PROCESSIONS 2018 took place on 10 June with mass celebratory participatory marches in London, Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Why? To celebrate women getting the vote 100 years ago thanks to the suffragettes who put their lives on the line to achieve this. Thousands of women came from all over to gather and march – wearing the suffragette colours of green, purple and white – they took over the streets and their voices were heard.
Here Caro Donald, a Stellar Quines supporter and member of the Creative Learning team at Edinburgh International Festival, shares her experience of walking with her daughter Aoife, age 10, and what it meant to them:
I made my first vote 22 years ago in a school hall in Northern Ireland where I grew up. I had just turned 18 when an election was called, and was studying A Level Politics at the time. Making my mark felt momentous and even more so as my mother took me to the polling station. She imparted to me how important it was to vote, even if I didn’t have an affiliation to a party to make my choice as so many had died for my privilege.
Leaving the polling station I asked her who she had voted for and she wouldn’t tell me, saying that it was a private decision and that particularly in Northern Ireland it was important not to ask that question. I never asked her again, but I have voted in every election ever since, taking my children with me to watch and learn.
My daughter is ten years old and has visited the polls with her father and I more times than I expected to take her over the last few years, for local government, Scottish and national elections, referendums, and Brexit. Each time taking the opportunity to explain what we are voting for and why as a woman I am afforded that privilege. She has 2920 days until she can have her say, but when the opportunity through 14:18 NOW came for her to spend a day celebrating with women throughout the UK that she will one day be able to vote for her future, we signed up together to take part.
Processions was a national project with marches in London, Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh happening simultaneously, on 10 June, commissioned by 14:18 NOW. Thousands of women gathered, remembered, celebrated, and created a mass artwork wearing sashes in the colours of the suffragette movement, green, purple and white.
We met in the Meadows in Edinburgh, and as we arrived the park was awash with carefully and beautiful skillfully made banners, music was playing and there was a real feeling of being part of something to remember. We met her godmother Shannon who has played such an important role in her life as a female role model and taught her so much about the suffragette movement. As we waited to start marching we kept bumping into women we knew, my work colleagues at the Edinburgh International Festival had spent a day making banners, and had all come to take to the streets together. They could not have made Aoife more welcome to their cohort, even giving her a turn in carrying one of the banners as we walked.
We travelled together, women of all ages, races and backgrounds, walking over George IV Bridge, down the Mound, along Princes St, up the Bridges, and down the Royal Mile to Holyrood. We heard people singing, everything from Like a Mountain, to Who Runs the World (girls) sharing chit chat and stories about their lives and the places they had travelled from to be there on the march, we walked with women from Newcastle, the Highlands and Islands, Glasgow, and the Borders.
We made friends with quite a few dogs who were walking, all also proudly wearing their sashes. The streets were lined with well-wishers, waving and cheering us on, on Princes street people clapped and said well done, Aoife got a few high fives as we went to!
Forwards and onwards as we walked it felt so moving to hold my daughter’s hand sharing this moment with her. She is at an age where she is finding herself, and asserting herself as a woman, founding her beliefs and passions and who she is. Being part of Processions I feel was something that will be really fundamental for her, acknowledging the past as she looks to her future.
Aoife said ‘ I am really interested in history and the suffragettes, everything they did means I can grow up and have opportunities I would not have had if I lived 100 years ago. I am a feminist and I believe women and men and boys and girls should have equal rights not just to vote but all the time. I like how the suffragette colours stand for loyalty, purity and hope. I want to grow up when it doesn’t matter what gender you identify with this is important to my friends, and me, especially as we have a friend who is transgender. I took part in the Women of the World Festival in Perth and it made me think about how much it makes me so cross how people are treated differently, like that there are still pink toys for girls and blue toys for boys. I hate pink, I hate stereotypes. I don’t want to be a stereotype girl. I really enjoyed being part of Processions.’
As she walks the days towards her first vote, I want to be the one to take her there, to have her say, to make a change, be free to be private or verbal about her opinion, and remember the women who left their mark with their lives in order that she could lift that pen.
Caro and Aoife Donald.