Room for Rebellion: save the last dance

As the political party collective throws its final event, two of its members reflect on the reasons why they first banded together.

Room for Rebellion has been a welcome presence on the UK and Irish club scene over the past few years, bringing a political element to the dance floor by campaigning for more liberal abortion laws for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Consisting of Isis O’Regan, Anna Cafolla, Hollie Boston, Jess Brien and Cáit Fahey, the group organised and raved in Belfast, Dublin and London, becoming known for combining serious music cred with an even more serious message. HUNGER sat down with the collective ahead of their final party this evening to discuss their beginnings, what they have achieved so far and what they have planned in future. 

How did the members of the collective meet?

So there’s Isis who founded RFR, Anna, Hollie, Jess, and Cait. We’re all Irish, working in creative industries, and angry women – so we were always destined to cross paths, get on, and try to make something purposeful! Jess, Hollie, and Anna are from the North, Isis and Cait from the south. As an example, Isis and Anna both meet in real life for the first time outside the Irish embassy at a protest for abortion rights in Ireland back in 2017.

What’s Room for Rebellion’s back story — how did it form? What was its first party?

Living in the UK and having access to the NHS was an eye-opening experience to a new kind of freedom and autonomy. It felt like an absolute privilege to be able to access contraceptive care as healthcare isn’t free in the Republic of Ireland. Having personal trauma around that coupled with being forever haunted by the death of Savita Halappanavar – who died after being denied an abortion in 2012 – and case X – a pregnant, suicidal teenage rape survivor – we were jolted into action when meeting like minded people at London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. We wanted to offer a creative, dynamic approach to activism, and a club night seemed an expansive space to do just that.

We initially streamed the rooms into each other, synchronizing the cities so the ravers could see us physically supporting them, angry dancing in unity. The first party was in Rye Wax and in Wigwam in Dublin, both basement clubs supporting the electronic scene, and now we’re going full circle returning to Rye Wax for our final party for the foreseeable. We went on to do a stream through the three cities, it was so powerful and moving.

The parties and members have been based across London, Dublin and Belfast: what was the organisational process of this like?

Calls, Whatsapps, emails, FB, IG, TW, Pinterest, fucking every online communication possible. Anyone who runs any collective knows communication is key, and keeping things as streamlined as possible means you can focus on the important cause at hand. It’s tricky to know on the ground the temperature of how a party will do, that’s why it’s essential to have people in each city involved.

Why was it important to have a presence in London?

There’s a huge amount of Irish and Northern Irish people immigrating to the capital and the diaspora here feel a deep connection to home, especially when these awful injustices are ongoing. The misogynistic and patriarchal oppression from outdated laws couldn’t be ignored. There is also a lack of understanding of issues happening in Northern Ireland. Thousands of pregnant people are forced to travel to mainland UK, the LGBTQ+ community denied their rights, Stormont breaking a world record without a functioning government for over 1,000 days – we wanted to shine a light on these injustices. Even still, with the successful repeal movement in Ireland and abortion decriminalisation in Northern Ireland, there’s so much more work to be done to ensure abortion care is as inclusive and accessible as possible. It’s so vital that people in London and the rest of the UK recognise this is an ongoing, nebulous fight, and our presence can help that.

The dance floor has traditionally been a space for escapism — why is it important to make sure it remains politically focussed?

We feel there’s a duality of both escapism and politics in all grassroots, DIY club nights – we’re offering a place to release frustration, to engage in conversations with others, to get people to empathise whilst in a setting they feel comfortable and welcome. The dancefloor is the physical embodiment of body autonomy that’s dynamic and kinetic. Activism can take many different forms, and education and empathy are key to change! At our nights, the bathrooms have posters that signpost important info on the laws, orgs to support, how to safely access abortion or advice, and that’s just one small facet of what we’re about. A lot of political language and battles can feel ostracising, and this felt like a new way to access a dialogue which some may feel uncomfortable with or alienated from.

What’s your biggest achievement as Room for Rebellion been?

Raising funds for poeple to access safe abortion care!! As well as changing the minds of no voters in the repeal movements to yes, to repeal the 8th amendment. We had a celebration in London’s The Glove That Fits on the day of the repeal victory – it felt so special and electrifying to be together when the vote announcement came through, a totally monumental, life-changing day – and we were all together for it! There have also been so many small victories too: fruitful conversations in smoking areas, really personal messages from people who have had to travel to access abortion the past.

Who are some of the best DJs that you’ve booked?

Shanti Celeste, Peach, Saoirse, Madison Moore, Martyn Bootyspoon, Femme Culture, object blue, Eclair Fifi, anu, Aurora, Lora, Solid Blake, Violet, Moxie, Venus Dupree, Eliza, Endrift, Cáit, ELLLL, Jay D, Marion Hawkes, Rory Bowens, H O’D, Cailin and Dreamcycles. They’re all fucking class, and extremely supportive of the cause.

Now that abortion laws have been liberalised in Ireland and there’s incoming abortion law reform in Northern Ireland, what’s next for Room for Rebellion?

We’ll be continuing on with our monthly radio show on North London grassroots station THREADS, as well as running and hosting activism workshops. This will be the last party for the foreseeable, but we’re not going anywhere – pressure still needs to be kept on, especially with the next election! We’ll also continue to be supportive of the work that Abortion Support Network, Alliance for Choice, and LIARC do. In 2020, Northern Ireland is going to be introducing abortion law reform after decades of some of the most restrictive laws in the world. A consultation on what the law will look like is happening right now, so we’ll be following closely along with that, shouting about it and doing our bit to make sure future laws are as inclusive of everyone as possible. We want to be a part of a revolution on reproductive rights that makes sure no one slips through the cracks.

What do you have planned for your final party tonight?

We’ve got south London stalwarts SOUVENIR & Saudi Arabian DJ Leila Samir playing at Rye Wax with us Room for Rebellion residents warming up! Money raised will be going to Belfast-based pro-choice organisation Alliance for Choice who have been running since 1996. They valiantly campaign and lobby for abortion rights in Northern Ireland as they believe in bodily autonomy for women, trans men, and non-binary people. Their current campaign #Crunchtime4Choice recognises that the battle isn’t over yet – there still is a lack of abortion provision, as well as institutionalised stigma around abortion, and the ongoing consultation on law reform is happening right now. A4C want to throw everything they have at getting the next steps right so free, safe, legal and local abortion is readily avaiable and any damaging discourse around abortion care has been dismantled. We wholeheartedly support this action and their work! On the night, expect our usual – angry dancing and partying with a purpose.

Room for Rebellion will be holding their final party at Rye Wax, London tonight (29 November). Tickets and further information can be found here

29 November 2019