It's Time to Take Back the Night

This Thursday, September 15th, the Women’s Events Committee of London (WEC) is hosting London’s 38th annual Take Back the Night in Victoria Park. If you have never heard of this event before, or are unsure of what it is, Take Back The Night is an international march and rally focused on ending all forms of gender based violence. To get some more information on this feminist event, I sat down with Jess Rueger, one of the many phenomenal women involved in making this event possible.

"WEC’s intention with [Take Back The Night], and my intention with it, is to give people space to participate in ending gender based violence in ways that feel meaningful to them,” she explained. “Whether it’s blowing a whistle, whether it’s holding a sign, whether it’s chanting and holding a mic … We just want to create a space that feels accessible and safe for people to be a part of ending all gender based violence.”

The event begins with a family friendly “pre-party,” involving community booths, entertainment, and sign making. You can expect many diverse booths to be set up during this time—5:30 to 6:45—such as The Options Clinic, run by the London InterCommunity Health Centre (LIHC). This booth will be doing rapid HIV testing, which is anonymous, free of charge, and devoid of judgement and hassle. A few other noteworthy booths are Spot of Delight, WEC, and Sexual Assault Centre London, which will all be handing out buttons and other merchandise.

"It’s a lot more accessible for a lot of people because it’s during the day. It’s accessible for younger people and older people, and for people who are uncomfortable with dark or night.”

At 6:45 the rally begins. It is what helps build the energy for the march, and creates that initial feeling of solidarity. It will feature various different speakers, selected based on who WEC believes will have the most impact on that day. It aims to feature diverse voices—⅔ speakers are women of colour—and to honour their experiences. It will also have a professional ASL interpreter who has volunteered their time to make the event more accessible.

"I usually cry,” Rueger explained. “That’s very powerful and emotional for me. I really appreciate that we can have participation from Indigenous leaders who begin the rally with ‘Words Spoken Before All Others.’ This prayer is a gift from the Haudenosaunee People that honours all of Creation before proceeding with messages from anyone else. It is tied to a land acknowledgement that respects and honours the people who were here before us, the people whose job it is to still care for the land we will march on this night. I don’t think I would participate in the rally or the march if we didn’t have that.”

As she began to tear up, she continued. “To many of us on WEC, it’s extremely important. It’s not tokenism, it’s not just letting them fill their time. It’s really meaningful.”

The most popular part of the event is the 2km march.

"Everyone is there to have a voice, to be visible, and to express what needs to be expressed: the love, the rage, the need for visibility, the need for change. I think that comes out best in the march. That’s where all the energy is.”

While everyone is welcome to the pre event and to the rally, the march itself is reserved for pretty much everyone except cisgendered men. WEC has been making steps each year to try and make the event as inclusive as possible, so if anyone wonders if they are welcome based on gender identity or sexual orientation, the answer is yes!

"There have been issues in the past with who feels included, but I feel like we’re at a stage now where it’s more obvious that trans women are welcome, as well as gender nonconforming or non-binary folks.” While there are some people sharing these identities that have been uncomfortable in the past, Rueger extended her personal welcome: “If it makes you feel safer, you can march with me.”

Allies are still welcome to show their support, of course, but they usually collect on the corner of Dundas and Wellington. They are asked not to participate in the march itself in order to let “women and feminized bodies” reclaim the streets for a night “without men’s permission or protection.” If an ally really wants to march, however, they can do so on the sidewalk.

For first time event goers, it is important to know that you are not alone and there is support available in the form of ‘Supportive Listeners.’ These people will be identifiable by ‘Supportive Listener’ buttons, indicating those who have disclosure training; this means they have crisis intervention training and often have experience working a crisis line or offering in person support. This is essential because the topic of sexual and gender based violence is a common trigger for many.

"WEC believes in your ability to recognize and manage or mitigate your own triggers and not expose yourself to things that would be triggering or troubling for you, and taking your space where needed. And if you don’t have those skills yet, we’re there to support you.”

I, personally, have yet to attend Take Back the Night because going to your first “feminist thing” can be very intimidating, and it can be hard to find people to go with. Rueger settled these fears by describing her first event: “I went alone for my first time, and then met one of my best friends who also went alone her first time.

"You feel like you belong there. You feel included. You feel like you’re surrounded by allies and people who are a part of your struggle and your cause. That spirit of solidarity is so wonderful and so warm and welcoming.”

However, Rueger fully acknowledged that this description comes from a relatively privileged perspective. Take Back the Night is not well attended by women of colour, she explained, largely because there is a police presence at the event, as required by a new policy which states police must respond, for safety reasons, when there is a certain number of people demonstrating. She also was very open about the fact that WEC has a long way to go when it comes to incorporating people from diverse backgrounds in the committee.

"I want you to know that we’re making progress,” she explained. “The only way we can move forward on all these issues is if we have participation. We want to make the committee as accessible as possible—and as inviting and inclusive as possible—for as many people as possible. But we’re volunteers. So if you want to participate, come participate!”

Rueger concluded by encouraging students, women of colour, indigenous women, trans folks, younger people, older people and everyone else who identifies as a feminist to come out and participate in Take Back the Night, and wants them to know that there is a space for them on the committee.

"We’re trying to integrate [diverse voices] because it’s extremely important. London has women of colour. London has queer women. We need all these perspectives, and we want WEC to be representative of the communities that we serve. But, presently, our main struggle is being able to include, in meaningful ways, women from more diverse backgrounds than we currently work with.”

Come on down to Victoria Park this Thursday to participate! For more information, you can check out Take Back The Night’s Facebook page, Take Back The Night’s website, and WEC’s Facebook page. You’ll see lots of HCWO ladies there, so if you need someone to march with, you can march with us!