This week’s highlights include a lot of strategy, random discussions of buttsecks (both days — it is Pride weekend after all), and a repeat offender.
Disappointed in myself for being trampled under the wheel of inherited poverty, and missing Week 11 while my housing situation collapsed in on itself for the fifth time, I was determined to step out again for Week 12. These demonstrations give me an opportunity to step into a colourful performance, parodying my former self, while also taking a stand for social justice. As such, they are important to my emotional well-being, as they often also force me to think about how and why certain things play out, both in the street demonstrations and in my own personal life. And when those things play out, it forces me to think about how to respond to it the following week. I feel really good when I participate, so I brought my loincloth out today.
Colour And Humour
During Week 11, a passerby told one of my fellow pro-choice demonstrators that they couldn’t distinguish between them and pro-life demonstrators (who all wear sandwich boards, are typically all elderly, and all look consistently unhappy to be there). We met during the week to discuss this problem, among others, and how to address it. My solution was to encourage clown props and as much hyper-saturated colour as possible. I realized very early on that I would probably be the only person in my underwear (though two weeks ago, one other person took off their top in solidarity). However, there is nothing (in theory) that should prevent a pro-choice demonstrator (who is so inclined) from dressing up in, say, a Spiderman costume or a dinosaur suit. Literally no reasonable person could mistake that for a pro-life demonstration, right? Well, for the time being, while the sun is nearly frying us out there, balloon-hats-a-plenty and bright sunny colours shall distinguish our smiling faces from the misery of the sandwich boards. And that seemed to work just fine. While not everyone subscribes at present to trying to be as comedic and light-hearted as possible, those of us who have been involved since the beginning have had to, just to make it easier to keep going. It was very clear from the first week that projecting our anger into the streets is going to diminish all the energy we have as a group, and it’s amazing how much longer we can last when we do something as simple as put on a clown nose before we pick up a sign.
Noise, Music, And Flyers
Another point we raised in our meeting was the possibility of bringing a portable sound system to play music, such as the “Every Sperm is Sacred” Monty Python song, or porn music and discotheque music from the 70s. Since I’ve literally honked two brand new clown horns to death, squawked an entire bag of noise-making party favours into eternal silence, misplaced at least one kazoo (which was disappointingly low-volume compared to the sound of being badgered by a pro-life demonstrator), and worn out the thrilling tribal call of a noise-maker from an African art store, I recently armed myself with a metal whistle on a rainbow lanyard. My tactic for disengaging with people who are out looking for a fight (and trying to pick one with me), or who are looking for someone to pick on and dump all their sexist bullshit onto (and who start this, for instance, by sneering at my tits from 3 inches away), has been to generate an extremely irritating wall of sound. I have repeatedly made this recommendation to my friends and even provided noise-makers as a solution, and a few people have also brought a lovely array of instruments. And boy, do I have a lot more to say on that — but first, more on the flyers.
I still had a few hundred totally sarcastic quarter-page flyers from when I designed mine and had them printed. After discussing the success of the pins, patches, condoms, and zines, we also agreed that handing out flyers about why we are there would be tremendously helpful to attracting more positive attention. After all, at least one pro-lifer was seen passing out pamphlets that said “Why are you people here?” which we suspect was full of biblical and pseudo-scientific jibber-jabber about how abortion is totally the same as strangling a toddler to death with one’s bare hands. Or invading Poland. Or something. I’m only guessing because no one was successful in obtaining one of them, as much as the very thought of it reduced a few of us to childish giggle fits (and at least a couple of us to balling up our fists). That, and one of these notorious sandwich boards says “If I’m not a child, you’re not pregnant.” And since both of these statements are true, I’m missing the missing point. So we made flyers using three different photos from previous demonstrations, urging anyone who believes in bodily autonomy to join us every weekend. As far as I can tell, those were also a success.
A final really important point we raised (again) in our mid-week meeting was how important our numbers are, and how our numbers impact how we are treated by the general public and by people who appear to have been recruited explicitly for the express purpose of antagonizing and attempting to incite us. When I was alone on the first Friday a month ago, what happened served as a stark contrast to what happened the very next day in the presence of a lot of fellow pro-choice demonstrators: apart from unwanted advances (that tapered off somewhat when I stood up for myself) and uninvited touching from women, I had absolutely zero trouble while I was alone (and in fact, strangers approached me to take a stand against the pro-life demonstrators throughout the day); and when we had enormous numbers, we appeared to invite enormous problems (which has continued to escalate in subsequent weeks). But nothing, and I mean nothing, seems to create a hazardous demonstration quite like the number three. When there has only been three of us is when some of the most persistent and hostile people (apart from the man two weeks ago — who came back today for more baiting) have taken their issues with me to within an inch of my face. So this week, we followed each other across the intersection to make sure no one was isolated. And it worked to our advantages as a group and as individuals.
