Stomp & Holler: My internal conflict about marches and protests
Yesterday I went to an event in Northampton, Mass. called Stomp & Holler, which started out as a SlutWalk and then (intentionally or not) took on some sentiments of Occupy Wall Street. I will admit that I almost didn't go -- and if they hadn't changed the name from SlutWalk to Stomp & Holler I probably would have stayed home.
I'm not sure what it is about the idea of SlutWalk that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I think it's extremely important to show people that no one deserves to be the victim of sexual assault regardless of what she is wearing, whether she has had a few drinks, or if she is perceived as flirtatious. And it's equally important to let survivors know that what happened to them wasn't their fault. But if I had a choice, I don't think SlutWalk would be the way I'd choose to make those statements.
As I read other people's thoughts on the issue, I came upon An Open Letter From Black Women to the SlutWalk which I think comes closest to summarizing my feelings about it:
We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated. The way in which we are perceived and what happens to us before, during and after sexual assault crosses the boundaries of our mode of dress. Much of this is tied to our particular history. In the United States, where slavery constructed Black female sexualities, Jim Crow kidnappings, rape and lynchings, gender misrepresentations, and more recently, where the Black female immigrant struggle combine, “slut” has different associations for Black women. We do not recognize ourselves nor do we see our lived experiences reflected within SlutWalk and especially not in its brand and its label.
I think this rings true for me. And I have to admit that I'm skeptical of a lot of protests in general -- I'm the sort of person who likes to think about crafting policy solutions rather than taking to the streets. But I decided that even if I didn't necessarily identify with SlutWalk, the point of Stomp & Holler was to empower women and support those whose lives have been affected by sexual violence. I went specifically to support my housemate Taylor Kall, who has spent the better part of the last few months organizing the event. She gave a speech yesterday in which she shared some personal experiences that would be hard for anyone to share even privately, and the least I could do was be there to listen.
I intended to go as a quiet bystander: I would march, but not carry a sign or chant. I'd just be an additional body in the crowd. But as we were walking I changed my mind. I not only joined in the chants, I joined the people with the bull horns in keeping them going. And as I did this I was struck by how loud my voice was. I realized right then that I never use it. Because I'm scared. I knew that before, but when I heard it, it became much more concrete. It occurred to me in that moment that that's what this sort of thing is about: making people feel like it's okay to use their voices.
After it was over I heard some people say that we needed some chants other than "this is what blah looks like," but it seems to me that the content of the chants might actually be less important than getting people to participate in the first place.
I still think the most important thing to remember about protests is that you have to go home and keep fighting for those values you marched down the street yelling about, and you can't disregard other methods of working for change. Protests can't be the beginning or end of a movement; they are a space for people to stand together in solidarity around an issue they care about, for people to feel empowered.