Chapter 10

Conclusion: The rally and after-party

In this last brief chapter, I will consider and reflect on the changes in the form and function of RTN over the decades, and think about any key lessons which may emerge for the WLM as a whole. I have looked at practical, political and theoretical changes between RTN of the past and today, differences in method and similarities in purpose and motivation. At the start of this book, I charted the emergence of RTN in the UK and its background in the Second Wave. I have presented the voices of feminists involved in this protest today, showcasing what it means to them and why it matters. I have also looked into some of the conflicts which affected their activism, feminist fault lines which also enriched their work nonetheless and resulted in the production of new theory and new standpoints. The rise and popularity of RTN shows that such fault lines can be bridged and that progressive and pragmatic praxis can result in the process.

There were of course many similarities between marchers of the current resurgence and RTN marchers who got involved when the protest was first founded. One of the saddest similarities was in the motivation to march due to feelings of risk. Women of all ages recounted certain tactics they used when out at night in public space. Even if they said they would never be stopped from going out or living their lives, they did so in spite of their fears or perhaps to spite their fears. Despite some of the older activists suggesting that maybe younger women have gained more freedom today, young participants themselves exhorted the urgency of RTN often based on their own or friend’s experiences of sexual violence and threat in their home towns and cities.

On a more positive note, another thing that has stayed the same is the sense of empowerment, jubilation and solidarity which activists recounted experiencing on RTN marches. This was as true of the marches today as of the past, despite the changes activists noted in terms of the decline of NVDA for example. These positive experiences of solidarity contribute to what we can call a feminist collective identity, a class or group consciousness of shared identity and shared situation. In turn, this jubilance spills out beyond the stewarded boundaries of the march, it affects bystanders, it affects those watching the protest in the media. It provides an inspiring and attractive image to spectators, it recruits new people to the march and to the movement and it shows that feminism is not dead.

The biggest change in the marches is of course the inclusion of men. I have covered arguments raised both for and against this change and I have clearly positioned myself in favour of women-only marches and indeed women-only spaces, organisation and leadership. I suggest that the success and power of the women-only RTN marches of the past not be overlooked. Many of the contemporary activists I met felt that autonomous, though not usually separatist, women-only organising was a radical, relevant and progressive feature of the WLM of the past and they were concerned at its decline in the modern movement. However, this decline did not appear to be widely or strongly challenged in any organised way. Dedicated activist organisers voiced to me that they personally mourned the lack of women-only space, yet remained convinced that the only pragmatic route to ensure the popularity of feminism was to continue to widen the borders around it. The hostility they encountered to women-only space was stark and fierce, further discouraging them from organising in this way.

It is time then that we stood up for women-only space and resisted the narratives of different waves and theories that suggest women-only organising is somehow out of date or backward. There is some suggestion that this resistance is already happening. Often I noted that RTN marches which started out mixed, gradually shifted to women-only marches, as is the case in Leeds, the birthplace of RTN. It seemed that as activists became more experienced and more aware of feminist theory and history, they began to suspect that the hostility to women-only organising belies the potential power in that tactic. It was from women-only organising in 1970s activism and in CR groups that the vision for RTN first began of course. It was women-only action which then grew and built the original RTN marches, and this feature usually inspired rather than alienated supporters. It appears that it still can, as so many of the feminists I spoke to valued and spoke wistfully and emotionally about women-only space. Often this remains an aspiration though, and one I acknowledge is difficult to achieve in the current hostile climate.

The changes and conflicts in RTN are a microcosm of the changes and conflicts occurring in the broader WLM as a whole, as feminist fault lines bend and shift. Debates that have raged in public and private over the last 30 years and more, around power relationships between women, the inclusivity of the movement, the meaning of feminism and who it can speak for. These debates have also marched through the course of RTN from 1977 to the present day. The rocky route of RTN is therefore the same path that the movement as a whole has taken, and is still walking. The question is what direction it may take next and this largely depends on what destination is planned. In this book, I have attempted to show the continued variety, but also some of the agreement over definitions of feminism and the goals of this movement. Sometimes of course, these goals are marked by divergence of vision on the ideal feminist world.

These forks in the route occurred at the feminist fault lines I have covered. For example, some activists saw the ideal feminist future as one where prostitution and pornography may still exist in some way, but not in a capitalist form and where human beings of all sexes, genders, identities and physical appearance would be represented and share sexual exploration and enjoyment. For others, especially those defining themselves as radical feminists, institutions like pornography and prostitution were seen as simply incompatible with a feminist world. I spent many hours with the activists I interviewed, as they wrangled and wrestled with their thoughts around these, as yet theoretical, questions about a post-revolution feminist landscape. This was the case with activists regardless of their stated political identity, that is, regardless of whether they defined as socialist feminists or revolutionary feminists for example. Perhaps this was because one thread which united all of them was a socialist or broadly left-wing allegiance which made all of them suspicious of institutions and big business of any kind. What is clearly needed urgently here are spaces where these complex theoretical discussions can be had, and there was a hunger for that amongst the activists I met. Our sisters of the past wrote groundbreaking theory on these topics, but where is our grand theory of the day? Where can it emerge from and in what spaces can it be birthed, tended and sustained? This is the urgent challenge for the new resurgence of the movement and it depends on creating women’s spaces and women’s self-organisation, so that once again our theory can come from our own lived experiences, from the ground up.

