Siobhán O’Donoghue is one of Ireland’s leading community change makers. For over twenty years she has been blazing a trail to help improve the lives of others. Originally from County Clare in the West of Ireland, Siobhán is a former nurse who eventually got involved in youth and community work and in advocating for Traveller rights. She is a founding director of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland which she built up over 11 years, and more recently she has become the founding director of the Uplift campaigning organisation which has become one of Ireland’s most influential forces for people power.
I’ve been part Uplift’s founding journey over the past few years and I currently sit on the board and in the course of this I’ve had the good fortune to get to know Siobhán and to learn a lot from her.
She constantly amazes me with her endless energy, enthusiasm, and dedication, and what I really love about her is that she manages to keep smiling and have fun in the midst of taking on so many big campaigns and struggles. The sound quality in this interview isn’t great so forgive me for this but I can assure you that you won’t regret listening to this fascinating chat with the wonderful Siobhán O’Donoghue.
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The Love and Courage podcast
The Love and Courage podcast features interviews with inspirational people who are making a real difference in the world today. Guests are typically people passionate about social justice, and who have demonstrated courage and conviction in their lives.
Host Ruairí McKiernan is leading Irish social innovator, campaigner, writer and public speaker. He is the founder of the pioneering SpunOut.ie youth organization, and helped set-up the Uplift and the A Lust For Life non-profits. In 2012 the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins appointed Ruairí to the Council of State, a national constitutional advisory body whose members include all current and former leaders of the country. Ruairí is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Fulbright fellowship, and he contributes regularly to the media on youth, health, community and social justice issues.
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[00:01:21] RM: Siobhán, thanks very much for joining me on the podcast today. How is life with you?
[00:01:27] SO: Great. Great to be here.
[00:01:29] RM: How was your day? I know you’re always running round, 100 miles an hour.
[00:01:34] SO: Yes, so today was like, probably a reflection of the rest of my life – it’s basically juggling. And managing to connect with lots of people and get lots of work done and, at the same time, have time to talk to people, properly.
[00:01:50] RM: So, you’re back in Dublin. You’ve recently moved from Dublin to West Cork, and we’re now here in the Uplift offices in Dame Street, Dublin. So, we were just chatting before the interview, thinking that…or we were saying, rather, that your days in Dublin, now, are probably way more intensive because you’re only here for a few times every month.
[00:02:11] SO: Yes, jam-packed – because, at the end of the day, you have to…meeting people is very important. So, a lot of work gets done in Dublin – and so when I’m here, I just have to make the time to meet people, and sit down, and try and work out.
[00:02:26] RM: And tell me about the move to West Cork, now. This is intriguing me – because you’ve been living in Dublin a long time.
[00:02:35] SO: Well, I’m a country girl, you see.
[00:02:36] RM: Ah, yeah, yeah.
[00:02:37] SO: I’m a country girl. I’ve always been really clear about that. When I moved to Dublin in 2001, from Galway, actually – I mean, Galway is a city but it never felt like a city – I said: “OK, I’ll stay here for two years.” And then the years went by, and 15 years later, I was like: “No, it’s time to move. It’s definitely time to move.” And we decided we were going to move two years ago, because my son was going to be transitioning into secondary school, and we said: “What a brilliant time to actually move.”
So, West Cork was always a place that has appealed to me. I would go there every year, often twice a year, and it has everything that I just love about living, like a community. There’s a lot of diversity, there, there’s a lot of interesting people with lots of ideas, it’s very creative, it’s absolutely stunningly beautiful, the local school in Schull is just amazing. I mean, it’s the local community school, the kids go sailing on a Saturday, there’s a big emphasis on social learning.
[00:03:48] RM: So, it sounds like a place with a really strong, vibrant community spirit.
[00:03:52] SO: Very, very strong.
[00:03:53] RM: And you’ve just landed straight into that? Well, obviously, you’ve been coming and going for years. And did you have that in Dublin?
[00:03:59] SO: Yes – I have a very strong community in Dublin, too. I mean, I would say I have communities in different levels of my life. Certainly where I lived, in Chapelizod, I definitely had a really great community of people around me that I was connected to. But I’ve always seen communities of interest, communities of phases of my life. But, so geographical community, funnily enough, has never really bothered me that much. But, for some reason – and I think it’s to do with, actually, the children – I’ve felt it was going to be really important for them to be connected into a community that actually is healthy and helps them thrive, as opposed to… I find, basically, young fellas growing up in Dublin to be a very tough…it’s a very tough environment for kids, in Dublin, actually.
[00:04:58] RM: And that probably points to a rural-urban divide in general. I mean, urban living can be tough.
[00:05:03] SO: It’s tough – and I think for… I was really clear that, for my son, he doesn’t like school that much. He’s never going to be in that kind of academic world. So his world is going to be very much the community he lives in, he’s outside of school. And I could see, over the last few years, it was just getting tougher, and harder, to find your way in that world, in that community. You know, especially for young people – being stopped by the Guards on a regular basis…
[00:05:37] RM: I mean, he’s very young.
[00:05:39] SO: Yes, he’s been stopped and searched by the Guards since he was, like, 8.
[00:05:40] RM: Oh, wow.
[00:05:41] SO: It’s a big issue in Dublin, yes. So anyway, that’s not the only reason. But also, I just knew that being in smaller communities, a smaller environment – you know, a smaller, community environment – is really healthy, I think. And it just suited us all. We wanted to go, and I also… Another thing, for me, is: Dublin is a bubble. And even in terms of work, and the kind of political world – it’s very insidery, all roads lead to Dublin. And as an instinct of: I wanted to push against that. Which is very much in keeping with Uplift, and the direction we’ve all been going in, is actually to… T
here’s something about living on the edge. And that’s always been part of my… For years, for decades, now, it terms of the work I’ve been involved in with the Migrant Rights Centre, particularly the Migrant Rights Centre, is that where we position ourselves is actually really important. So, the really best place to be is: position ourselves on the edge – and it keeps you conscious about what you’re doing, it keeps you alert. Working with people who live and work on the edge, while we’re positioned on the edge – it really forces creativity, innovation, and it just takes away that cozy feeling. So, actually, the physical…for me, even the physical act of going to live on the edge of Ireland, basically, the southern western coast point of Ireland…
[00:07:20] RM: Of Europe, even.
[00:07:22] SO: Of Europe, even. You know, there’s something edgy about that which I really…really, really appeals to me. And I’m loving it. I absolutely love it, there.
