I don’t think this post will have much to do with apples. My grandma used to say that. It’s a phrase one uses when one has triumphed in some way. I think. So, Grandma would count out her cribbage hand, and it would amount to 16 points, and she’d say, in her dry, prairie way, “How d’ya like them apples?” as she moved her peg way way ahead of mine.
I went to an action or demo or march EVERY DAY this past weekend. And each was drastically different from the others. And each was powerful and moving in their own way. And one was mostly distressing, and the other two were mixed with discomfort and joy.
I don’t really like crowds. And these were among the biggest demos that Vancouver has ever ever had. The Friday one and the Sunday one. Not the Saturday one.
Friday was the anti-Olympics Convergence. I was there, with the choir I sing with, Patti Powell’s Accapellaboratory. We were singing with four other choirs: Solidarity Notes, The Cultural Medicine Cabinet, some folks from Simon Fraser University, and Anna B’s choir (i can’t remember the name of her choir, sorry…). Before the march, we practiced together; we gathered at the NorthWest corner of the block where the Van Art Gallery sits. We sang, Vanessa Richard’s “Occupying Army” which you can find on youtube, i think–and we sang, “children walk with the power” and we sang, “we shall not be moved” and we sang “Yes”. I think there were other songs, too, but not many. We cycled through these four or five songs, all standing in a circle on the lawn of the art gallery, churning the ground into mud and the sky into music. rich. Outside of our big circle, we didn’t sound like much, and there were thousands of people by that time, milling about, eating the food that Food Not Bombs brought for everyone, listening to the speeches about democracy and sustainability and watching/hearing the Carnival Band and stilt dancers and the burlesque show (grrrrr. that really angered me when i heard about that. so glad i didn’t hear it or see it before the march, it would have ruined it). We were singing to each other, gathering our voices to release into the streets, to offer to the Beautiful People, to share with the world.
There were no speeches about violence against women. There were no songs of Women’s Liberation. There was no mention of Women’s organizing in resistance to the Olympics, in resistance to the violence against women that ALWAYS spikes during major sporting events. There were feminists, there are ALWAYS feminists, we are everywhere, and radical, too, on the ground, in the ground, we are the root of all resistance–but we are not much visible, even to one another, these days it seems. There were a few people, including me, who were wearing t-shirts that said, “Buying Sex is not a Sport”. This is a campaign launched by an organization called “Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity” (REED) to target men who buy sex, to tell them to stop using womens bodies in pornography and prostitution. You can imagine how popular people who wear those shirts are–especially in a crowd of folks who think burlesque is edgy and hip.
give me strength.
the music gave me strength. Singing with people is like knowing their stories–you love them then. So together we sang and danced and loved up everyone we saw. The drunk American tourist guy, the becamera’ed and befuddled “mom and pop” from Balzac who stumbled into our march and joined us for a bit, the Russian reporters with the big camera and those pretty red and white uniforms, the masked anarchists chanting behind us (“I like singing better than chanting” i said to Cory. “I know,” she said, “chanting is so 1990”).
We heard that there was tension at the front of the march, and the march organizers were clearing a corridor through the thousands of people so we could get to where the Aboriginal Elders and the Police were squaring off. We walked through that narrow hallway of lively folk, singing “I send my love over the mountains…” in four part harmony, until we were nearly at the front, but not quite. It was crowded. we were stuck behind the papier mache torch and the BIG speakers. A young woman had the mic. We rested our voices for a moment and she took up yelling into the mic. “The police are interfering with our democratic right to protest” she hollered, “The world is watching” and she was angry. I became impatient. Where did she imagine we were going to go? the only place was into the stadium where the ceremonies were about to begin. I had no interest in taking the stadium, or trying to, and I don’t think my comrades did either. I wanted to show the people going into the ceremonies that there was another side, that these games had come with conflict, and at great cost to many. I think we did that. and in such a loving peaceful way, too. No less angry for all the music and joy, though. She took a breath, I yelled out “Let’s Sing!” and we started to do just that. the choirs rose our voices again. An Aboriginal man took the mic, and started chanting and singing. I think he was from the Six Nations. We sang along. I didn’t have the heart for dogma (me! imagine that…) One of the choir leaders, Earl, started us singing “We shall not be moved” again, and said, “We’ll just sing these two more, and then we’ll bid you good night”.