Reasons Why We Need All These Tactics
While we were using our colourful buddy system approach, a man walked up to me, stopped just a couple inches from my body, and sneered at my tits (as mentioned above). I moved my sign down when I realized what was going to happen, when he didn’t look away immediately (this has happened before). He started talking into my sign, so I put it down, blew my whistle, and yelled “SEXIST!” He began yelling at me, so I blew my whistle again and started yelling “GO AWAY!” and making sure to keep blowing on that whistle until he got the picture — I’m not there to have a fight with him.
Within a few minutes, another man started looking at me while talking loudly on his cell phone about being at “Abortion Corner” near “the lady with the clown wig”. When someone arrived to greet him, he asked me if I’m pro-life or pro-choice. I said (as my friends moved closer to me) that whatever choice a pregnant person makes, I support it. I’m pro-choice and against sexual harassment. He immediately raised his voice declaring that he didn’t think I was one of “those people”, and called us “a bunch of cunts” before storming away in what is presumably the stupidest and most spontaneous pissy fit ever thrown by an adult male.
A third man then came across the crosswalk to tell me that if I want “them” to get lost, I have to get lost too, and so does everyone else, otherwise I’m just standing for a “one-sided conversation” and am no better than “they” are. I said “but not all ideas are equal”, and he walked away mumbling the same thing he had just finished saying. Virtually any time someone stopped to talk to me, there were at least two people focusing their attention on us and listening for any signs that the conversation is about to escalate. And I was watching everyone else just as closely. For those of us who were relatively isolated from a significantly larger group of demonstrators across the street, it worked.
Today, I woke up with a case of the jitters, as I sometimes do on the morning of a demonstration. I tried to just shake off the feeling of misdirected and baseless anxiety while I picked out the most colourful ensemble I could — most fortunately, someone offered to drive me there this time, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the bus drivers. Or with showing up alone. But when we got there, we were waiting more than 20 minutes for any pro-lifers to show up at all. For a while there, we thought they might just stay home. But oh, how they just love to disappoint. By showing up and staying later than usual on the hottest day we’ve had to deal with yet.
The 9th Annual Vancouver Dyke March
While we gathered at the same intersection we’ve occupied for 3 months now, just a few blocks away, an all-genders march to celebrate women and their activist efforts in the LGBTQ+ community was gathering at the same time. Like East Side Pride, which I have missed in previous years, and which I missed again this year because of these demonstrations, I decided today to prioritize the demonstration over participating in the Dyke March. Many individuals from the pro-choice activist community I am involved in have told me that my presence and energy is motivating them to keep going. As a result, I am feeling an increasing responsibility as time goes on, to keep participating. If I am motivating other people to take part, then there will continue to be other people to motivate me to take part. The Dyke March and the Trans & Genderqueer March (which happened early in the evening yesterday), just like SlutWalk, has enough support without my individual presence there. But the demonstrations against slut-shaming, rape culture, body-policing, and pro-life politics don’t. As much as it disappoints me to have to choose between participating in a grassroots demonstration for women’s rights, and a growing community demonstration for LGBTQ+ rights; I know that the grassroots demonstration for women’s rights is currently a higher risk for everyone involved, and as such, it is at higher risk for losing all of its momentum very quickly. That said, we received enormous support today from a huge number of people of all genders, as the majority of the community passed by the intersection to gather just a few blocks away. I also received a little bit of support yesterday from community members who were in the neighbourhood getting ready for the Trans & Genderqueer March. That makes my heart a little lighter (and we all needed that today).
Return Of The Gay-Basher
Two weeks ago, a friend of mine and I were subjected to gay-bashing, trans-bashing, and threats of physical violence for the first time during a very well-attended pro-choice demonstration. The man had run off before police arrived, and I was advised to call 9-1-1 immediately if he returned (which he did not — that day). I posted an image of the man on my Facebook that afternoon while I was writing, and police arrested the man within hours as a result of being identified by someone who had seen the post. I was told over the phone by the arresting officer at the time that when the report from the 9-1-1 call I made was filed, I would then be further contacted by police to identify the man in a line-up of photos before charges would be filed against him. Two weeks have passed, and it would seem that the 9-1-1 call report was never filed, as I have not been contacted for further cooperation in the matter, and when the man returned today to threaten more of my friends, the dispatcher could not find a file on the call I had made. We did have someone with us today who was able to capture the man pacing around us and barking threats of physical violence at at least two (passing-as-white) men after one of them immediately recognized him and attempted to prevent him from isolating another person.