[00:07:31] RM: You have me sold, here [laughter]. So, we’ve already used the word “community” maybe a dozen times. And that’s probably no surprise, because at the heart of it all, you’re essentially a community worker. Like, your background is community work. I’ve known you bits over the years, and obviously we’ve worked together with Uplift, and everything – but I don’t know that much about how the genius was born [laughter]. I’m just setting you up, here. But no, I think you studied nursing, didn’t you?
[00:08:04] SO: I did.
[00:08:05] RM: But let’s go backwards – tell me what kind of person you were, when you were… OK, so you mentioned Luke being 8, there. So, when you were 8, what was happening in your life?
[00:08:18] SO: Well, I grew up in… I was born in Manchester, and I was about five when we came back to West Clare.
[00:08:29] RM: So, you’re English!
[00:08:31] SO: That’s debatable. I was conceived in Ireland. I just want to point that out.
[00:08:34] RM: Your multi-racial identity, yes.
[00:08:36] SO: So I actually have a very distinctive memory of arriving in West Clare.
[00:08:43] RM: Oh, really?
[00:08:44] SO: I do, yes.
[00:08:45] RM: At what age?
[00:08:46] SO: I was about four and a half, nearly five, yes. Just before I went to school. So I actually have a distinct memory.
[00:08:53] RM: I suppose Manchester to West Clare is a pretty stark contrast.
[00:08:55] SO: Yes. I remember running through fields. I have this really strong memory of running – just running wild through fields. And, apparently, that is what we did when we arrived in West Clare. And cats and dogs weren’t seen for months afterwards, because we terrified them.
[00:09:16] RM: So you were these wild, urban kids who descended from Manchester into the fields. Sounds very idyllic. Or were you running through the rain?
[00:09:24] SO: I mean, to be honest with you, my childhood… We actually… There was a lot of poverty in my family. We were living in poverty. But…
[00:09:35] RM: Because your parents had downgraded – I’m guessing, here: your parents were Irish, they emigrated to Manchester…
[00:09:40] SO: Yes, so they were both from West Clare, went to Manchester – eloped, basically, - had three children…
[00:09:47] RM: Did they need to elope?
[00:09:49] SO: They did, yes – my mother was pregnant [laughter], basically, and they just took off. And I tell you, that tells you something. They were quite feisty. My mother is quite feisty, basically. They just said: “Let’s go and do our own thing, and make our own way.” And they ended up coming back with three children. And I think it’s really interesting: my mother talks about coming home with the three of us, and borrowing money to buy new clothes to come home. Because when you’re an immigrant, you’re not allowed to be a failure. If you leave, you have to succeed – you’re not allowed to fail. And it’s funny, because with the Migrant Rights Centre, I just repeatedly saw that, over and over again, that experience of people struggling here – but when they manage to get home for a holiday, the story of their lives, the narrative of their lives, would be completely different to the reality in front of us here. And my mother would say that’s exactly what it was for them, as well.
So, it was tough – growing up was tough in our house. We didn’t even have an indoor toilet, we had nothing. I remember that we didn’t have running water for years. So, it was pretty tough.
[00:11:03] RM: And this is… So there’s West Clare with the likes of Ennis – it’s a big enough town – but then what part of West Clare was it?
[00:11:09] SO: It was Kilmurry McMahon – it’s not far from where the Moneypoint is. About 10 miles from Kilrush. But it was… There was lots of great things going for it, as well. So I went to school… So, obviously, I remember being in school – and I had a tough time at school. I was bullied really badly, to the point where I actually had to leave school, and stay out of school for about – I think – four or five months.
[00:11:40] RM: Was there a particular reason for the bullying?
[00:11:42] SO: Oh, basically a completely dysfunctional two teachers – brother and sister – running the schools. And I have to be very careful, obviously, what I say, but they were not able to manage. And, basically, I was the only girl in the class, and I was just basically beaten up on a daily basis. To the point where I actually had to… I was not able to go to school for months and months and months.
[00:12:06] RM: So that’s sort of an insight into how rural life can be equally as tough as the urban life. Because we were talking about Luke and Dublin. You know, there’s no ideal scenario, urban or rural – it’s circumstances.
[00:12:18] SO: Not at all. Absolutely. I mean, obviously class divisions and everything exists in both urban and rural life – it’s just, obviously, the environments are quite different. So that was a very defining part of my life, when I was about 7 or 8.
[00:12:33] RM: What did your parents do for…?
[00:12:35] SO: They were farmers – small farmers.
[00:12:37] RM: So, this is… The picture that I’m getting is one of almost semi-peasant farming, in the way that this is eking out a living off the land.
[00:12:48] SO: Oh, yes. In the early days, yes – and then they did OK. After, when I was in my teenage years, things started to improve. And that was to do with a lot of Europe-based support, farming support, grants. And the farm began to develop, and we began to become more comfortable. And our family, as well, even though we were quite… We didn’t have much cash – but there was a strong kind of middle-class ethos of education being a way out. So we were… I knew we were fairly well-respected in the area. We had the name of being smart, which was ridiculous, because I was… The other thing, for me, going to school, was I would have been considered a slow learner in school, in primary school, because I was way behind everybody. But it’s funny how, culturally, a family gets known to be: “Oh, they’re kind of smart, or something?” Which was ridiculous, because it was completely unwarranted.
[00:13:55] RM: I mean, it must have had a thread somewhere.
[00:13:59] SO: I think my dad would have been involved in quizzes, and my mother had been educated.
[00:14:04] RM: So, they were curious people, that were obviously interested in the world.
[00:14:09] SO: Oh, yes – I mean, my father left school when he was 13. But I would always say that he was a frustrated intellect, really. It’s only in the latter years of his life that he really found his way, again, in terms of getting involved in the Historic Society, and all kinds of different community events and activities. He was a real community leader, before he died, basically. And all his life, he had been a small farmer, and the drudgery of that, and then he never saw… You know, he was never really involved in anything. In his earlier years, he had been involved in those kind of quizzes, and stuff like that.
[00:14:50] RM: And were they… Did they sort of slot into society, or were they in any way agitating? You know where I’m going with this [laughter].
