual education, and mental health, all the while graduating from a medical degree and finding the time to chat with us in Sandinos. 2 years after the decriminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland, that saw the slogan "the North is next" (referring to the decriminalization in the Republic of Ireland), Bethany came to say the North is now. Open, bright, witty, funny, and impossibly loving, she embodies the best of youth activism in Northern Ireland: one that is unstoppable.
"When I introduce myself the first thing I mention is that I’m from Derry, so much so that it’s become a running joke with my friends who aren’t from here. My thick accent, my open heart and my fiery resistance are all traits that stem from my hometown and the people I love that live here. For a town that is often neglected, it has created some of the most resilient and loving people. Community spirit is alive and well here. It’s embedded in everything we do. When I am away I know I will run into someone from here, or someone will hear my accent and tell me how they have heard so much about our city. Our glowing reputation precedes us.
"I know that when I walk through Derry I will always be greeted by smiling faces. I will see people on the streets fighting to better the lives of everyone here. I will see my friends and family and and feel comforted. I will see the people who have been here before me and the young people who will be here after me and I feel secure. Derry is in good hands.
"But I want my hometown to thrive. I want it to be better. We are constantly let down (or just ignored) by those in power. It is the normal Derry people left to pick up the pieces. Our city has some of the worst rates of mental illness and poverty. Basically everyone here has lost a loved one to suicide. Every week or two - we will hear from someone pulled from the side of a bridge, or found in the river below it. Food banks are the norm. We have no access to abortion, and very limited access to contraception. Our schools continue to perpertuate anti-lgbtq+ rhetoric. I want everyone living in Derry to have the resources and the support they need. In the absence of this - we come together time and time again.
"Derry is my home, plain and simple, but it has a piece of my heart. The people here are the best in the world, but we deserve better too."
Elaine Crory, from the Belfast Feminist Network, decided it wouldn’t always be like this. A staunch intersectional activist, who we’ve met at environmental justice protests, pro-refugee rallies, and vigils for victims of anti-LGBTQIA violence, Elaine is a familiar and influential figure who promotes safety for all. She emphasizes the comforting and healing role of community, but most importantly, she personalizes it. A politics lecturer, a mother of two young girls, Elaine’s commitment to radical change and the welfare of any and all on this island - regardless of their background, religion, or walk of life - is exemplary. We are beyond lucky to have her with us, and to benefit from her wisdom, her infectious enthusiasm, her refusal to remain idle and feel satisfied with the infuriating permanence of a dysfunctional status who in Belfast, and her absolute hope that it will get better.
Listen to her talk about the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment in Ireland; the lack of access to abortion care in Northern Ireland, community support, grassroots organizing and change from the ground up; and what we can do, all of us, each and every single one of us, to make sure it won’t always be like this.
"Optimism is like gold dust around here. Or, as my mother says, as rare as hen’s teeth. Even when you get the big-ticket wins – like the decriminalisation of abortion for example – you know you’re facing an uphill battle to make that win more than some words on paper – access to abortion services, in this example.
"And yet lots of people persist and fight on anyway. It might be for all sorts of reasons, but I really do think it’s something to do with the human spirit, the feeling that, no, it won’t always be like this. It can and will get better. But only if we do something to make it better.
"Which is easier said than done. You can’t do it on your own. But we can do it together. Solidarity achieved everything meaningful we’ve ever had in this place, and it’ll continue to be so. So, when you’re in bed at night, lying awake and worrying, or commuting to work, or standing in the shower just letting the water fall, or wherever you do your worrying – try this. Decide that you’ll do something small tomorrow to help the people who are trying to address whatever your worry is. You might, like me, fall down a glorious rabbit hole of activism that spreads in all sorts of directions. You might do some reading. You might change the way you vote. You might attend a protest…or seven. The options are varied.
"But whatever you do, do something."
Introducing Eamonn McCann is a tall order. Few figures, still alive, have impacted Northern Ireland as much. Eamonn started his lifelong activism career in Derry as a member of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC), which worked conjointly with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in organizing peace marches. Present during the Bloody Sunday, he published his own account, What Happened in Derry, in February 1972. He was instrumental in setting up the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign; it is in this capacity that we met him on the 30th of January 2022 to mark 50 years since the Bloody Sunday.
Eamonn never stopped there. He worked as a journalist for RTE, the Irish Times, the Belfast Telegraph, and Hot Press. He covered union campaigns, labour relations, housing equality, and fair pay. He also stood as a MLA for Foyle under the People Before Profit banner. Eamonn never stopped campaigning, writing, and advocating. He is a beacon for working class struggles and equality in Northern Ireland. A staunch anti-militarist, his vision is internationalist and inclusive. It was an absolute honor to sit with him in his house in Derry, a few houses down from where he grew up, to witness and listen to history.