It was the most fun i’ve had in a demo since, I think, 2001 Take Back the Night. Maybe even more fun than that. Nah. There’s no men in Take Back the Night marches, they are therefore ALWAYS more fun…they do need more singing in them, though. (And not that Raffi song, either, “my body’s nobody’s body but mine”–I HATE that song…).
I loved singing. I loved meeting the corporate bloat and corruption and blatant injustice and greed of the Olympics with music and love and art and rage. I was, as I mentioned earlier, utterly appalled that it was also met with burlesque, that miserable, sparkly, corrupt representation of men’s construction of female sexuality–but, well, we still have a lot of work to do with our allies. Maybe they’re our allies…maybe not.
the next day, my mom called me all panicked because she saw the protest on the street, the masked anarchist smashing windows; cops in riot gear–sticks and guns drawn. The youth smashing windows were, you know, I can kinda get behind that. destruction of property is not violence. it’s destruction of property, but no one gets hurt. The cops, now, the cops really got things going. They had MACHINE GUNS fer cryin’ out loud. And billy clubs. The protesters had maybe four sticks (to hold up banners) among them. the cops didn’t use their guns, but they raised their sticks against those unarmed masked ones more than once. Completely unnecessary.
Mom left a message on my cell phone, “Erin, please call me, I hope you’re not there, if you’re there, leave now–” I called her back. I reassured her. “It’s okay, Mom, the balaclava you gave me for Christmas came in real handy…”
I was joking. She laughed. We both know I am not the hothead I once was. Sort of…
then on Saturday, I was at an entirely different demo. this one was a silent action with “Buying Sex is Not a Sport”. We all wore t-shirts that said “Buying Sex is Not a Sport”, and had leaflets that explained the point–we want to interfere with the male demand for paid sex. We know that trafficking of women for prostitution spikes during big sporting events and we want men to stop.
We were Athiests and Christians, women and men, young and middle-aged, Canadian of many sorts and Finnish (I know! WTF? Finns! they have one of the BEST National Epics ever–the Kalavela–the ultimate creator of the world is a woman who gives birth to the world (sensible, yes) and there are lots of Swans and Birch trees–plus the whole thing is told in Song! how cool is that? But this was a silent action)–anyhow. we stood in two lines, one along each corner of this strip bar in the Downtown Eastside. The bouncer dude came out and was all smarmy and giggly–“I love this country” he said, “stay here as long as you like, just so long as you don’t block the door.” he started letting men out the back door, so we stood there, too. we weren’t there long, and some of the women started shouting at us out the windows above us. “We pay taxes!” they shouted, and “We work hard, here, we’re not whores.”
Men walking by yelled up at them, “fucking whores!”
Another man yelled at us to go into the alleys, “that’s where the real problem is, those girls are on crack…”
One of the young men on my line started praying under his breath. But not so silent, really. A woman three or four people down that line yelled at him, “your Jesus doesn’t want me!” I struggled–do i intervene? or do I model the behaviour I want? I settled for a compromise and shot them both evil looks.
The women thought we were targeting them, the men thought we were targeting the women. Cause women always think we’re to blame; and men always think they are blameless. pah. It was heartbreaking and difficult.
We’re rethinking our strategy. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Sunday, Valentine’s day, the 19th annual Women’s Memorial March. Along with about 50 other women, I was a guardian, which meant i got to wear a yellow vest from the Carnegie Centre and walk with my friend Michelle at the edges of the march, making sure everyone was okay, the pace was right, the cops behaved.