[00:15:00] SO: Yes – so people always say: “Where did you get your fighting spirit from?” I mean, I would say, definitely, from my mother. Definitely my mother. I remember travelers coming to the door and getting a welcome that they wouldn’t have gotten in any of the neighbors’ houses. I remember, she was very, very clear about treating people well and with respect, and was – and is – the kind of person that… You know, when my friends and my cousins were running away from home, they ran to our house. To my mother, basically. Because she would just take people in and listen. And she has a great spirit and authority about her, and people gravitated towards her. So, I’m very close to my mother – very, very close. So I kind of grew up with this experience. In terms of defining frames for my life, I always think of power. Power is… I think of the world through a lens of how power is organized, and everything, and one of my early experiences… I think, as a child, it’s the first time you experience power. Usually power over you, because you’re a child, and adults have more power than you. So, when I was a kid, I would have…my relationship with my mother was very much one of my mother being in a position of power, but very much using her power in a very empowering way with me, and the others. So, I kind of learned…I had a great introduction. I also got all kinds of other, negative, experiences of power as a kid growing up. But my mother was very… I understood what it meant for an adult to share power with you.
[00:16:51] RM: Yes – and do you think that was a case of a clear example of a strong, female role model, that you didn’t necessarily have that same barrier, when it came to being a strong woman in the world? Or was that not necessarily…
[00:17:08] SO: I never really thought about it, you see. There was no discussion about any of these things, when we were growing up in our house. We would just… You just treated people with respect, and dignity was important, and you tried your best. There was no deep analysis or ideology, or anything like that.
[00:17:28] RM: Just core values stuff.
[00:17:30] SO: Core values, very much value-driven. So, fast-forward, then, to when you were, say, 16, 17 – you’re probably in your last year of school, or thereabouts. What was happening then?
[00:17:40] SO: So, secondary school – I actually really liked secondary school. Because, as I said earlier on, I think I would have been considered a slow learner – I actually remember a teacher saying that – in school. So, I never… I always felt I was completely outside of the mainstream, in terms of what students could do. I always felt I was out – I didn’t know half of what was going on, in terms of just getting by, in terms of schoolwork. But in secondary school, I really came into my own, a bit. You discovered boys [laughter]. And you discovered that, actually, I was popular, and I could have good fun. And I had some very good friends at school. And I went to a great school – I went to a school where there was loads of really great things going on, from musicals to teachers making really good relationships, with really good conversations.
I remember my English – Leaving Cert English – where we had a nun who basically introduced us to Buddhism, introduced us to Bob Dylan, to… I always remember reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where we discussed love. And she used to come into the classroom and take her habit off, and she’d say: “Don’t be shocked, girls.” And she opened our eyes to a whole other world. So I had a great, I have to say, I had a great time in school. Didn’t get great results, but it wasn’t ever going to be about that. So, kind of like 16, 17, yes, I was… I didn’t have that… I wasn’t troubled, put it that way. Actually, adolescence suited me, in a way it doesn’t others.
[00:19:30] RM: Yes, I hear you. What was the name of the school, just so I know?
[00:19:33] SO: Convent of Mercy, in Kilrush.
[00:19:34] RM: And the name of the nun?
[00:19:36] SO: [inaudible 00:19:37 – Gerar Rush?].
[00:19:39] RM: It’s just, you never know who’s going to hear this podcast [laughter].
[00:19:42] SO: She was brilliant. I remember sending her a message, as an adult, saying thank you.
[00:19:45] RM: Right. That’s great, yes – I was kind of curious to know that, because I actually had a similar opportunity, once. I can’t remember how it came about, but I think it was the Irish Times were looking for people to say something about teachers that had influenced them. So they got me to actually go and then meet one of my old teachers, and we got a photo taken together. And I was able to say a few words about him, and it got into the Irish Times. But, quite often, there are those teachers – and they don’t necessarily get thanked. And I know, from youth work, or community work as well, that you put your best into it, but you don’t necessarily get the thanks. It may never come – and that’s totally fine, that’s part of the deal. But it is great to, then, meet someone 10 years later, and they go: “Do you know that conversation..?” You know?
[00:20:36] SO: Oh, yes – well I think it makes you realize how precious time is, with people, and how important it is to give time.
[00:20:45] RM: Yes, especially for younger folk – or for anybody.
[00:20:48] SO: Yes! It’s really important. But I want to tell you one story, because I think it was actually a defining moment, for me, when I was a kid. About the ability to actually get what you want, in terms of power. I remember, actually at that time I was off, I was out of school because I was being bullied so badly. And I couldn’t, I was too traumatized to go near the school, and they had to move me to a different school. But there was… We owned a small farm, and there was a whole load of young, male bullocks who had to be castrated. And I basically managed to stop the whole process – because I was an animal lover, and I just wouldn’t let them do it. And I always remember going out in front of all these men, and saying: “No, no.” And the thing was, my father listened to me. And he actually, basically, had to cancel. And they had to, of course, get me out of the farm, away from the farm, and then bring them all back again. But I always remember the bravery – feeling brave and powerful as a kid, that actually I could stop this from happening.
[00:21:56] RM: I wish there was a photograph of that happening [laughter]. I can see this iconic photo of you running out in front of them.
[00:22:04] SO: And I remember, I stopped them killing hens, chickens, another day. And always the thing, I’d be like: “Dad, listen…”
[00:22:13] RM: And you weren’t necessarily vegetarian, were you? Because there weren’t many around.
[00:22:15] SO: No, no, no. I used to try and be a vegetarian, it just didn’t go down very well.
[00:22:21] RM: You’d have nothing to eat, anyway.
[00:22:23] SO: Oh my God, I was passionate about animals, basically. But I just remember that feeling of being powerful. And I was small – I was only about 8. And just being so determined. But I always really appreciated the fact that Dad listened, and took me seriously.
[00:22:42] RM: Which is a big deal – because you’re going against culture, you’re going against local farmers, the whole…
[00:22:51] SO: And they used to do coursing up the road – well, a good few miles up the road – hare coursing. And they used to have to watch me. Because they were afraid that I was going to go and let the hares out. And they couldn’t let… We had two greyhounds at home, and I think my dad thought that they were going to go coursing – no way was I letting that happen. So we ended up with two greyhounds that were like pets, essentially.
[00:23:15] RM: That’s fantastic. Well, you know your karma is good, if you ever come back as an animal [laughter]. So, you’re happy, busy with all your boyfriends and everything [laughter].
[00:23:29] SO: It’s true! [Laughter].
[00:23:30] RM: And then you decide to become a nurse, is that right?
[00:23:32] SO: Yes, but… When I was going to school in… I was doing my Leaving Cert in 1985, right? So your choices were fairly set out for you. You either became a teacher, you became a nurse, you joined the civil service, or you went to the technical college and you became a secretary, or you left school and worked in a shop.
[00:23:58] RM: Or you emigrated.
[00:23:59] SO: Or you emigrated, which…most of my class emigrated.
[00:24:02] RM: So you’re talking 70%, here.
