By SHANNON FARLEY, Spark Executive Director
Early this morning I received a call from a college student in Alabama. For her safety, I will call her Ana. She is spearheading an effort to bring her fellow students to Savannah, Georgia in June to participate in a SlutWalk. SlutWalk was founded earlier this year in Toronto after a local police officer told a crowd of students at Osgoode Hall Law School, “I’m not supposed to say this [but to prevent being sexually assaulted] avoid dressing like sluts.” Two months later, over 3,000 outraged young people took to the streets to protest victim-blaming rhetoric and policies. Since April, Slutwalks have been organized all over the world. This response to sexual violence is resonating with a large community of young people. It is also controversial.
Ana wasn’t calling about the controversy. She was calling for advice. The Savannah SlutWalk has been postponed—possibly indefinitely—because the young women organizing the event received death threats for their participation. Ana called Spark because she and her fellow organizers still planned to protest and wanted to know how to go about it.
I advised against it. I told Ana that her safety and that of her peers was paramount. If the organizers believed that there was a credible threat, there probably was and it is not worth the sacrifice. I suggested that Ana organize a service day at local rape crisis centers and women’s shelters. She and her peers should pamphlet campus, informing students about SlutWalk, the death threats and their non-violent response. I told her that the threat of violence should not stop the political action but it should shift the strategy. I hung up the phone feeling pretty good.
Then, I got a Google alert about Freedom Riders, a documentary featuring the students who fought to desegregate bus lines in the Southeastern,United States in the summer of 1961. It is premièring tonight on PBS. It is a stunning film—a story that is not well known that happened not long ago. 400 courageous and tenacious young people were vilified, tortured and imprisoned for sitting on a bus. One of the arcs of the film chronicles civil rights leaders begging the students to postpone the second phase of the rides. Robert F. Kennedy sent his staffer John Seigenthaler to convince the riders that certain martyrdom would not achieve racial equality. The students rode the bus anyway. The Freedom Riders were fed up. They would not permit the injustice of Jim Crow to continue. So, they rode the bus. 400 young people changed the face of the country for the better.
This morning I told Ana to think of herself first and the cause second. There is plenty of important work to be done to stop violence against women that won’t compromise her safety. I believe the advice I gave Ana was good, but I don’t know if it was right.
What do you think?