Returning to the classic texts on these and other issues is also important, and this was another area where activists were hungry for knowledge and history. Wheels do not always have to be reinvented, though time and again that is what my digital recorder picked up, the sound of activists working through familiar tortured debates relayed alongside a distinct historical amnesia about how such questions may have been answered in the past. I am not saying that all the answers are there in the past, in your local friendly feminist archive, but I am saying that some of the answers may be there; certainly ideas to get us started so we can go forwards rather than backwards. So I would urge everyone new to feminism to go back to the classics, like those I have only briefly introduced in this book. Read the famous works, like Kate Millett, Susan Brownmiller, bell hooks, Andrea Dworkin and Audre Lorde. Get into feminist archives where you can, and actually return to the source, look through old copies of feminist magazines and journals and see for yourself if all the stories and myths are true. There are feminist archives in Leeds and Bristol and a feminist library in London. The Women’s Library at the London School of Economics is also beginning to digitise many of its resources and some already are, for example, many issues of the radical feminist journal Trouble and Strife are now available online.

In conclusion, the activists of today are all attempting to navigate a new environment where some stubborn features remain all too similar – such as the fear of male violence as a motivator into feminist activism. Yet they do this within a context transformed by new methods of communication and new sites of exploitation in the internet; a context also transformed by the rise of queer and trans liberation movements, by the professionalisation of the women’s sector, the pervasiveness of neo-liberalism and by increasing state limitation on direct political action, particularly NVDA. The environment has also been transformed of course by the feminism that went before and by the rich legacy left by the Second Wave. Many of the younger women I meet acknowledge and speak emotionally of this debt. Activists today aim to learn from the mistakes of the past, while being all too aware of often overwhelming and deadening criticisms of the WLM; but they are also committed to learning from the successes, of which there were many. Today’s activists have revived a global, powerful and symbolic tradition with RTN, which has resonated with a new generation of feminists and created marches larger than those of the past. In so doing, they march in the footsteps of the brave women who went before, mapping new routes in the process and I cannot wait to see what they do with the next 30 years of feminism.

How to organise a Reclaim the Night march

First of all, it’s good to point out what Reclaim the Night (RTN) is. It’s traditionally a women’s march to reclaim the streets after dark, a show of resistance and strength against sexual harassment and assault. It is to make the point that women do not have the right to use public space alone, or with female friends, especially at night, without being seen as ‘fair game’ for harassment and the threat or reality of sexual violence. We should not need chaperones (though that whole Mr Darcy scene is arguably a bit cool, as is Victorian clothing, but not the values). We should not need to have a man with us at all times to protect us from other men. This is also the reason why the marches are traditionally women-only; having men there dilutes our visible point. Our message has much more symbolism if we are women together. How many marches do you see through your town centre that are made up of just women? Exactly. So do think before ruling out your biggest unique selling point.

Anyway, the RTN marches first started in several cities in Britain in November 1977, when the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) was last at its height, a period called the Second Wave. The idea for the marches was copied from co-ordinated midnight marches across West German cities earlier that same year in April 1977. The marches came to stand for women’s protest against all forms of male violence against women, but particularly sexual violence. Today we march for the same reasons, except if anything, the situation is worse now than it was then. Then women were appalled that only 1 in 3 rapists were ever convicted; today that figure is around 1 in 20. It’s important that as many women as possible take to the streets to say that this is not acceptable and to demand justice. We women make up the backbone of every social movement going, for peace, for the environment, for children’s and animal rights, against war and racism; yet we don’t specifically take up our own rights nearly often enough. And we have every right to. And we need to; now more than ever.

So, what ingredients do you need to start your own RTN march? First of all you take some fine chocolate, milk or dark will do, fair trade is best, vegan is better. And you eat that. Then you set to trying to find some political, savvy women with time on their hands. You need to find at least five or six of these women. This is the hard part. They can sometimes be stolen from other groups, though this won’t enamour you to your local Stop the War or trade union branch, but hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. If you are a student, you may find the recruitment easier, though you will have to have at least 237 arguments about if, why, on what grounds and whether your march should be women-only or not, and what about men and whojamaflip’s boyfriend, who is really, really lovely etc. Actually, you will probably have to have these arguments even if you are not a student. In fact, to be honest, if you are a woman working politically with other women on women’s rights, you will need to have these arguments; that’s why I said you would need to find women with time on their hands. Because we have to factor in justifying our own movement, as well as organising our own movement, it’s a very good thing that we are all so talented and energetic. This is all before the organising even starts. Give up your day job.