[00:24:04] SO: Yes – I actually got a scholarship to go to the US, to train as a nurse, after my Leaving Cert. And I turned it down. Which was like…
[00:24:15] RM: How did you even get that?
[00:24:17] SO: Most of my friends were going undocumented, borrowing 3,000 pounds to go into your bank account to prove, when you were going, to immigration that you were on your holidays. And then paying that back. And I decided to stay.
[00:24:30] RM: So, hang on – how did you know where scholarships were, back then?
[00:24:34] SO: It was a family scholarship in the US. And they offered it to me.
[00:24:37] RM: Amazing. So you were handed the golden ticket – from rural West Clare to Californae, or wherever it is.
[00:24:45] SO: It would have been Chicago.
[00:24:49] RM: Right, Chicago – you’re walking into…you’re set for life, in one way.
[00:24:54] SO: To train as a nurse, which is what I wanted to do.
[00:24:56] RM: So why?
[00:24:58] SO: I was just so connected to Ireland. To home – I just couldn’t leave. I just really couldn’t. It’s remarkable. It didn’t have a whole lot of logic to it. Because the same thing happened to me about five years later, when I actually did qualify as a nurse in Ireland. And again, late 80s, every nurse in the country was emigrating. And all my friends were emigrating. And I had job offers from the UK, and they were all leaving – and I made a decision: I was not going. Somehow or another, I just was going to stay put. And I was the only one that didn’t go.
[00:25:35] RM: So, you’re obviously anchored in, not just to the country and the land but, again, it would bring us back to that sense of community, and family, and core value stuff.
[00:25:45] SO: Yes, it’s funny – I love going overseas. I love all that, and yet I have a very strong connection with Ireland. I find it hard to explain, to be honest.
[00:25:59] RM: Well, you love Ireland.
[00:26:00] SO: I love it. Yes – I love the people, I love being here, I love… But I mean, I’m not stupid. I’m not naïve about it, either. There’s loads of things about it that I don’t like. I’m quite realistic about it. But yes, when I was faced with the choice, I said no.
[00:26:19] RM: So you’ve been…you’ve travelled a fair bit, you’ve been to a number of countries. And let’s say, from time to time I’ve been to somewhere like China, or elsewhere, where somebody will say: “Where is Ireland?” Or: “What is Ireland?” There are people on the planet that have never heard of Ireland – they have no idea what it is, apart from maybe, at best, they might know about Rory McIlroy, or something. But if you were to meet one of those people, how would you explain Ireland in the positive light? Because we don’t want to tell them all our bad stuff [laughter]. What are the things that you would identify as singularly special about Ireland?
[00:27:05] SO: I don’t… I find it hard to answer that question, because… I’m hesitant about answering that question, because in some ways, it’s maybe like profiling. I suppose I love the fact that it’s local – everything’s local.
[00:27:24] RM: OK, so there’s scale.
[00:27:25] SO: There’s scale. It’s an island.
[00:27:26] RM: It’s a small island. It’s a tiny island. I find that, when I go over to the US and Australia, and different places: they can’t go anywhere! It takes them 10 hours to get from A to B. We can drive coast-to-coast in 3 hours, east to west, or 5 hours. That’s incredible.
[00:27:45] SO: No, absolutely. And I feel, sometimes, I’m full of contradictions – because I’m a very international person. I’ve worked in global migration issues for bloody years. I don’t like the parochial thing, at all, but I’m very… I feel full of contradictions, and I think some of it is to do with: I really value community and people. I love people. And even when I go overseas, and I’m a tourist, I always try and find a way of not being a tourist. So I have to get to talk to somebody, or get familiar with… Fit in, in some way. And I think that’s very important, for me – I need to feel I fit in.
[00:28:32] RM: Connection.
[00:28:33] SO: I have to feel a connection. I also think that I am the kind of person that…I probably take quite a lot of risks in my life. It’s what I do, basically, and where I put myself, and all of that. So there’s something about…the counter of that is actually having a secure base, and home, and being very comfortable in my own skin and where I live, or… And I think Ireland, for me – I’m very comfortable in my own skin in Ireland. I just really am [laughter]. Which, I think, gives me a certain amount of freedom to push the boat out, as well. So it’s that kind of… I don’t want to… Ying and yang, or whatever you want to call it. And yes, I had no desire to live anywhere else. I really, honestly… Probably loneliness. I probably had an innate fear of being lonely. I’ve never been lonely in my life – never. And I think I would probably cushion myself. I was probably cushioning myself against that, as well.
[00:29:41] RM: That’s no small thing – because there’s increasingly research around loneliness. And in today’s society, we all know the narrative about technology bringing us together and keeping us apart, and Facebook, and all of that. But we’ve had several cases, in Ireland, of people dying in their houses – older people. And more recently, I think a couple of deaf brothers died in their house – and they’d been there for days, and in some cases weeks, because the neighbors aren’t known. And I don’t know all my neighbors. Or I don’t know many of them, at all. And it’s a real thing.
[00:30:16] SO: Yes, no – absolutely. It’s horrible, it’s a horrible thing to be…
[00:30:22] RM: And it doesn’t cost that much to fix it, either.
[00:30:24] SO: No, no. And I’d say I would be the kind of person, I’d be afraid of that. I’d be afraid of ending up, finding myself alone.
[00:30:36] RM: I’d say you’re going to be fine [laughter]. It’s not going to happen [laughter]. There’s no chance of that. So, Siobhán, you said: “No, Chicago, that’s not happening.” And you…where did you go?
[00:30:49] SO: I went to Tralee and became a nurse.
[00:30:50] RM: Tralee, Kerry? You went to Kerry?
[00:30:51] SO: Yes, and that is where I… Like, if I think about my life up to that point, it was grand. It was like…I fitted in, but I also knew I had other ideas going on. And I got on fine in school – you know, I was a good girl. I was very likable – people liked me, teachers liked me. I had loads of friends. I was actually really good, I didn’t rock the boat, as well. I was one of those really nice girls. I was not a troublemaker, at all. I landed as a student nurse into student nurse school, and I was like getting whammed over the head with authority. And I suddenly realized, because I was told on a regular basis, that I had a problem with authority. And I was like: “Jesus, how did I manage to get to this age and be really…deal with all kinds of authority?”
