From the Ground Up: a response to an Open Letter and the beginning of an action plan for better work with our communities
Prior to drafting this response, we sent an initial reply to this Open Letter recognizing its importance and outlining that we were going take some time to thoughtfully respond.
On Friday September 23rd, 2011 SlutWalk Toronto and SlutWalk NYC were sent An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk. This letter is signed and supported by numerous organizations and women across the United States, and more recently a few in parts of Canada. The small group of us in SlutWalk Toronto are very thankful these organizations and many voices have connected with us. We are appreciative of the support, concerns, requests and the openness to engagement in dialogue with us. Dialogues around inclusion in SlutWalk as well as efforts to make change and ongoing active engagement with criticisms are complex and necessary, particularly within a grassroots initiative that has become what many refer to as a ‘movement’. We at SlutWalk Toronto are currently in the process of determining what changes may be needed, and more importantly, how to go about making these changes so that we can offer further support to survivors and become progressively more thoughtful of intersectionalities and united across them in our fight against sexual violence and victim-blaming.
Our team from SlutWalk Toronto supports these petitioners, feels solidarity with their intentions and overall aims in working towards creating a safer world for all women and people everywhere at risk for sexual violence, and are open to changes that could bring the core politics behind SlutWalk to a more universal audience. SlutWalk Toronto absolutely feels that the more voices that can find resonance within this movement as it exists or as it becomes, the more we accomplish what we initially set out to do.
In eight months, SlutWalk has gone from a small idea in our city of Toronto to a multi-faceted initiative across cities, borders, languages and cultures that takes many forms. We’ve seen SlutWalks, Marchas de las Putas, Marches des Salopes, Marcha de las Vadias, La Marcha de las Vagabundas, Marches to End Victim-Blaming, Marsul Panaramelor, Consent Fests, Besharmi Morcha, fundraisers, workshops, community education initiatives, collaborations, campaigns, art initiatives, open mic events, spaces to share survivor stories, community accountability work and more. We are in disbelief, especially when we think of the grassroots nature of SlutWalk, that SlutWalk has grown to mobilize thousands of people in many ways, with every SlutWalk rooted in its respective city. However, with what SlutWalk has accomplished we must also acknowledge where we need to do more, how we can learn from others, how we can be accountable to our communities across SlutWalks and ways in which we must be committed to growing, changing and doing better.
SlutWalk Toronto has endeavoured from the beginning to not operate outside of our knowledge and experience, which for us has meant doing our best to not cross geo-political boundaries or speak for communities and SlutWalks outside of our home city of Toronto. We are not a formal NGO, or non-profit organization, and what has happened across SlutWalks as a movement to date has been a collaboration. While SlutWalk Toronto as the inaugural SlutWalk is often looked to as the ‘head’ of SlutWalk, we are not involved with organizing other SlutWalks and we are not structured to oversee and determine what all of SlutWalk will look like. We do not envision our activism as a hierarchical dictation of our ideas upon others, whether across Canada or across the world. In recognition of this, SlutWalk Toronto is committed to engaging with our community here in Toronto for direct feedback, so that we can hear more from people in Toronto what criticisms, concerns, feedback and ideas they have, and how they’d like to see SlutWalk Toronto move forward and evolve as we hopefully move collectively towards organizing our second year in 2012. We’ve been having many conversations and exchanges to better understand the experiences and criticisms of people within our own city and outside of Canada and now we would like to turn these conversations into actions to make SlutWalk Toronto better, more anti-oppressive and more inclusive.
We have shared this letter with many other SlutWalks across the world because we know this is far bigger than one rally that was held in Toronto only six months ago, and we do not control this movement. What SlutWalk has become in its current international form is due to the contribution of many voices and the dedication and volunteered hard work of local organizers, supporters and communities the world over who have somehow been inspired by SlutWalk. They have mobilized and taken action in many ways to best represent their needs, communities and voices. We hope that many other organizers and supporters from SlutWalks, and people who have not supported or participated in SlutWalks to date, including many women of colour and indigenous women, will feel welcome and encouraged to share their voices; to be included in these issues and to help us with tools in working towards addressing these as well as any other concerns and making changes together. We hope cities, communities and ‘SlutWalks’ (they often do not go directly by this title) across the Global South and in regions outside of North America and the ‘West’ will continue to share their voices and experiences with us and others so we can work on how to better support one another. SlutWalk has always embraced inclusion in principle and we are reaching out for help now from within and outside our communities to turn it into better practice.
We do not just want to become more inclusive but we want to work to de-center the experiences of those with more privilege, whether that be whiteness, cisgender, able-bodied or other privilege, so that we work to counteract instead of reinforce the status quo. This will help us to develop systems and networks for accountability so that historically and currently marginalized people feel there is a place for them in this movement if they want to be involved. Overall, we are all committed to fighting for an end to sexual violence, and eradicating damaging victim-blaming, slut-shaming and sex-shaming, across all involved cities, the best ways that we can.
As an initiative that began in response to a Toronto situation, we are going to work from the ground up just like we did many months ago with the idea of SlutWalk. Our first action from this point will be to hold a community open forum – a kind of ‘Town Hall’ – in Toronto, where we can engage directly with more members of Toronto communities and have a collaborative discussion, with space to deconstruct and work with and learn from allies, hopefully with direct outcomes that will see us moving forward and continuing to grow as a more inclusive and de-centered initiative.
This community open forum will be taking place on Sunday November 20th, 2011 at The 519 Church Street Community Centre, an accessible community space that operates from an anti-oppressive framework. After hearing and receiving feedback we feel this is the best way to move forward. Through this open forum and ongoing conversations we will be able to establish what SlutWalk Toronto will look like moving forward and how we can play a role in shaping what the SlutWalk movement becomes. In the coming weeks we plan to bring updates and work to engage as many voices as possible as we promote this event. From the outcomes of this community open forum we hope to continue to extend our discussions to engage more with the signatories of the Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk and other voices from outside of Toronto. We invite communities and individuals who are or have felt excluded from SlutWalk Toronto to participate in shaping these efforts to better reflect our city. We’d like to encourage SlutWalks everywhere to find ways to better engage with their communities, be accountable to them, and invite the voices of others – especially those in marginalized communities – to participate and take leadership together in whatever march or initiative, by SlutWalk or any other name, is taking place in their cities.
The larger purpose that motivates all SlutWalks is raising awareness about sexual violence and fighting sexual violence for a world where everyone is less at risk. This is something we very much have in common with everyone who has taken the time to give us feedback on how to make SlutWalk better, from the Open Letter from Black Women and from other voices. SlutWalk was certainly not the first and never has been or should be the only initiative fighting sexual violence and for a better world for past, current and – very sadly – future survivors. SlutWalk has gained momentum at a rate that has been both astounding and unpredictable, but with this momentum, we at SlutWalk Toronto hope to continue in Toronto in solidarity with and in full support of others continuously fighting against sexual violence.
* These conversations can be hard to access and understand, loaded with specific jargon and hard to follow sometimes. We’ve been there ourselves. Everyone is on a learning curve. Some of this language is used to understand and express certain experiences and to express intentions in politicized ways. Please click on the words that are linked to other sites in the above post for greater explanations and understanding.