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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Sweet Spot: Safer Streets' Radical Protest Tactic -- That We Help Each Other

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 11:30 AM


The Occupy movement and resulting marches galvanized the country. But ultimately, was anything achieved? "What were we marching for, exactly?" asked many a supporter. On the day of the second big protest in Oakland, I was walking downtown and passed an older black man sitting on his porch, "Oh you don't want to go down there today. That's a big old mess down there." A mess indeed. Riot cops, helicopters, the anarchist brigade, and black clothing, but not black faces, dominated. I can only presume, considering the long economically depressed condition of West Oakland, that this man had no love for Wall Street bankers, but still, Occupy held no meaning for him.

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Or for me. Even on that day, I was actually on my way to the farmers market. Despite that, I went. I saw. I was, once again, unmoved.

Last Friday however, I found myself in the midst of a march feeling, at last, a sense solidarity and pride. Despite the bitter cold and only a week's preparation, over 75 people gathered at the 16th Street BART station to promote making our streets safer.

  • Photo by Adrian Photography

The march was in response to the recent attempted rape of a young woman in the Mission who was able to escape her attacker largely due to the intervention of local residents.

As the crowd, lead by members of the Bicycle Calvary and the MWE, marched slowly up Valencia, the ranks began to swell. Diners in restaurants, shoppers, and store owners spilled out onto the sidewalks to see what the fuss was all about.

Though one local who was enjoying a burrito at Puerto Allegre confessed that he didn't really understand what the march was for, most of the bystanders were supportive and attentive. Their faces expressed emotions that ranged from idle curiosity to seriousness, and, in the case of an older Chinese woman standing on the corner, tears.

San Francisco is no stranger to groups of people gathering for some cause or another. Street action often becomes merely an entertaining distraction while we wait in line for our double latte (or Bi-Rite Creamery treat). So why was it this particular march provoked such a response? Why did it challenge my inner, "It's all going to hell anyway so who gives a damn?" curmudgeon to want to stand up and start singing 'We Shall Overcome'?

The cause is simple enough, to create awareness about violence and sexual assault in the neighborhood. A cause most people would support. No one wants locals to be raped. But other marches for this very same issue have not had the same affect. The key difference lay in the fact that it was a march for something practical and tangible -- helping each other out. If we step in when we see or hear violence happening, we can do much to stop it.

When I was attacked in the Mission by three men a few years ago, the two people nearby did absolutely nothing. Thankfully, they were only after my purse and so not much harm was done. The woman, mentioned above, not only narrowly avoided being raped but also posted her experience on Facebook and in doing so proved that simply turning on your lights and speaking out can do wonders.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY  FRANCESCA ALATI
  • Photo by Francesca Alati

Another potential factor is that we have perhaps, reached a point where enough is enough. Rupa Marya, one of the organizers, says, "We have grown accustomed to rape and sexual violence toward women. in the U.S., there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes. if a gay person was bashed every 6.2 minutes or if there was a person of color assaulted because of their race every 6.2 minutes, there would be a movement. And in fact, even with fewer instances, committed mobilization has occurred. But somehow, when it comes to sexual violence against women, we have forgotten our outrage and the idea that no one should be subjected to that kind of horror -- ever. What happened in India in December with the gang rape and subsequent suicide of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student is connected to what happened in L.A. when a developmentally delayed 20-year-old woman was raped on the bus, which is connected to what happened in Steubenville, Ohio when football players raped an unconscious 16-year-old girl, which is connected to the more quotidian rapes that never get headline news. We have to start connecting the dots and responding with the indignation that every single one of these cases deserves."

Last year, the Mission was terrorized by a brutal rapist. As in the recent case, the news of it spread like wildfire but all we could seem to do was be afraid. And fear does not help. Stories of victimization, without a hopeful purpose, can often only increase a sense of alienation. What does help is joining together to say, "We are watching. We are here." Though the instigation for the march was very specific, the overall message was broad enough to include everyone.

"This action was not a way to increase fear in our community but to increase awareness and direct participation in keeping our streets safe. Not through increased police action or surveillance, but through our own actions. We wanted to create a forum where people could be in the streets and think out loud together. In order for these things to change, we need everyone's efforts, from the most simple thing -- like acknowledging one another instead of ignoring each other because we speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, or exist in different income brackets. We need think of ourselves as neighbors instead of bystanders," said Marya.

It seems like such a basic principle but one that is often forgotten in the raging towards an ideal. The rally was in support of community and in that interest allowed for anyone to come up to the mic to say their piece. I believe it was this that contributed to one of the most unusual aspects of the Safer Streets march. In all the marches I have been in, whether for pro-choice, anti-rape, or basic women's rights, there has always been many a lady, but men not so much. On Friday however, males made up half of the crowd. And it wasn't just my adored sensitive, femme men representing, a veritable diversity abounded. Including, in no small way, the officers of the SFPD, who not only made it possible for the march to take up an entire lane of traffic, but who also expressed personal avowals of support for the issue. In this, they were our allies.

  • Photo by Adrian Photography

The mix of languages, sexualities, ages, cultures and generalized messages of promoting the best of what humanity could be added a flavor of intensity to this march that finally had one last interesting effect. Despite the fact that I knew many of the folks involved from hanging out in the 'hood, there was a feeling that this was not the time to catch up, drink whiskey, flirt, or get into the festive spirit. Instead, we respectfully walked side by side together, all the while looking forward toward a brighter and hopefully safer future.

One march is only the beginning.

The Sweet Spot is a blog column by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
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Ginger Murray


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