I had never had any problem – and suddenly I was just in trouble every single day. I was a troublemaker – I was classed as a troublemaker. And, partly, I realized, it’s because I started to ask questions. I refused to toe the line, in a very particular way. Again, not consciously thinking about this. Just purely…it just wasn’t consistent with my values – to not, as a nurse, care for people, to really treat people with respect. And I just loved… I love people, you know? So, to me, nursing was about caring – and I realized, very quickly: in this system, nursing wasn’t anything to do with caring. It was all to do about keeping the system ticking over. And there was an awful lot of bullying going on, there was a lot of… People were treated so badly, nurses were treated… As student nurses, we were treated so badly. We also bucked the system, and just found ways to break all of the rules. We were controlled. I supposed the thing was: I suddenly found myself, as a student nurse, in what was considered to be a…it was maybe like being in a seminary, or a novice nun. You had to be in at a certain time, you had to apply for late-night passes, one a week, to stay out till 2 o’clock. And I was coming on…I was 18.
[00:33:13] RM: Were the church running the hospital?
[00:33:15] SO: No, no. But this was like… It was run as if student nurses were supposed to be virgins, and it had a very particular kind of profile, lifestyle, we were expected to have.
[00:33:30] RM: So did you… Was there a defining moment where you really came up against it? And had to kind of… Did a battle ensue?
[00:33:40] SO: Oh, my parents were called down, once. And my mother, basically… They tried to really tell my parents that I was a serious troublemaker, and my mom… My dad was quite…he kind of kowtowed to authority a little bit, and they left the room. And my mother said to dad: “You go on, there, I’ll meet you in the car.” And she went back into the room, and she faced the matron – and there were two sisters, matrons – and she basically gave them a dressing down, and told them that they had the complete wrong impression of me. And that actually… I can’t remember what she said, I wasn’t in the room – but yes, she gave them a dressing down.
[00:34:27] RM: So, I’m going to guess that you scraped through, you got through, and qualified, and you got a job?
[00:34:34] SO: I got one of the best results. Which is… So, I’ll tell you now… Oh my God, this is like… Basically, before my final exams I was dragged down to the matron’s office, met with these three sister matrons and the second matron, and basically told: “Nurse O’Donoghue, you are going to let this hospital down.” And I was like: “What do you mean?” “We are concerned that you’re going to fail your exams – and you will disgrace this hospital.” And I was like: “I haven’t even done the exams yet.” “Well, we’re just warning you that we believe that you’re going to let this hospital down.” So, I was like: “Fuck you,” basically [laughter]. I didn’t say that to them. So, I studied – and I got really good exam results. But it didn’t… In the way the nursing results came out, you either got…there was like a first, or you passed. So I didn’t get the first, because I didn’t bother studying for the orals. So I didn’t get the first first.
So you were supposed to go and get your final results, pick them up and look at them, and I didn’t bother. Because, as far as I was concerned, I didn’t need to – I was fine. And then they called me down, about a month later, and said: “Nurse O’Donoghue, you did particularly well in your exams.” And I was like: “Yes, I passed – you told me I wouldn’t, and I did.” “But you did very well.” And I’m like: “Yeah…” And: “Nurse O’Donoghue, have you been to collect your results yet?” And I was like: “…No!” And I think I got [inaudible 00:36:07 – Et?] for not collecting my results. So that would have been… That kind of stuff…
[00:36:11] RM: Right, so there was a constant tension, there. And I want to jump to the point of where you… I’m going to fast-forward a little bit, into where you decided that nursing just, ultimately, wasn’t for you.
[00:36:24] SO: I mean, about halfway through, I knew I didn’t want to be a nurse. I couldn’t stick the system. I joined the wrong union – so in those days, the ITGW Union, which was the precursor to SITU, was organizing. I joined that union – everybody else, along with others, joined the INMO, the nurses’ associations. At that stage, it was a bit more like a professional body. It was the done thing to do – it wasn’t at all militant.
[00:36:55] RM: So, did you join because you were interested in rights? Or was it just the thing to do?
[00:36:57] SO: Again, I think it was a bit of opportunism – I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
[00:37:02] RM: And how did this connect, then, to your transition into community work?
[00:37:05] SO: I went on strike, basically. There were strikes – and we weren’t allowed to go, as student nurses. And I just remember organizing my day off to make sure that I was going to go. The other thing that happened was, doctors were… Just the authority of doctors, and the control of doctors. And there were some really bad consultants, who… And I remember one obstetrician who ended up in court several times afterwards. I took him on, one day, as a student nurse – which you didn’t do. And then I… I also, I suppose working with people who… I remember working with people who were victims of domestic violence, for example, and… Witnessing poverty, witnessing violence, witnessing mental health issues, young women getting pregnant and all kinds of hidden pregnancies, and addiction. And I was seeing all this as a nurse, and kind of beginning to think: “There’s something more, here.”
[00:38:08] RM: Join the dots.
[00:38:09] SO: Yes. And so, then, I fell in love with this guy who had been a youth worker. And I was like: “Oh my God, you can get a job working with young people.” And I was like: “I want to do that.” So, basically, everybody went off to England, and I left nursing. And I used a bit of creative writing, with the help of my boyfriend, to formulate a story about why I would be good at doing youth work.
[00:38:41] RM: Yes.
[00:38:42] SO: And started…put it into the Clare Youth Service. And Sean Sexton was the priest who ran Clare Youth Service at the time. And he called me in, and sure, he knew within five minutes that I hadn’t a clue what I was talking about. I had never even been in a youth club, as a kid.
[00:38:58] RM: Yes, but you know, my experience is that some of the best youth workers don’t necessarily come straight out of youth-work college. They come from different directions.
[00:39:07] SO: Yes – so, he gave me a break, basically. And then… At that stage, I was about, what? 21, 22. No, 23 – 22, 23. And I loved it! Oh my God, I just loved this work. And it was basically a fall scheme, the equivalent of a fall scheme, a CE scheme. It wasn’t called CE then.
[00:39:29] RM: Kind of community employment.
[00:39:31] SO: Yes.
[00:39:32] RM: How long did you do that for?
[00:39:34] SO: So, I did that for a year. And, again, talk about luck, meeting good people along the way – I remember Sean calling me into his office one day. And he went: “Siobhán, there is a youth work job coming up, here. If you go for that job, you will get it. However, I think you would be bored within a year. And then you will have to think about: where are you then? What I would love you to do is: go to Maynooth, train as a community youth worker – and if you want to come back here, you’ve got a job.”
[00:40:07] RM: So, he became a mentor figure?
[00:40:10] SO: Oh, absolutely. And he basically made it possible for me to go to Maynooth. And I would have jumped at it – the idea of getting a job, a proper, paid, youth work job. I would have jumped at it – but I really took what he said seriously, and I realized that I actually needed to make that commitment, and go back to college. And that’s when I really… In some ways, like going to Maynooth, I always describe it as like coming home.
