Saturday, November 26, 2005

Reclaim the Night- in memory of Andrea Dworkin

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25th November.

At twenty to six, my amazing blogger friend and I had reached Soho Square, where women were gathering in preparation for a march in protest against the worldwide pandemic of violence against women and girls. We huddled on the street behind a row of parked motorbikes. Next to us we saw the colourful banners that were to be carried with us propped up against the railings. A pile of laminated Reclaim the Night posters lay on the pavement beneath them, similar to the one I had saved from last year and brought with me to wave. Isabel Eden from the Poppy Project was being interviewed to the right of us, a brilliant pink feather boa about her neck. On the other side of the road, the wonderful London Radical Cheerleaders were practicing their routines, waving pink and black pompoms in the air. The crowd of women continued to grow as we chatted, stamped our feet, and wondered why we didn't think of bringing soup along.

When we were assembled for the march, with our police escort before us, I looked back and realised just how many women were there. In 2004 it was estimated that around fifty women marched. This year, there was at least triple that number. Behind us the Women's International Peace and Freedom League played trumpets, trombones and a large drum made out of an empty watercooler container, emblazoned with sloganed stickers. I wondered aloud why I hadn't reclaimed the similar container from my office, I would have enjoyed having a drum to hit. I'm sure I heard maracas, and I was soon to discover the incredible noise that my mate's quiet looking plastic whistle could make. We danced as we crowded there, and admired a golden sparkly banner held aloft by several women proclaiming Reclaim the Night. Women handed out leaflets, including the texts of the Radical Cheerleaders' chants. The atmosphere was incredible, and as my lovely pal remarked, we felt caged, desperate to get out there and shout down the streets.

When eventually we were given the signal, we started off down the side street in a huge procession, flanked by police and their motorcycles, and as we turned the corner we found our route led us right down the middle of Tottenham Court Road. There is a thrill in walking down the middle of a huge forbidding road in a group for whom the traffic has been stopped. Usually Tottenham Court Road is jam packed with cars and the associated pollution and noise, and in crossing the road, one feels as if one is taking some stupid risk. On each side of the streets people stopped to stare at us, and I found my eyes drawn to the windows of the tall buildings which line the street, as people peered out of their curtains at this unusual spectacle. We replied to them by waving frantically, and cheered when they responded in kind, or with thumbs-up signs as they realised why we were there. Passing the hated Spearmint Rhino (a lap dancing club), my companion started the chant from last year: 2,4,6,8 Can't you get a proper date? Simple and satisfying. The doorman had the look of one who wasn't quite sure how to react to the boos and hisses directed at his place of work, and of course the people we really wanted to shout at were the wealthy and overpriveleged men who sat safe inside the club, supporting the sale and objectification of women.

The march ended with a mixed sex rally at the University of London Union. Finn Mackay reminded us that the event was held in honour of Andrea Dworkin and her tireless efforts against patriarchal violence, and one of the speakers read out one of that great woman's Reclaim the Night speeches.

We had made a mark. People had seen us, heard our message, seen feminism and female solidarity striding down the middle of the road, holding back the traffic, and taking back the streets.

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