We were recording with a smart phone, and the microphone picked up more on a woman who was there to offer her gratitude for our presence, than on the man. However, listening carefully enough, one can clearly hear him stating “If you try anything, buddy, I will smash you so fucking fast” and “Get it? — I will smash your fucking face in” in addition to a declaration that he has already been to jail and doesn’t “fucking care” (something we suspected two weeks ago when he showed up, which was confirmed when an older photo was shown to the person who identified him and helped get him arrested). He then points and states that “the worst is these fucking assholes” (and it is unclear who he is pointing at at this time, but really, by that point, it was just us) before simply turning around and dashing off to the bus stop across the street (where he was observed stepping into a bus before anyone could call 9-1-1). Some of us present today have directly witnessed our local police force beating peaceful protesters who are demanding that tuition be abolished and democracy restored to this country (which presently is being run significantly more like a neo-conservative Christian tyranny as time passes), and have sincere reservations about phoning the police for matters like this — and for good reason.
Problematic Police Response
Being already aware that the police didn’t give enough of a shit two weeks ago to even create a file based on the 9-1-1 call, when we phoned today in response to the multiple threats at least two of my fellow pro-choice demonstrators received today, we were offered an immediately and particularly unpleasant answer from police. To paraphrase as best I can, the police officer who arrived to respond to our 9-1-1 call explained that because the man was not carrying a weapon, did not appear to be threatening enough to any of the men of slim build he was picking his fights with (by virtue of having a slim build himself), and had not been captured with sufficiently objective video while he was making threats that are clearly not just “If you X, I’m going to Y”; we were told that the charges would be thrown out, and therefore the police are going to do nothing more than write down a report about what happened and not pursue it until one or more of the legal criteria for assault has been satisfactorily fulfilled (such as when, I suppose, one of us is actually battered by this man’s fists). We were told that beginning the utterance of a threat with the words “if you <insert hypothetical action>” means that the threat is therefore just not threatening enough. That what he is doing is merely antagonizing, in an attempt to incite all of us to start kicking his ass (in which case, we’d have a much bigger problem on our hands).
We were also told that telling him “I don’t want to talk to you”, which is normally sufficient grounds on which to establish and charge another person for criminal harassment if they refuse to leave someone alone, doesn’t hold up in a street protest. Quite literally, the police officer was telling us that by exercising freedom of speech in a public space, we are all relinquishing our rights as individuals to protection from criminal harassment — even in this instance of repeated uninvited and unwanted contact from the same person, who isn’t interested in anything but picking a fight with someone so he can be thrown in the slammer. Is it any wonder why those among us who already have reservations about phoning 9-1-1, even for our own safety, don’t want to speak to police at all when they get there if someone else calls them? The only good news I can take away from that is that any legal action the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform is reputed for taking against pro-choice demonstrators (such as suing for a hundred thousand dollars in “emotional damages” when someone tries to peel the giant poster off one of their Aborted-Fetus-Mobiles) gets laughed out of criminal court, and with any luck, straight out of civil court too. However, I remain concerned that the return of the gay-basher (and police apathy) may result in a serious conflict between him and one of my friends (or even myself) outside of a demonstration, when we are alone (if he should recognize one of us). And that’s a problem.
At the very least, I can rest assured that while our numbers, colours, noises (which today included a spontaneous performance of Keep Your Jesus Off My Penis by my musically talented friend Deej), and buddy system don’t stop everyone from trying to threaten us, sticking close to the group may have stopped at least one very suspicious-looking man from trying to pick a fight with me or antagonize me in any way. He told me almost as soon as I arrived that I was going to be arrested, immediately before very obviously trying to talk a police officer into arresting me as soon as he could find one. He then spent the subsequent two hours repeatedly circling the block, walking through our demonstration, and scowling at me from a distance after every missed opportunity to isolate me from the group. He was nowhere to be seen from the point that the police arrived, and for that, I feel satisfied that we did a good job today. There were other men who, for instance, parked illegally on the crosswalk across the street and either filmed us or repeatedly took pictures for a solid few minutes, who stared me down for a few minutes from across the street while appearing to talk on a cell phone, or who returned in business attire this week after approaching in plain clothes last week to badger women. But because we stuck together today, we were all very quickly made aware of every one of them.
They can try to take away our safety, but they will only make themselves look like cowards — antagonizing someone in their underwear, for the sake of fuck. They can try to dump on us, but they will not take away my spirit. They can try to ruin our fun, but I’m just going to try harder next week.