[00:40:36] RM: Yes - I hear where you’re coming from. Because Maynooth… I can definitely see you in Maynooth, because there is that real culture of community work, still alive there. It’s very vibrant, and you meet some incredible people coming out of there. I think I recall that you did some work with travelers, did you?
[00:40:54] SO: So I was at Maynooth for two years, and that’s where I kind of... I had become very clear about my values, how my values aligned with ideology, and the practice of doing the work. So, after I left Maynooth, the first job I got – which I basically got pushed into by Neil Crowley, Stasia Crickley and John O’Connell – was working in Limerick, and I had to found the Limerick Travelers’ Development Group. And I will never forget that experience – because it was like literally going into a battleground. Travelers were hated in every city. The only work that was happening with travelers was a very charity… I was employed by the Vincent de Paul when I started there, where, basically… My first meeting with my management committee where we all sat and said prayers for the first five minutes, then they handed the pocket around to put donations into. And I was like this radical from Maynooth, ready to take on the world. And I’m like: “Holy moly, where have I landed?” And anyway, we started… They were great people. They knew they needed somebody like me. So, we had to negotiate that.
But the hostility towards travelers in the city was just phenomenal. But we grew, and created an amazing, amazing organization. We got sites built, we got the first primary healthcare project in the country, we got… Yes, we really moved traveler rights in the city. And Mary Robinson had been, before she had been President, had been a barrister. And she represented the Casey family in Limerick, which basically resulted in a landmark accommodation rights case win in the High Court, which resulted in a site being built. And I remember the women from that part of the group, they wrote to her when she was President and asked her to come and visit – and she said yes. And I always remember that moment when she arrived – and it was a big visit to the city. She was coming to us, and it was just phenomenal. Phenomenal. And I always remember Jan O’Sullivan, as well, as a TD. She was a mayor, at the time.
And the first formal reception for travelers. Because we did a big arts project. And actually, a partner of mine at the time, he was an artist – he actually died by suicide, only two years ago, which is another story. But he did this amazing, creative work. And Jan put on this formal reception in the…a civic reception for travelers in the city, and brought out the… I always remember the china. And oh my God, the pride… I’ll never forget the pride in the community, at that time.
[00:43:47] RM: So, you tasted some, I suppose, they were kind of victories, in a sense. Now, I know the battle continued, and still does – even, we mentioned suicide there. Obviously, we won’t go into it too much, but even in the traveler community, it’s 700% higher. 700.
[00:44:04] SO: It’s huge. Oh no, I mean…
[00:44:09] RM: So, these struggles do continue.
[00:44:10] SO: Oh, absolutely – but you had to… Along the way… And I also, then… I was also really clear, when I was working, particularly in Limerick, that a lot of the solutions were at a policy level, at a national level, at a government level. So we have to work local and global. You have to work on the local issues, and you have to create the conditions for people to participate and to take action, but you’ve got to really target the decision-makers, and challenge their policies. So, we were… So I was very involved in setting up the National Traveler Women’s Forum, I was very involved in the Irish Traveler Movement, Paddy Point… You know, we were collectivizing locally and nationally all of the time.
[00:44:54] RM: Tell me this: you seem to… You’ve done so much, and you still do so much – how do you manage to segment your life? Or maybe you don’t. But how do you manage to still keep the fun? Is it because you keep the fun in your day-to-day work?
[00:45:11] SO: Yes, oh yes. A bit of craziness [laughter]. No, it’s so important to have fun. It’s so important to like people. If I couldn’t… People I’m working with, if I couldn’t have a bit of fun, if I couldn’t see… It’s like: connect.
[00:45:31] RM: Because you’re dealing with really hard issues, and sadness – and so, to bring that joy into it…
[00:45:36] SO: You have to, yes!
[00:45:38] RM: Tell me, how did you end up with the Migrant Rights Centre?
[00:45:43] SO: Ahh. I went to the World Conference against Racism in South Africa. Three weeks before… About three weeks before September 11. And I was really exposed to the whole story of migration – what was happening around migration, globally. Watching, meeting people. And it kind of really opened my eyes. And I came back, and I was so profoundly upset by what had happened at that World Conference against Racism. It was so divisive. All the hate in the world was being cleaned up, in a fish-bowl, over three weeks. It was horrific. It was not any surprise that September 11 happened very soon after that. I mean, I can’t even go there. I still meet people who were there with me, and we go: “What happened, there?” It was just so divisive – horrible, ugly.
So, I came back and said: “I have to leave my job.” At that stage, I was working with community work [inaudible 00:46:47]. “I have to leave – I need a change.” So, anyway, I came to Dublin, and a few people I knew – Stasia Crickley, Bobby Gilmore – they were starting up this little information center, working with migrant workers. At that stage, there was a lot of talk about asylum seekers, and very little discussion about economic migrants. And I applied for the job. It was one of those… It was a volunteer group, basically. And I got the job, and it was complete chaos – because there was nothing there: there was no infrastructure, there was nothing.
[00:47:19] RM: Yes, there was the basic shell, and you got the job, and then you were like: you are the organization.
[00:47:25] SO: We had a basement – we had a basement.
[00:47:26] RM: You were the only staff?
[00:47:27] SO: Only staff.
[00:47:28] RM: Sounds familiar.
[00:47:29] SO: And a group of people who were volunteers, mainly religious – which brought its own challenges.
[00:47:37] RM: Does Stasia or Bobby – one or both of those are from religious communities, are they?
[00:47:42] SO: Bobby is a priest, [inaudible 00:47:44].
[00:47:43] RM: Because it does strike me that there are definitely issues in and around the Church, which, again, is a wider discussion. But it is another thread that goes through the world of community, and social justice, that there are some amazing priests and…
[00:48:01] SO: Oh, yes – I mean, obviously, it’s the route to take. If I had been born in the 40s or 50s, there’s a good chance I probably would have done that.
[00:48:07] RM: And also, there’s a pay check in it [laughter].
[00:48:09] SO: Yes.
[00:48:12] RM: So, you got to work building this...
[00:48:15] SO: Oh, my God. Oh, Jesus – it was like unreal. So basically, it was like… We used to have a queue of people in the door, every day. And: “What are we doing?” We were making it up as we went along.
[00:48:24] RM: Because migration had only really started
[00:48:26] SO: It was only really starting… The entire system – nobody knew anything. So, we just learned, very quickly, that you just had to be a hair’s breadth ahead of the system. So, you would ring up, and you would say: “Well, would you consider doing this?” Or: “If I wrote a letter, or if I got a letter from somebody, would that be acceptable?” Or whatever. And we realized that, actually, all of this was working. They would kind of go: “Oh, OK.” And we realized, we got very creative, in how we got solutions for people to become regularized, or…every kind of issue.
