Sudbury's Take Back the Night took place on Thursday evening and it was one of the least empowering feminist events I have ever attended.
A few months ago, I was asked to speak at the event. I started receiving committee emails at this time and noted that there were police officers on the organizing committee. Every person on this committee was there as part of their job representing various organizations.
One email included a draft of the new "parade purpose" which was changed in order to fit with the police's new community mobilization model. Yes, you read that correctly. They changed the written purpose of TBTN to get a parade permit.
When I suggested that we could march without the police which could be more empowering because so many victims of violence are revictimized by police services, I was removed from the speakers list because we are not allowed to subject "guilt on another because of their profession."
A group of wonderful (and angry! ) feminists pulled together to get me back on the speakers list. Then we attended the event.
I think I was the only speaker who even said the words "queer" "trans" or implied that things like skin colour or disabilities can impact experiences of violence (there was an indigenous speaker who had a lot to say about intergenerational violence so they at least had that covered). Half the speakers used the phrase "not all men" because they wanted to make sure the men present were comfortable. But you know where men are already comfortable? everywhere. That is kind of the point of the event.
When my speech was over, the next speaker was a (white male) police officer. This officer has arrested several of the women in the room at various times including sex workers and local activists engaged in a peaceful protest. He also has been known to displace homeless women. And he had been invited to speak by the committee!
He actually said that since the beginning of time, humans have been violent (not true, but if it were, why would we bother trying to end violence at all). Then he differentiated between wars and hurtful violence, making it sound like violence used to be productive when it was to steal indigenous land or stop Hitler but now we are just using it to be mean. There is good violence and bad violence. And the nice protective police officer seems happy to decide which is which. That was just the first of five minutes but the whole thing was pretty terrible. And not all men are violent, in case us ladies forgot.
When a few radical feminists expressed outrage at him being on stage, they were chastised. A group of women turned their backs on the officer when he got on stage and another group ran up to block the police officer from having to see them. Two women went on stage at the open mic to publicly shame the women who expressed discomfort with the police officer's presence because they met him and he's a nice guy.
Other themes included that feminism isn't women> men but women=men, that men can help protect women (from other men, if they feel like it, because that is totally empowering), that not all men are violent, and one queer woman was even asked by a fellow activist not to talk about same sex violence because it takes away from the fact that men are the most common perpetrators. It was seriously fucked up.
I've read a dozen facebook posts from women who were outraged or left feeling less safe and empowered than when they got there. This is a huge problem.
So, now to figure out what to do about it... how do we take back take back the night?