Maybe I was still rattled from the night before, maybe i was just…more exposed than usual, or something–but it didn’t feel right this year. It’s kind of like Christmas in a way. There are people who spend the whole year getting ready for this event (which began 19 years ago, a rag tag tiny gang of angry grieving women walking in the streets keening and shouting–I was there, it was nothing like it is now). They add more squares to the memorial quilt, more names to the brochure. Stoke the fires of grief. and every year, the names of the women are again recited. Their killers invisible–protected. Their killers are all men. All men. Whether these women died because of a boot to the head, a gunshot, a brutal rape, a drug overdose, or pneumonia–every one of them was because of men’s direct or indirect actions, choices, decisions, behaviour, policies… And every year, we say, “she did not have to die. She did not die in vain.” But do these men hear us? Where are the killers? One woman who spoke told about seeing her sisters killer on the street as she was walking to the event. Perhaps some of the killers were walking with us in the march. Is this not rather like keeping the wound wide open?
I don’t know. and among the other guardians and organizers are women who are not allies–they are, in fact, enemies. They think they are doing good, and sometimes they are, but there are among them those who work to legitimate prostitution and pimping and those who seek to open up women-only space to transgendered people (both men who say they are women and women who say they are men–though they have turned their backs on their own womanhood, they still want access to the spaces we have created for each other). I have noticed that those who are wrong about prostitution are also wrong about trans stuff and woman-only spaces. There is a difference between ‘choice’ and ‘autonomy’. And those men who are insisting on their right to access women-only space are interfering with both women’s choices AND our autonomy. grr.
so, you know…i was grumpy.
And the organizers, every year they complain that the media doesn’t cover the event, and every year they treat the media as if they are the enemy. Not all the organizers, for sure, but i witnessed some pretty heavy-handed herding techniques among my, um, “allies”. Now, i know that the men with the cameras (and it was mostly men, especially among those carrying the BIG cameras–Freudian metaphor anyone? nah. too easy…) can get pushy. But i saw women pushing these guys, and herding them around, even when there was no ceremony going on…
it’s a fine line, for sure. you want those who are there to be able to see the speakers, not the back sof the camera guys filming the speakers, and some of the people who attended the march did not want to be filmed or photographed, and the guardians get to protect them, but if you want media coverage, then you have to put up with media. And you might just as well treat them with respect so they’ll report on the event with respect.
Sorrow and rage. sore feet and fatigue. I don’t know, I don’t know if i’ll go to that one next year. I don’t know if i’m helping the healing–or festering infection…
The women i know from there were happy to see so many people–there were thousands and thousands of people, 10 or 15 blocks full–at least 5000 folks–i’ve never seen such a mass. and peaceful, too. Considering the numbers, this march was very smooth.
women spoke at the police station, too. One was bitter, and blaming. She said she didn’t want to speak, because nothing ever changes. She said white feminists have betrayed her and her people. She said the cops continue to beat the people down. It was hard to listen to her. There is that bitterness. And little seems to change. And in fact, white women, and middle class women, have left the women’s movement, have abandoned our Aboriginal sisters. But not all of us have. We have a lot to do, a lot yet to learn, but I can’t believe that I won’t learn it, or that i won’t do it. I have to believe that I can, because if I can’t, then how the hell will men ever figure out how to stop rape and learn to be human?
Another speaker was hopeful. she’d just finished nearly a year of chemo, and told us she was almost 8 years clean and sober. and she found love and hope from the people around her, those who accepted and encouraged her “I am an ex-prostitute” she said, “I am from these streets” she said, and she believes that all women deserve better and we are together in this, and we’d better step up and keep stepping up and she thanked us for being there. In a way, it is so little. to show up, one day a year. but we need that infusion of power, too. all those people, all of them there to pay homage. To remember. To hold one another up.
I don’t know. I love that neighbourhood and i don’t like it at all.
So there you have it. discomfort, hope, cynicism, joy, cranky bits, heartbreak, music, love and rage.
Growth ain’t easy.
but you know, “no pain, no gain”.
I’m going to the gym now. cranking out deadlifts always helps.
damn. this was a loooooong post.
How d’ya like them apples?*
* said with the emphasis on “them”