But, again, that was all very individualized work – it was about individual problems. And we realized really quickly – I remember actually being in Stasia’s house the very first evening on the first day in that job, and kind of going…blown over. I was completely blown away by the whole thing. Even just the first day. And I realized: “Oh my God – people are being victimized by the rules, and the lack of rules, and the lack of clarity. But they don’t want to be victims – they don’t see themselves as victims. They don’t want to be victims, but they’re being victimized.” And that tension, where people were really powerless, very often in a really harsh, broken system, but they had spirit to do something about it. And I kept seeing it – even the first day, I saw it. So, we began to collectivize. We began to bring people together as groups – domestic workers as groups, to share experiences, workers in different kinds of contexts. We started taking legal cases – I was representing people at the LRC. We were doing everything and anything. We were getting to know who was over in the immigration office, figuring out where was the best place to go, what time of the day. We were beginning… And we began to… We realized: “We need to get to the root of some of these problems, here.” So, we began to pose solutions. So, what we would do is: try and create a practice. So, for example, if you’d lost your work permit, if you got a letter from us, and you had no employer, immigration would give you the stamp. On a case-by-case basis. So we were like: “Let’s formalize this.” So, we came up with a solution for if you became undocumented through no fault of your own – it was called a bridging visa.
At that stage, if you were undocumented, and it was nothing to do with you – as in, your employer never applied for your work permit, and you didn’t even know about it – there was nothing that could be done for you. And I remember, we were saying: “We have to campaign on this.” Now, we had never used the word campaigning before. Those days, early noughties, people didn’t talk like that, you know? So, now we’re so used to it, but in those days, people didn’t talk like that. So, we’d say: “Actually, we need a policy solution to this problem, and we’re going to push for it.” And I remember, we used to be laughed at by the policy-makers, the civil servants, and also some of our colleagues in civil society who just couldn’t get their heads around that you actually had to change the system in order to get to the root of it. And we just were persistent. And I remember a civil servant – a senior civil servant who has just recently retired – saying, about the Migrant Rights Centre, that the thing that he really admired about us was that we were persistent, but pragmatic. That we never just gave up – but also, we were really clear what the…about what the solution was, that we needed.
[00:52:14] RM: Solution-focused, yes. Yes, I can see that.
[00:52:15] SO: Yes. And we built leaders, and built leadership. So, basically, we didn’t try and claim some massive space, which was false. We said: “Actually, this is the experience of the people we are working with. We have it documented, and the people are speaking about it themselves.” So we didn’t over-claim things. So, I think nearly every campaign that we set out to achieve, to win, over that 10-year period, we nearly won.
[00:52:45] RM: That’s incredible.
[00:52:46] SO: Yes, which is amazing. Actually, the taste of victory.
[00:52:50] RM: Yes, the taste of victory keeps you going.
[00:52:53] SO: Ah, Jesus.
[00:52:56] RM: Because there’s many failures, as well.
[00:52:57] SO: Oh my God, so many. But it’s like: “Ah, wow! I didn’t realize about people power.” That’s when I really got into this idea: this works. So, we’re working with migrant workers who live and work on the edge. Who don’t have any political capital, in the traditional sense – can’t vote, for example. Often English is their second language. Are working in what we call the “Three D jobs”: the Dirty, Dangerous, and Difficult jobs. Very often invisible in their…they’re out of community – they’re not part of the local community.
[00:53:28] RM: They’re quite often working during the night.
[00:53:29] SO: Yes – they’re completely marginalized. But, when you create the conditions for people to participate, and when you create the conditions for people to become empowered, to be empowered, and then you create the conditions for collective action, and you’re clear what’s the change you’re looking for – change happens.
[00:53:47] RM: So, that leads us perfectly into the next evolution, which became the world of Uplift – and that’s probably when I started connecting with you more. And I think the Migrant Rights Centre, I don’t know… It’s a significant organization, nationally, in Ireland. But at that stage, before you left, you left it with maybe 20 staff?
[00:54:07] SO: No, no.
[00:54:09] RM: 10, 15?
[00:54:11] SO: I think about 11 or 12, yes.
[00:54:12] RM: OK, right – which is significant in an Irish context, it’s pretty big. But, certainly: huge reputation, a great base, and you were leaving it in good shape, as far as I’m concerned. But you were kind of getting itchy, is that correct? You were kind of a bit itchy to bring this people power journey… And then, faith and fortune and a few things collided that…ourselves, and Ben Brandzel, and some different people got round the table. Ireland’s going through deep austerity, there’s corruption left, right, and center – we know digital technology is one of the ways we can organize. And basically, as far as I’m concerned, you jumped in, and said: “Right, I’m going to…” I was freaked out, to be honest with you [laughter]. I mean, I was up for it – but there was a moment where somebody had to get in, and get their hands dirty. And you jumped right in, two years ago.
[00:55:07] SO: Yes, I mean… I have… I think this is the nursing experience, actually. I have great resilience [laughter]. I’m used to working in less-than-ideal situations. Yes, I mean, I knew I wanted to move on, at some stage. It still has an amazing team – it’s very collective. The team is very collective. And I suppose I’m kind of an initiator of things, as opposed to the long haul – I get bored.
[00:55:42] RM: But you’d been there for a while.
[00:55:43] SO: Ah, I was there 12 years. But we kept reinventing ourselves – and that’s what kept… And also, I kept getting involved in new things, completely outside of work, as well.
[00:55:55] RM: So, tell people listening, now, what…how we came up with Uplift, and why. And what it is, because not all of them will know.
[00:56:05] SO: Well, I suppose… For me, I got… Over the years, I kind of realized: “Oh my God, there is such power in campaigning, when it’s really purposeful, when it’s people-driven, when…” I just knew what it was like to win campaigns. I’d won campaigns, I’d been part of winning campaigns. I’d seen governments capitulate on hardline policy, because they had to – because we just wouldn’t give up. Or create new laws, when people around us were saying: “But you can’t do that.” I said: “Well, why not? Of course you can.” And around that time – it’s the time we both met, through Ben Brandzel, who had worked with Move On, and a couple of things, was really an amazing campaigner…
[00:56:57] RM: He’s kind of like the high priest of online…
[00:57:02] SO: Yes, he’s kind of the seed of real online campaigning. He used to go around the world, basically, reaching out to people like us.
