Review: Dros Ryddid! edited by Llinos Dafydd and Ifan Morgan Jones
The Welsh National Anthem, ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’ contains the line “Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed”. They shed their blood for freedom. But what does ‘freedom’ mean to us in Wales today?
Speaking from personal experience “Dros ryddid” to me, simply means fighting for the right, as a disabled man, to live independently without external interference. That is easier said than done at times, I can assure you. But enough about me, let’s look at the amazing, brave individuals who have shared their experiences with us in this volume.
From the foreword, penned by Llinos Dafydd and Ifan Morgan Jones, I find myself nodding in agreement. In that, whatever may divide the people of Wales, be those divisions linguistic, geographic, political etc. the desire to have our voices heard is almost built into each of us. Small our nation may be, but it is certainly not quiet!
Both the editors and one of the contributors, Llywelyn ap Gwilym, Wales point out that Wales has quite the record where fighting our corner is concerned.
It’s a long list. From Llywelyn the Last’s battles with the Normans and Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion through the Merthyr Rising, Rebecca Riots and Penrhyn quarry strike to the burning of the Penyberth bombing school by Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine and D.J. Williams and the establishment of Cymdeithas yr Iaith.
And, more recently the formation of Yes Cymru and AUOB, proving that protest and standing up for ourselves is very much part of Wales’s past, present and indeed the future, if our history is anything to go by.
A better tomorrow
Why protest? That in itself is answered by each of the contributors to this volume. That is, to stand against injustice and seek to create a better Wales, a better world, indeed as an anonymous contributor, who is a member of XR Cymru says “a better tomorrow for us all.”
It was very interesting indeed to read how responses to the campaigns detailed by the contributors are as varied as the campaigns themselves: reactions to them, not just from the police, but from members of the public.
The contrast of dealing with the police either side of the border is detailed by Angharad Tomos: “If you come face to face with a police officer in Wales, Cymdeithas yr Iaith means something to them. It means nothing in England. More than once we were mistaken for members of the IRA…”
Reading this was certainly an eye opener for me. Reactions from the public can vary from online bullying from an anonymous account, as mentioned by Jess Davies, to support for the women of Greenham Common from some residents in Newbury, as discussed by Menna Elfyn.
The way politicians react to protest tends to vary in the accounts too. Branwen Niclas talks about how Wyn Roberts, her MP & a minister in the Welsh Office at the time, completely ignored letters from her whilst she was in prison.
Roberts did eventually agree to meet with Cymdeithas and in so doing “subverted Tory policy of refusing to meet with us as we were ‘terrorists’ who were breaking the law”.
This reader finds the idea that Cymdeithas were labelled terrorists by the government of the day rather bizarre. Interestingly, Dafydd Frayling expresses how “authorities who implement changes eventually are reluctant to admit that the pressure of protest is behind their decision”.
Perhaps in a volume about protest, I shouldn’t have been too surprised to read an example of protesting against the protestors. But in Frayling’s account of Cylch protesting against Cymdeithas yr Iaith, I certainly had my eyes opened!
One of the first protests concerned a motion supporting gay rights presented to the Cymdeithas annual conference. This was voted against time and again over the years, until the process for submitting motions was changed “to avoid facing the same old embarrassment”.
It was enlightening to read about the differences highlighted between traditional, modern and professional campaigning here.
In her account, Heddyr Gregory talks about the importance, within Shelter Cymru, of “stepping back, considering the situation carefully and ensuring no response or campaign will rock the boat too much and in so doing endangering our relationship with governments at every level” as opposed to her “instinctive response to shout loudly in a passionate protest.”
I, and those who know me, know which method I’d prefer, given the choice.
Jess Davies, meanwhile, talks about the differences between a conventional protest and online campaigning. “I always feel unsafe going alone, especially with so many of these taking place at night. To me, using my online platforms where I have over 300,000 followers is a much more effective way of speaking out about something I believe in…”
One thing each of the campaigns discussed in Dros Ryddid! has in common, be it a campaign against violence directed towards black people, the campaign to devolve broadcasting, the right for young people to live in the communities where they were raised or the campaign for peace, is that they are all campaigns which are very much ongoing.
Reading Dros Ryddid! has very much been an education. I can think of many who would welcome the chance to read an English language edition. It is indeed an essential read for those of us who proudly call this nation of protest home.
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