Take Back the Night at UW-Milwaukee 27 April
Last Friday's "Take Back the Night" event on the UW-Milwaukee campus, presented by the school's Womens
Resource Center and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee working in conjunction with many other local groups, was powerful, emotional, and inspiring.
Starting inside the Union Ballroom, guests were presented with songs performed by Audacious, a ten-member female a cappella group from Eau Claire and two traditional dances by Paj Tawg Tshiab, a group of 5 young Hmong ladies. Several speakers, including Jacqueline Zeledon, communication manager for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, Olivia Cross of the club's 'Speak Out' program, and Leanna Vannarom, of UW-M's Womens Resource Center communicated their messages of the need to unite against violence and that we all have the ability to positively impact the world. The importance of coming together in opposition to rape and the culture that supports it were stressed, as well as that we should aspire to make a change here and now and protest gender-based violence.
Supportive groups had informational tables including Never Alone Milwaukee, an organization which advocates for individuals whose lives have been touched by sexual violence; the Peace for Change Alliance Inc., whose objective is
assisting healthy development (educational, emotional, and social) of people of all ages and backgrounds; and the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, along with a host of others. Representatives from the Clothesline Project were present, displaying t-shirts decorated by people to relate their experiences in an effort to raise awareness of sexual
violence along with honoring and encouraging survivors while remembering victims. There was also a table
commemorating "Denim Day", which was two days earlier on the 25th, and is a campaign promoting rape prevention whose participants are asked to wear jeans in an attempt to raise awareness of and end misconceptions about victims of sexual assault.
A short march with a banner announcing the event was carried for a few blocks in the area by volunteers from the hosts and the audience.
Gathering outside in Pangaea Plaza area of campus, the emotional survivor speak out and
candlelight vigil began. This portion was lead by Annika Leonard, an advisor for a number of non-profit and
educational groups, who spoke of the importance of creating alliances. Asserting that some peoples' victimization
begins long before the actual violation of their person and how she finds the way survivors are treated after their "souls have been snatched from them deeply disturbing", she sympathized.
"Society is permeated with messages that it's your fault," she said of people on the receiving end of violence. "We need to counteract these messages and create a 'pipeline' for support. Survivors sharing their stories are re-living the events. Shut your mouth, open your ears, and listen. Hug, comfort, cry - whatever you need to do," was her advice. She established the event's intermediate goal of creating a "safe space" for victims of gender violence (the ultimate goal of the event series, stating at the very end of the night's proceedings, was to end these incidents altogether).
Next, members of the audience who were willing to recount their individual tales of survival had the opportunity. Their ages spanning from teen years and upward, these brave souls recounted bits and pieces of their ordeals in an emotionally cathartic manner. Their ultimate messages, however, were of hope - it DOES get better, reach out so others can help you, and the desire to insure that no one else will have to endure such atrocities. Included with advice was the agreement, seemingly shared by all, that our culture needs to end victim-blaming and that people need to be aware so as to not take on the role of "victim" themselves.
Ending the evening, Cathy Seasholes, Director of the Womens' Resource Center, assured everyone that their voices had indeed been heard with her statement "We're collectively saying 'no' to sexist comments, jokes, and unwanted touch that violates us and our spirits."
The name "Take Back the Night" comes from a memorial reading done by Anne Pride at a rally against violence in 197 in Pittsburgh. The initial U.S. "TBtN" march was held in San Fransisco's red-light district in 1978 as a protest against rape and pornography.