[00:57:07] RM: People would know avaaz.org, and moveon.org. Ben’s originally from Berkeley, and was one of the real early guys on all of this. So, he flew around the world, connecting with… He was a talent-spotter, in some ways. And then he’d kind of pollinate.
[00:57:24] SO: Yes – and he’d…when I met him…
[00:57:27] RM: He’s not a high priest, he’s a rabbi [laughter].
[00:57:29] SO: Yes, actually, that’s true. And I met Ben on a Sunday night, in a pub. Basically it was the only time we could meet. And there was…the minimum wage was basically being cut, and there was this massive meeting the following day. I had called the meeting, and I hadn’t a clue what to do about what was going to happen. All these people were going to turn up to fight this, because I knew we had to fight. And I asked Ben to come to the meeting, and he came – and within three hours we had a campaign going. And we changed the narrative around minimum wage cut. The cut went through, but it was the first thing that the new government reversed, a few months later. But I just, in those three days, I saw the potential of digital tools.
[00:58:14] RM: That was a petition – I think there was 10,000 signatures within hours.
[00:58:18] SO: Within hours. And this is… None of us had done anything like this, before. But it was also, I saw… And what I could see was that, actually, this was a way of giving an opportunity for people who were hurting, and wanted to react, something to do – and pull them in. And they felt that they were part of something, and it was being heard – that politicians were feeling the heat. And I was like: “Wow! Can you imagine if we could keep doing this, and we could do more of it?” So, then I went and spent some time with 38 Degrees, a few weeks with 38 Degrees, which is kind of the UK equivalent.
[00:58:58] RM: There’s almost like a global family of these organizations, in Australia, so many countries.
[00:59:03] SO: And so, I spent some time there, and kind of saw them in action. And I went: “OK, this is what we could do in Ireland.” So, it just took time to get going.
[00:59:14] RM: Well, it did – but we’re two years down the road, now, and last night we had a board meeting. And, as we were in the board meeting, Uplift was involved in a campaign, and it was trending as the number one trend in the country. We’ve over 100,000 members. There’s only a small team of three staff, but there are three staff that are being paid – not that much. There’s an office, there’s a national reputation, government representatives are referencing Uplift, the media are referencing Uplift. For me, it’s landing. Now, it still hasn’t clicked for everybody – but those in, particularly, I feel like… I mean, there was a guy on the radio who lost his wife. She drowned as she was in a search and rescue volunteer.
[01:00:02] SO: Yes, Caitriona Lucas, yes.
[01:00:03] RM: And I heard her husband talking about an Uplift petition – and I think I heard it the same day, in a different context. And it just was coming at me. Just me driving around, I was hearing it come back. But I know that the two years – we talked, at one stage, about the value of death. I don’t know if you remember that conversation. So, any start-up enterprise or initiative – the science will tell you, and it’s probably true – that it has to go through this Valley of Death, where it nearly dies several times. And you lose…you moments of almost going: “Jesus.” And there was moments where wages, maybe…
[01:00:42] SO: Oh, my God! Yes, yes.
[01:00:44] RM: Like, there was many voluntary wage reductions, and no wages, and all of that. And that’s that resilience, tough nut stuff, where you’re just going: “Right.”
[01:00:59] SO: Dig in.
[01:01:00] RM: Dig in.
[01:01:01] SO: Yes – the tough get going. You dig in. Yes – I mean, I just love the fact… I’ve always believed in people, and people power, and leadership. I mean, I was always… It always really irritates me when they talk about ‘leadership.’ As if leadership is something from on high, that’s handed down. I look around me, and I see leaders everywhere. I remember, my own Luke – seven or eight in the class – standing up against the bullies in the school, and reporting bullying. And I remember thinking: “That’s leadership.” And my neighbors, talking about… Just really huge humanity in them – and I just see it everywhere. And I think: “Wow.” And you think of all the community gardens, and the festivals. There’s a huge resurgence of community activity, right across Ireland – and I disconnect that from the formal politics of where power is centered, in terms of that formal way. And I was thinking: “We need to tap into this – we can tap into this.” I mean, we started in December – the week before Christmas – December 2014, and we had 300 people on an email list. And now, we have 200…maybe a quarter of a million people have taken an action with Uplift over the last nearly two years. We have over 100,000 opted-in members. So, it’s very significant, in terms of the percentage of the population.
[01:02:29] RM: It’s 2% of the population.
[01:02:30] SO: Yes, yes. But just that idea, that there are so many people who give a shit, basically. Who do want to see a better, and be part of fighting for, a better Ireland, don’t necessarily see themselves as Political, or Activist with a big capital A or capital P way – but are basically decent people who like to be connected to something that reflects their values. And it’s happening. We are growing – we have become the community that we, as a group of people, sat around the table with a vision. We are actually becoming that community.
I have emails, and calls, from members who talk about: “I think we should do this, now.” And talk about ‘we.’ And they own it. And I always remember – and I wish I could play you – this 70-year-old woman ringing me on her birthday, during the summer, from somewhere in West Cork, leaving me a message to tell me how proud she was to be part of this community. And this was a woman – I rang her back – this was a woman who, on her 70th birthday, she got her TTIP poster from us, by pure accident. And this woman is just not in any way part of the political process, in the traditional sense. She’s a woman who makes her living making brown bread every day, and is part of her own, local community – and she just loves being connected, and being part of the Uplift community, and picked up the phone to tell me that. And it actually made me cry. Because there’s people like that everywhere. And I think: “Wow.” You know, when you can connect people like that – when you can make it possible for people to come together, and be connected, and feel that they’re visible, and feel powerful. Something good’s happening.
[01:04:26] RM: I think that’s an important note to end on – because we live in very challenging times but, as you’ve referenced, there’s always challenges. And you just get stuck in.
[01:04:39] SO: Yes, I think… And last week, when Trump won in the US, and we asked Uplift members: how did they feel? And we got hundreds and hundreds of messages. And the main…the dominant message back was: we need to stand closer together. We need to pull stronger together. We need to fight back. We need to stand up for what we believe in. We need to put our values even more upfront. We need to… It was a message of resilience and: we’re not down. It’s not over – we have to fight stronger. We’re stronger together. And I was like… When I saw it, I was so depressed. I spent a few days, I’d say, crying. And I got so much hope from those messages.
[01:05:32] RM: Stronger together.
[01:05:34] SO: Stronger together.
[01:05:35] RM: Thanks, Siobhan. It’s been a pleasure.
The Love and Courage podcast features interviews with inspirational people who are making a real difference in the world today. Guests are typically people passionate about social justice, and who have demonstrated courage and conviction in their lives.