Our friends and partners Derry for Choice have a godmother in Goretti Horgan. A Cork woman, she moved to Northern Ireland in 1986 after starting pro-choice campaigning in the Republic. A pioneer with the Women's Right To Choose ampaign and the Anti-Amendment movement (referring to the 8th Amendment of the Irish constitution banning abortion before its repeal in 2018), she was later National Organiser of the Anti Amendment Campaign. She joined the Derry chapter of Derry for Choice, one of the most active and vocal groups lobbying for abortion access in Northern Ireland. She talks about the beginning of her work with the 1983 vote on the 8th Amendment in Ireland, and cross-border feminist solidarity.
Kate Nicholl is Belfast's Lord Mayor for 2021 - 2022. She is the first Lord Mayor to not have been born either in the UK or in Ireland; she was born in Zimbabwe, from a dad from Co. Down and a mum from South Africa. Both her parents were involved in anti-apartheid activism. The family moved back to NI when Kate was 12, after violence broke out. She has since become a councillor for South Belfast, under the Alliance banner.
In this interview, our Lord Mayor talks about her city; gives a perspective we rarely have, which is that of a bird's eye view across our streets, walls, alleyways, and rivers. She summarizes a year of events, of supporting charities, and her hope for the city and for Northern Ireland. We were honoured to be received in City Hall that day, and would like to thank the entire staff for making it so comfortable and easy for us!
In the Parlour, the Lord Mayor is entitled to decide what will be on the walls. The portrait of the Queen never moves, but Kate Nicholl chose to exhibit the works of the Turner Prize recipients for 2021, Array Studios, with a powerful sign by Laura Nelson and reproductive rights activism by Emma Campbell. She also has a period poverty painting by Wee Nuls, and art created by the Diverse Youth NI programme. What a way to represent us.
Lucinda just turned 25 and met us in the Banana Block, in Portview, where she has been working on her new brand, A Quiet Ceremony. Lucinda's great following is based on her unique fashion output, that she dubbed "eco-punk", fighting fast fashion and plastic waste by creating one of a kind, durable garments that are meant for every body type and showcase bright colors, challenging shapes, comfort and non-conformism. Lucinda also has a contagiously bright personality, with a voice both soothing in melody and echoing in strength. I once wrote that her laughter "cracks walls". A Ceasefire Baby, Lucinda navigates identity, belonging, vision, and the denial of violence not just in creativity but in activism. Present on social media platforms and advocating for mental health support, positive body image, and a denial of violence, she is all too conscious of the sensationalist image Northern Ireland has in the outside world - and aims to change that. Championing independent bands in her styling choices, as well as mentoring young students, Lucinda was almost too busy to fit us! In this amazing video, she shares her conflicting vision of the return of the balaclava in fashion, the emergence of a new Belfast identity in the peace generation, and our crucial need for role models. Mostly, she talks about hope. "It won't always be like this is about one day imagining a Northern Ireland that we don't need to leave, where we have support and infrastructure to make this place what it can truly be".
Show Some Love
We had been hearing and seeing their message, "Show Some Love", all over town. We finally caught up with Connor and Rebecca to talk about crafting, designing, and fighting for Another World here in Belfast; their vision for change, in their city and beyond; and their exciting upcoming projects. From their Swap Shop pop up store at the University of Ulster School of Arts, Another World joins forces with other community groups and organisations to take action wherever they are, for whatever it is they do.
We’re fortunate to have ANW showing the rewards of hard work and continuously engaging with other groups, to remind one another we also need to show some love to ourselves and our peers. They’re not just mentors, they are also visionaries. Creating a new idea of what support to marginalized communities mean takes courage, support, and commitment. We’ve learned so much from this interview, and hope you will follow, volunteer, and continue to show some love to Belfast.
We met with the two brains behind the amazing initiative that is Pure Mental on a warm weekend at their city centre offices. Jay Buntin and Matthew Taylor are only 20 and 19, respectively, and still in university, but have been passionate about mental health: vocal about it, visible about it, and present for it. For once, mental health is not a discussion burdened by stigma. Pure Mental advocates for mental health education in schools, and for access through schools. School is where we spend the vast majority of our waking hours as young people, and should not be spaces where our mental health is checked at the door. In a region with an extremely high rate of post-traumatic stress disorders per capita, and the highest rates of mental health issues amongst its youth in the UK, Pure Mental sees their advocacy for what it is: an urgency. Their passion is contagious and their business model, efficient. Caring about yourself, and caring about others is a community and policy priority. We talked to them about how they got started, their current work on delivering a five year strategy in Stormont, and how to get involved. All the info you need - including registering your own school in the Pure Mental scheme - is at puremental.org
Emma is a force of nature and an incredible inspiration. The soon-to-be Dr Campbell has been a fixture of activism in Northern Ireland, via Alliance for Choice and their historical battle to decriminalise abortion in the region - which we obtained in October 2019 and had to fight for access since. Emma is also a prolific artist with Array Studios, recipients of the coveted Turner Prize in 2021. Their art is in the streets, in the City Hall's Parlour, and at every single protest. Emma talks to us about social justice moments in Northern Ireland, leaving as a teenager but returning back, feeling empowered by protests and the battle for abortion rights in one of our most candid interviews thus far.