Women’s march

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author:  janna wood | contributor

jael bartnik 

The sight of so many lives gathered in the streets of our January wasteland for the Women’s March nearly brought me to tears. Thankfully, I was able to keep them at bay. The wind was bitingly cold, and they would have frozen to my cheeks. 

Compared to the last march, it was a bit smaller. The signs were fewer, as marchers protected their hands from the cold. When cars honked in support, the marchers’ cheers were more scattered. After all, we were busy wiggling our fingers and toes for warmth. We didn’t receive handouts with ready-made chants to be shouted. Now, more people, more signs, more chants, and more cheers make community marches more fun, but as we trudged along with frozen legs and noses, I recall feeling that the tone of this march was fitting. We were cold, we were tired, we were wearing red in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women. All these elements, in my mind, suited the current political mood. As we walked, I thought about my numb hands. How fared the homeless today, who lacked my privileged choice to face the elements? How fared our missing Indigenous sisters in this cold? I thought of Neil Stonechild and the mothers of children lost to the starlight tours. 

Still, we did not walk in silence. At the start, local band Natural Sympathies performed, encouraging us to dance with them to keep warm; many of us joyfully obliged. Speakers reminded us that Saskatchewan’s domestic violence statistics are double the national average, to which the audience replied “Shame!” Elder Lillian Piapot gave a blessing before we marched. From young to old, people held a variety of creative hand-made signs – many from the free YWCA sign-making workshop offered on Jan. 12 – with funny, moving, and thought-provoking messages. My favourites included “No More Stolen Sisters,” “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or it Will Be Bullshit,” “Boys Will Be Boys Good People,” and “However We Dress, Wherever We Go, Yes Means Yes and No Means No.” One particularly salty sign featured a photo of Sandra Bullock from the film Bird Box that read “I Know You Like Your Bitches Blindfolded, But This Bird’s Box Is Her Own Business.” Throughout the walk, empowering music blasted from truck-mounted speakers. People danced and sang along, energized by one another’s enthusiasm and the brisk air. 

The spectrum of emotion was as diverse as the participants. I saw seriousness, sadness, and anger aplenty, but there were also hundreds of smiles and moments of great levity. A few furry pups were prancing and playing amidst the march, including my friend’s white husky-cross, who seemed not only unaffected by the cold, but positively gleeful about it. My friend jokingly scolded him as he hammed it up for the cameras: “Today’s not about you, Frank. You’re a handsome white male.” 

In the stopped traffic, we saw many smiles and waves of support, but there were also a few furrowed brows and pissed-off frowns. Generously, I tried to imagine that they were just annoyed at being made late by our procession, but I (like most feminists) am all too aware that women’s empowerment and equality is a point of contention for too many. This is why we march. 

In times of stark political division, being able to see, speak with, stand with, and feel the collective energy of people who believe in women is powerful. To see so many people show up in the frigid winter to stand with women is to see the power of our collective voice in the flesh. This is precisely why it is important for the YWCA to hold these marches and for us as community members to show up for these (and other) community events for women’s empowerment. We need to maintain a visible presence for the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women, for survivors of domestic violence, and to continue to push for equity among all marginalized genders and sexes. When we lobby the government for laws like Clare’s law, which allows police to disclose someone’s violent or abusive past to their partners, we need to have a crowd that supports, petitions for, and gives voice to the issues. We were reminded before the march to remember all who were missing from among us – not by choice, but due to race and gender-based violence.  

Looking at the statistics, we were missing many. According to Statistics Canada’s 2015 findings, 480 people out of every 100,000 in Saskatchewan experienced family violence, and 666 out of 100,000 experienced intimate partner violence. According to the government of Canada, although Indigenous women and girls make up only 4 per cent of the population, they comprise 16 per cent of female homicides in Canada. Here in Saskatchewan, although Indigenous women make up only 6 per cent of the population, they make up 60 per cent of our province’s missing women cases. Shame, indeed. 

After the walk, hot drinks and dainties were served. The chairs, arranged in large circles, silently invited people to talk to the strangers they’d walked among. Efforts to respect and promote truth and reconciliation were evident not only in the red we wore, but in the offering of food, the round discussion, Elder blessing, Treaty 4 acknowledgement, and in all the community-building efforts of the day. The feeling in the room was safe, inclusive, cheerful. Strangers smiled at one another and made room in line as we all stomped and shivered toward the warmth of the YWCA. 

Unfortunately, the reach of the march is somewhat limited in that traffic stops, news stories, and collective voice can be ignored or tuned out by those who need to hear and see it most. Had there been organized fundraising efforts, perhaps that would have lent a different weight to the Women’s March story. Perhaps the reach could be felt further by passing around a collection for YWCA programming. However, the sight of so many human beings braving sub-zero temperatures to walk together made a statement every bit as strong as our signs. I’d like to think that our determination to march against the elements could prove something to a skeptic – we are not fair-weather feminists. We believe this strongly, that we will sacrifice our own comfort to lend our voices to this message. 

Thank you to everyone who organized the second annual Regina Women’s March, and to everyone who supported and attended. Your efforts defied the forecast – it was a beautiful day. 

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