The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Marching forward, together

Tonight I went to the Auckland International Women's Day event, which was (unsurprisingly) focused around rape and violence, particularly in relation to recent tumultuous events to do with police, rape, batons, bottles, and some very brave women who have faced a barrage of slanging from some quarters.

I arrived a bit late. I wasn't sure I wanted to go, for reasons previously canvassed on this blog, but I was meeting Ol' Moe so I fronted up. I'm very glad I did.

There were some fantastic speakers in Aotea Square - I was a fair way from the action, but I was particularly impressed with the woman from Rape Crisis who read a powerful message from Louise Nicholas, another woman from Stop Demand who I also don't know the name of, and Laila Harre (speaking as a feminist and as leader of the National Distribution Union). There was an open mic too, with speakers not always covering the topic at hand, and receiving unabashed booing from a quite conservative pocket of women who had come along.

It was a diverse crowd, not just politically, but also in terms of gender, age and ethnicity. Certainly a wider range of people than I've seen in the past, and a significant number of men wanting to be counted as opposing rape and violence. Of course I spotted one particular man who really shouldn't have been on the march, given its focus, but then activist circles aren't necessarily less sexist than general society, and sadly I suspect he wasn't the only hypocrite pounding the tarmac for International Women's Day. I didn't let him get me down.

After the speakers we headed down Queen St, chanting angrily, waving placards, and generally showing our distaste for rape and the police culture, along with our support for each other as human beings. The organisers did a great job, and it was really heartening to see so many young women playing a leadership role. A lot of those attending had made their own placards and banners, and I tend to think that's a good indication of the level of outrage and concern. When someone bothers to come up with a slogan, procure some paint, and commit their words to coreflute or calico, then their depth of feeling is certainly more ocean than river.

At the bottom we stopped in Downtown Plaza for a romper stomper speech from Jane Kelsey, before heading back up the hill and ending in the Square again bang on time for a mass of pretty fireworks from the Sky Tower. It was a good upbeat ending to what I found was a surprisingly positive march.

And so now we get to the bit where I write about how I felt. As I've already stated above and elsewhere, I didn't think I could go tonight. Put simply, I was worried I would cry. I thought that the crowd emotion, and the subject at hand, would dissolve me and I'd end up a total wreck in the middle of Queen St on a Thursday night.

And for the first twenty minutes or so that was a real possibility. As regular readers will know, my outrage over rape and other forms of violence is very visceral, very raw, and has been very close to the surface in recent years. Also I have long picked up very strongly on crowd vibes, and when I arrived at the rally it was an angry angry group of people. I could feel it in my toes, the frustration and rage of the many, but the speakers channelled it well and gave a sense of hope. By the time we were walking down the road I knew I wasn't going to lose it, but I avoided chanting all the same. I was happy to let my presence alone speak for my passion about this issue, for once.

I have an inkling that there were many women who didn't come tonight for reasons similar to mine. In our society crying is seen as a symptom that we are not coping, that we are weak and worthless. This is, of course, also how rape and sexual abuse often make people feel. And yet crying is in fact a coping mechanism, and one far less negative than hitting or yelling. It strikes me as no surprise that the shedding of tears is characterised as a "womanly" response, and bears negative connotations, while shouting or smacking is seen by some, still, as a sign of the strong, the male.

I felt angry tonight, more than once. But I also felt a sense of hope that I haven't previously; perhaps our primal scream has finally begun to ululate from our throats? Have we reached a tipping point, not only for our public consciousness, but also for our legal system and our police force?

It's my fervent desire that we look back on these months and years of searching and hoping and in the decades to come we reflect "that was the turning point, that was the moment when rape began to stop." Because I don't think I can wait much longer.

Other International Women's Day event reports:
- Tony Milne was in Wellington and gives a brief report
- Apathy Jack was also in Auckland but is a lot grumpier than me. I knew I shouldn't have poked him in the leg.
- Indymedia has the original notices and thread for the events today, plus coverage of Wellington (and more pics), and also a great bunch of shots from Auckland tonight. Added 9th March, 9am: Indymedia has a full index page up now, with links to the growing number of articles covering yesterday's events.
- Stuff has brief coverage of Wellington and more detail on Auckland. Interestingly, they give the Union of Fathers nut more credence than he deserves - I think he drove past twice and although he was annoying (and got booed) we couldn't really make out what he was saying, and the speakers could still mostly be heard (and I was at the back). Added 9th March, 9am:
Stuff has a more detailed article this morning, focusing more on Wellington.
- Added 9th March, 9am: The Herald this morning has an article focused on the confrontation between police and protesters in Wellington, but also mentioning Auckland's event. There's also a small image gallery - all the shots are from Wellington except for the last two which are Auckland ones.
- Added 9th March, 9am: Scoop has a plethora of links on International Women's Day on it's front page, currently the second lead under NZ News.
- Addded 9th March, 11.15am: Riddley Walker, frequent PA System commenter, gives a report on the Auckland march too.
- Added 9th March, 2.07pm: jo at stanselen recounts a conversation with a male police officer she encountered on the Christchurch march.
- Added 9th March, 7.54pm: Maia's listing of the events around the country has become a comment thread covering some of the events and also critiquing what happened in Wellington.
- Added 10th March, 11.01am: Terence was in Wellington and writes about why (and why he wasn't there because he hates the police).
- Added 10th March, 11.01am: Auckland's Burning has a big posse of pics from Auckland.
- Added 10th March, 11.01am: jo gives a further report, including pics, of the vigil in Otautahi/Christchurch.
- Added 10th March, 6.53pm: Bomber covers the Auckland march, which he attended, and also comments on the police actions in Wellington and the broader issue of rape and violence towards women by police.

(If you have links to add please email or comment them and I'll slot them in as I get a chance).


llew said...

I see they burned an effigy in Welly. Who'd have thought?

i'm burning (an effigy of) Alan Bollard in the weekend.

Anonymous said...

I think the culture has changed. The alleged events took place a long time ago and the case was prosecuted by the Police today. The culture is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it has come a long way.

Span said...

KiZ, I agree that the culture has changed. It is significantly better than it was in the 1980s. Probably the 1980s were better than the 1960s too.

But there are still improvements to be made. I don't expect total perfection, but I do expect a police force (and a wider justice system) that can deal with rape allegations in a way that doesn't diminish the dignity of the complainant.

I was thinking overnight, before reading your comment, that I wanted to do a post on this particular aspect of the recent ructions, because it seems to be an area of some debate. Hopefully I'll get a chance to do that soon.

Anonymous said...

Cool, we entirely agree then.