This past weekend i went on the third annual Women’s Housing March in the Downtown Eastside. It’s organized by the Power of Women Group in the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and it’s always a mish-mash of messages and contradictions and rage and sorrow and hilarity and love. whew. exhausting.
The Power of Women Group invited me to MC the march with Priscillia and Harsha. The idea was to do a guided “gentriFUCKation” tour of the neighbourhood. We would stop at a few sites, notable condo developments and new restaurants, and say a few words about the middle-class coming into this impoverished neighbourhood, pushing the poor out. I went to a planning meeting at the womens’ centre a week before the event, and one of the women insisted we try to close down the restaurants, at least one of them. Others were varying degrees of adamant about that, and another woman took an opposite position..”I was raised in a restaurant family, those people work hard, they don’t make that much money…”
We are set up to be in opposition to one another. The women of the centre, the non-profits and the for-profits; the professionals and the politicals. Meanwhile, the invisible wealthy at the top of the pyramid, they get to keep going, keep going, keep amassing wealth and no one questions them because the oppressed are too busy being at each others throats. So it was in Marx’s time, so it is now.complex systems of inequality and oppression and the system just incorporates reforms to benefit the powerful once again.
What to do? There were a few hundred of us, mostly women, a few men. two wonderful puppets, ten feet high. A jazz band. a choir. salsa dancers! we stopped in the street, where the Downtown Eastside meets Gastown, and the salsa dancers danced, and so did a whole bunch of the women in the march. The music kept cutting out, something about the laptop they were using to play it, and connections and i don’t know what. But the dancers just continued until the music started again. And the choir! Earl Peach conducts several choirs around town–this one is Solidarity Notes–they learn protest songs and labour union songs–and sing for each other and sing for free and you don’t even have to really know anything about music to join, but Earl is a fine teacher too and that choir sings like rebel angels.
The jazz band’s singer was a dark haired woman with a smokey voice and a history of homelessness herself, I can’t recall her name. And one of the guys played a slide trombone–those are even MORE fun than accordions, if you can imagine. And Delannah Bowen sang, too, and her voice could make a statue cry.
Verna Simmard had just been murdered the night before. She was pushed or thrown out of a sixth floor window of a crappy hotel. Just steps from where we listened to the music of Delannah’s sorrowful joyful song. Verna screamed on the way down. That street, Hastings Street, is lined on both sides with tall narrow Single Room Occupancy Hotels, most operated by a non-profit society, some operated still by private land owners. Slum lords. Her voice would have carried–bounced off the neighbouring buildings and swept along the wind tunnel of Hastings Street. In life, her voice did not carry. No one knows why Verna died. but you can bet your bottom dollar that it was a man who killed her.
And yet, to hear the marchers and the speakers, you wouldn’t think that. No one mentioned male violence against women. There was some mention of men, mind you. But only in the way of “here are the men walking with us. They are good men, thank you, men for supporting us.” Fawning. I don’t know if those men are good, really. Probably most of ’em are. They can be, because there are a few goons who will beat and rape and kill some women to make us all toe the line. Who among us, which woman here, has no been afraid of or insulted or threatened or attacked by a man? Who among us has not had to protect and defend herself, and sometimes capitulate in order to survive? who? not one. Not even women who say, “nothing like that ever happened to me. I made my own way.”
We have to say that kinda stuff to survive. Maybe that’s why there was no mention of men’s violence against women. Maybe that’s why the only mention of men was how nice they are, the ones with us. I met a man from Lebanon the other day. He said he used to feel bad about men in his country, about himself as a man from Lebanon, because when he came to Canada, people would say to him, “Oh, Lebanon, women are very oppressed there. Men are very sexist there.”
“Then i learned that one man here, Robert Pickton, killed 60 sex workers [sic]–that has never happened in my country.” In Canada, we think we don’t have sexism (well, not me, I don’t think that–I only wish it), we think that we are equal.
We passed by the beautiful old buildings of the oldest part of Vancouver. Beautiful and derelict, some of them. Others spruced up and open for business. A high-end clothing store; a place that is always empty but sells hair extensions (random); restaurants, not divey ones, either. One of these restaurants advertised for people to come for breakfast and “the free show in the alley”.
“Shame on you” we hollered on our way by.
Vancouver is the third most liveable city in the world.
Not for you, though. Not for you if you’re poor, or woman, or driven mad by suffering, or addicted. All conditions that are imposed, and usually as a direct result of male violence. I cannot tell you the number of women who were at that march who have been or are in an intimate relationship with a man who beats them; is or was prostituted; is or was under the ‘care’ of a psychiatrist; is or was separated from her children; is or was sexually abused by her father/uncle/brother…
and yet they still marched. Men have damaged and stunted them. But they still love, and they mourned and raged for Verna, and they insisted that the people in the restaurants listen to them, “see the show”–
See the show. Then let’s all rewrite the script.