There are many ways to subvert authority that don’t require resorting to violence. Gandhi did it through non-cooperation and passive resistance against British rule in India in the 1920s. Rosa Parks did it on December 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person because her feet hurt and she wasn’t in the mood to stand for the journey home.
That small act of civil disobedience led to her arrest and acted a catalyst to the simmering racial tensions of the day. Rosa’s sore feet brought about momentous events for which she is celebrated to this day.
Last week, Irish citizens caused a seismic societal shift by voting in a change to the constitution to recognise same-sex marriage… the only country in the world to do so by popular vote. It was a bold move, and one which does this country great credit, especially when you consider how repressive Irish society has been up until relatively recently.
Put it this way, such was the grip of the Catholic Church on Irish society that it wasn’t until 1979 that married couples were allowed access contraception – and then only with a doctor’s prescription. It would take until 1993 before all restrictions were removed relating to the sale of condoms and, incredibly, it was only in 2011 that the morning-after-pill could be sold without prescription.
These changes to Irish society were largely down to the campaigning zeal of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, which aimed to subvert the country’s strict anti-contraceptive prohibitions. They did so quite effectively by taking a train to Belfast (part of Britain, for those who are unaware), in May 1971. There, they purchased condoms and spermicides over the counter, and returned with them to Dublin’s Connolly Station.
The customs men on duty were so mortified at seeing a gang of over 40 slogan-chanting women walking towards them brandishing their contraband, that they quickly waved them through… banned items and all.
One or two of the ladies even chose to inflate the condoms once they got outside the station. The media lapped it all up and the response across Ireland to the ‘condom train’ was immense, sparking debate on a subject that had been hitherto taboo.
My favourite act of subversion comes from Romania, where one Irina Nistor chose a unique way to defy the Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.
Nistor worked as a translator on programmes for Romanian state television. In 1985, a colleague asked if she would be interested in dubbing banned foreign films.
And so began a momentous era for Romania’s movie fans. Nistor dubbed over 1,000 movies into Romanian – and she played ALL the parts, whether it was Van Damme, Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris, Irina did all the voices.
She would finish work and then go to an apartment to dub films until midnight. It was a hurried, secret affair with no time for finesse. Nistor would dub as many as eight French or English movies a day in an improvised basement studio. Since there wasn’t time to watch the movies first, she had to dub them in real time on her first viewing.
At a time of secret police and repression, the films (which were watched by large groups huddled around a TV set) gave a glimpse into the outside world. It didn’t matter that a 28-year-old woman was voicing De Niro in Taxi Driver or Pacino in The Godfather, Nistor gave people the chance to put two fingers up to Ceausescu’s dictatorship and enjoy a good film in the process (although I’m not sure about some of those Chuck Norris ones…)
Irina Nistor’s small act of defiance had a huge effect. For a generation of Romanians, she became the voice of the movies and gave them some much-needed enjoyment… not a bad way to be remembered at the end of the day.