WFI: The power of the open mic

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By Gillian Martin

Eight of us Indy Quines went to the Women For Independent meeting in Perth on Saturday. We were eight amongst 1,000 women who had come from all over Scotland to discuss where we go next. Controversially (to some) our meeting was closed and no media were allowed in excepting one journalist from the Sunday Herald and a cameraman from Indyref TV who was there in the first five minutes only to take a couple of general views of the packed St Matthew’s church.

I am going to be brutally honest here; I wasn’t hugely looking forward to it. I had been at and hosted a fair few post indyref meetings and it has been hard to cut through the despair and grief a lot of us feel about what happened. They’ve been a tad emotionally draining. The urge for people to put their energy into something to move our cause forward is a great, great thing but I have felt we need to take time to reflect. We cannae knock on anyone’s doors for a wee bit, we need to regroup and organise. I have come away from the two meetings I organised feeling that I was being asked for answers where there really are none yet.  I worried that WFI Perth might end up being that writ large. I worried that there would be tears, and I can’t cope with tears.

Oh my goodness, how wrong was I?  Being involved in the planning meeting for WFI execs we decided to have an open mic. Were we mad? Turns out it was amazing. I was completely blown away repeatedly as women from all over stood up with their incisive views on what had happened and most importantly what they were going to do to keep going and change things. These were women with answers, with high hopes and with a clear vision on our future regardless of political parties’ decisions. It felt great. If Lord Smith had only been present…(he wasnt invited- I know! I know!)

Quite a few women stood up and talked when they had never talked in public before. Some had stories of personal triumphs in changing things in their local areas, many had ideas on how we as individuals could make our voices heard. Now I don’t have a problem speaking in public or to the media, but for many this is a fear and something they don’t feel comfortable doing. The fact that we had no media there or anyone outwith WFI allowed these particular women to feel confident in standing up. I’m not ashamed to say that in a few instances I went a wee bit misty.

And the blueprint of action, if I can call it that, is currently being collated. Our on the surface hairbrained put-your-ideas-on-a-post-it-note exercise had all the hallmarks of the worst idea ever. But sneaking a peek at some of them as I helped collect them in, I thought, my God, we are ON IT! I suspect that the RIC conference in November will yield similar results.

I had a few conversations afterwards on Twitter about whether WFI were right not to invite the media to the meeting. I understand why so many were disappointed that we didn’t broadcast it, or at least have some of the speeches up for view later on YouTube. On reflection maybe we should have, cos believe me, Carolyn Leckie, Elaine C Smith and Jeane Freeman were incredible and I’m truly gutted for those who missed them. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about these post indyref meetings, it’s that you can’t predict how they are going to go. We are all in a state of shock, grief even, not just about the result, but of the speed at which everything we warned about is coming to fruition. We’ve never experienced anything like this before, and we need to cut one another a bit of slack for the sometimes primal way in which people can react. Hence, no cameras inside. We just thought it best. This time.

Also this wasn’t a rally; it was a meeting. Most of the day was given over to participation and discussion, finding a way forward for us. We need to get our house in order before we proclaim to the world what we’ve decided our members want us to be. Afterwards a few online were critical of some women who were having a go that the BBC never made mention of our meeting having occurred. Wasn’t the fact that 1000 women came from all over Scotland to cram into a church to talk about independence not worth a mention? Especially when at the same time the Lib Dem conference down the road couldn’t get enough folk together to do an eightsome reel? I thought it was. We trended worldwide on Twitter for a spell- which I thought was pretty indicative of its importance. Many disagreed. “People have meeting” is not news. Fair enough, if you put it like that. Or “You can’t ban the media from your meeting and then complain when they don’t turn up.” OK I can see how folk might have that view. Thing is, I argued, lots of meetings are not open to the public or media- doesn’t mean they are not newsworthy . Watch your news tonight and see if there’s anything on there you think you could have comfortably not been bothered about finding out. I once did a shoot for ITN on chicken processing. Jeez.

If any journalists had turned up to see us at the end they would have found something incredible to report as 1,000 independence supporting women spilled out into the streets providing some incredible people to interview messages that would chime with 1.6 million of the public.

It’s a great shame they missed the chance. But the messages will get out there without them. You can be sure of that.

* it would be churlish to omit to mention that STV and Sunday Herald did report the meeting. Let’s face it, we are really having a go at the other newspapers and the BBC. Plus ca change.

** This article was provided to Newsnet Scotland by Indy Quines ( http://indyquines.blogspot.co.uk )