On this day in 1981, Bobby Sands was elected to Parliament. His candidacy was a risky maneuver, given that he was in prison and on hunger strike at the time and while his win ended up being a masterful propaganda tool, it did not save his life.
Bobby’s win was a message to the English government in general, and a direct rebuke to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was her stubborn refusal to decriminalize prisoners that led to massive Republican mobilization in the North of Ireland. There were huge protests throughout the region in support of the prisoners and eventually, a huge number of votes for Sands. Many voters hoped that the win would force the ‘Iron Lady’ to a compromise which would lead to the end of the hunger strike and better treatment for Republican prisoners.
Their hopes were dashed shortly after the election when Thatcher made it clear that despite his MP status, Bobby Sands and those like him would never be more than criminals or terrorists to her. She was no more likely to listen to him or his supporters after he was elected than she was beforehand. However, the international scrutiny grew. Tensions in the North of Ireland increased as the hunger strike continued and journalists flooded into the area, producing daily updates of how little progress had been made, and how soon the newest MP could die on his protest. It was a nightmare scenario for the English government that did not appear sympathetic to many international viewers who were getting their first in-depth looks at life in the North through their television sets.
Bobby Sands died twenty-six days after he was elected, triggering yet another by-election. His parliamentary position didn’t save him or the other nine men who died on hunger strike as well but it did alter the way the world saw Margaret Thatcher and the English government, and it changed politics forever in the region. The government quickly passed a law stating that convicted felons couldn’t be candidates in order to make sure that another hunger-striker couldn’t be elected, but massive demonstrations and huge voter turnout meant that Republicans were no longer going to stay out of politics. Shortly thereafter, Sinn Fein started presenting candidates across the whole island, and it has not stopped since.
Watch the pivotal and historic moment when Bobby Sands was elected in the video below and remember, sometimes voting really does matter. It can change the world we live in for better or worse, and that’s easy to forget in the midst of political dysfunction and partisanship. We can’t ever let the frustration and disappointment silence us, or the bastards win. Vote every chance you can.
(And if you’re in Ireland, make sure that you vote on May 25th, 2018)