On Friday, September 18th, I took part in my first protest. This was a monumental occasion and an item I was thrilled to cross off my bucket list. Yes, it took me 29 years to finally partake in a protest and yes, protesting was on my bucket list. I’ve always felt a huge rush of energy when I’m in a large crowd of people who all have the same goal in mind. The closest feeling I ever got to this was walking back to my car in the swarm of people leaving a victorious Rider game. I needed more than that.
I anxiously watched the time tick by throughout the day while at work, barely being able to concentrate on anything else. I had joined the planning committee in June, so this day had been a long time coming. I dedicated a few Saturday’s to agitprop meetings where I was able to spend my afternoon painting signs in a room full of women. We exhibited some of our deepest feelings onto those signs. Mine all had a personal tone to them as one person stuck out in my mind during their creation. They read, “Not For Sale”, “I don’t need you to protect me, I need you to respect me”, “Violence does not equal masculinity – Stop violence against women”, and, “Women Fight Back”. Other Saturday’s were spent discussing the route, how to spread our message, how to get other women to join, and planning the night. Every single one of those Saturday’s felt like a day-trip to a spa. It was my getaway from a world that I spend too much time feeling isolated, different, and alone in. At those meetings, I was able to relax, knowing I was surrounded by like-minded women who respected and shared in my opinions, who felt the same animosity that I did, who made a point of changing the way we do things, who removed sexism from our every-day language.
Finally, the night had come. I went out for dinner with some friends, but I was distracted through most of the meal. This was such a big deal for me. It felt like redemption. I’ve had a lot of things taken from me over the past year – my humility, my sense of safety, my trust, my happiness – and this was my moment to say “fuck you” and take it all back. We approached the location and I could already see the red pinnies of the safety women who had been training throughout the summer in an effort to protect us from anyone who wished us harm as we marched. I knew that this place was safe and I could feel my tension releasing. I was in awe by the women who surrounded me. I felt that rush I was hoping for, it was so positive and powerful.
I was asked to hold a “Take Back the Night” sign with a friend on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, right behind the MC and speakers. This was a whole new perspective. I looked out over the crowd and felt their cheers, their cries of “shame”, and their raw emotion as women spoke to different aspects of violence against women. The MC helped keep the energy going by sharing her frustrations with society and her gratitude for the attendees. An Aboriginal woman spoke about the astronomical number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada and the very obvious understatement it held in all facets of political power. A student from UBC spoke about the prevalence of sexism and danger that pose female students on campus and within the education system. Another woman spoke about her experiences as an Asian woman growing up in Vancouver and the intersection of sexism and racism that affects her daily life. Each speaker evoked emotion from different place inside me. Sometimes I cried out of frustration, sometimes I cried out of sorrow, other times I cried out of anger. But through those tears was an overwhelming sense of strength and an intensity that glowed and hummed amongst the 500+ women who had gathered in support.
We began marching, cautiously, out onto the streets. It took gentle nudges from our safety team and organizers to encourage us to take the entire street and not just the sides. It just goes to show how ideologies have been engrained into us so deeply that the thought of taking up space is so foreign and rebellious that we are apprehensive ever after knowing this was the whole point. We soon were able to stop traffic completely over 6 blocks of one of Vancouver’s busiest downtown streets – Granville. Buses were empty and stalled on the side of the street, cars were stuck in the middle of a massive crowd with confused looks on the driver’s faces. We passed by porn shops and strip clubs. We made sure to pay particular interest to them as they evoke sexism and patriarchy to their core. Bystanders took photos and watched us march by, some women even joining in. There were a few men who yelled at us, told us we were discriminative for not allowing them to join the march – so ironic.
All too soon, the march was over and we were in a park off of Davie (I’ve lived here for over a year and I still have some serious directional issues). Aboriginal women gathered and sang a warrior’s song using the drums they had made. It was a powerful and moving end to an overwhelmingly positive march. The police presence was low and there were little to no incidents of danger or harm to any of the protesters. Everyone was on a high from the energy and accomplishment of the first Take Back the Night march held in Vancouver in 10 years.
I can barely articulate the way I felt in that march, surrounded by women, yelling into the night sky demanding the end of violence against women, for women to have the right to feel safe on the streets day and night, for patriarchy to stop dictating how women should live our lives, and more. I felt the safest I ever had on a downtown street at night. I saw the red-pinny wearing women surround the crowd as they moved with us and swarmed any woman who diverted from the crowd. Even a police presence has never given me that sense of security.
As the crowd dwindled and only a few organizers were left, a drunken man wearing nothing but jeans and a blazer approached us and attempted to take one of our signs that were left piled up against a rock. I found myself looking down and stepping away from him as I tried to always keep the rock in between him and I. That sense of security and safety was gone. Two hours – that’s all I could get. I felt a metaphorical boot kick me in the ass, I was back in reality. But those two gleaming hours of hope gave me a view of a world where feminism is acknowledged and celebrated. A world where women aren’t seen as sexual objects to inherently dominate and posses. A world where I know that I’m an equal and that I don’t have to fear a man cat-calling, following me, or being violent with me. A world where patriarchy isn’t the ruling class. That night, I forgot what it felt like to race to my car with my keys strategically placed in my fist. I distanced myself from the feelings of fear and uncertainty that came whenever I walk a street alone. That night, I knew what it felt like to be a woman who was fighting back and it was fucking exhilarating.