Once you have found some women who you agree with on at least a most basic level, you need to set a date for your march. As soon as you have set a date, start immediately telling everyone and anyone, even without any other details; just get the date out in the ether, in real and cyber space. Usually the marches are around the 25th of November, to add an international flavour and mark the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women. Which, by the way, doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, so you may not want to put that in full on your flyers. But, be warned, it is cold in November, so you may want to hold your march in midsummer, or even relocate your protest to the South of France. Once you have set your date, and double-checked that it doesn’t clash with the national RTN in England’s capital (London), you need to plan a route.

It is good if the route can take in some public toilets. And, on a more serious note, it needs to end somewhere that women can get home safely from, as that’s the whole point of the march after all – women’s safety. So don’t end it somewhere out in the sticks where there is no public transport, otherwise you will have to fork out for mini-buses etc. If you live in the sticks this will be a problem. Fundraise for mini-buses. As women don’t get many chances to have the streets of their town or city closed down for their issues to be heard, you may as well pick a really central route. Aim high, go right for your town centre. Then you need to go and meet your friendly local police force (or agents of the state, depending on your political proclivities) who are there to facilitate your right to peaceful protest. Because we live in a democracy, remember? It is good to send the least anarchisty members of your group to meet the police, and don’t call them ‘filth’ or ‘pigs’, at least not to their faces. The police that is. Give the police plenty of warning about your intentions; they will need to plan road closures and they may change your route slightly. Be flexible, but don’t be pushed into side roads. It’s polite to go to the police to ask for something called ‘permission’ to hold your protest, but really you just go and tell them what you are going to do. I’d let them know at least six months in advance. Yes, I can hear you saying: ‘but that’s nearly as long as it takes to grow a baby human’ and you are right of course, but organising a RTN march is just about as difficult (can you tell I’ve never given birth?). In fact, here in London for the national march, we work on it all year (marching that is, not giving birth).

Now you have a route and police permission, you need to get publicity done and start snooping about for formal supporters. Unless you own your own printing press, publicity will require money. Usually you can get 1000 flyers done for between £50 and £70, and if you put the word out, you will usually find someone who knows a good printing firm. There are also good online ones that usually do next-day delivery. We all dream about finding the women’s collective printing firm, so we can feel worthy about getting our flyers done there, but it ain’t the 1970s any more sister, so don’t worry if you can’t find such a thing. Ask local activist groups who they use. Get flyers done as soon as possible, however you can. But – remember that it’s good to have your supporters listed on the flyer, the bigger the organisations the better. So, you have a balancing act here – between getting your flyer done ASAP, and waiting to hear about formal support from large local organisations. This is especially tricky if your group is not known to the mainstream political scene in your area. Big organisations like trade unions are going to be wary of taking a risk on you if they don’t know you from Eve. This is because you are a liability until they know you. If they formally support your march and then you walk through your town centre smashing the windows of McShite ‘restaurants’ and supergluing the locks of porn shops (though you and I may well consider this good, clean family fun), they could get into trouble, and would be likely never to support you again. So, approach smaller groups first, build up a base and then go to bigger groups with this proof that people trust you enough to put their name under your event. Offer to speak at meetings to show them that feminists are normal people, or at least, can be when they want support from large organisations. Don’t forget that it’s actually quite a big deal for a group to support you, so pat yourself on the back every time you get a new supporter, and don’t be disheartened if you don’t get big groups coming on board right at the beginning. These things take time.

Back to the flyers. I know it sounds obvious, but make sure you have the date, time and assembly location on your flyer. And a catchy piece of artwork too if you can get one. It’s also worth bearing in mind that if your march is successful and you have more of them in the future, this artwork could become fixed in people’s minds and become your ‘brand’. So it’s worth taking time to think of a good design. You may have some arty types in your group who could design something. We are all about the empowerment of women after all, and the means, in the WLM, are just as important as the ends (seeing as ‘the ends’ is like, full on revolution, and, similar to a base of good supporters, is going to take a bit of time).

Now the important bit is out of the way, you can focus on whether you are going to have an event after your march. ‘What? Two events?’ I hear you cry. Yes. If you have a rally after your march then you basically do have to organise two events. I know; it sucks. You don’t have to though, and it will depend on how much money you can fundraise. But, as women will have come out in the cold and done some marching, it is nice to round off the evening with a few drinks and a splash of political speeches. So, you will need to find a venue for that. This venue will need to be either conveniently located at the end of your march route or you will have to plot your march route around an available and affordable venue. Sometimes people are tempted to hold a rally in a religious venue. Christianity for example is quite a successful organised religion and tends to own large venues called ‘halls’, which are not student residences but big spaces, usually in very central locations in almost all of our towns and cities, would you believe it. They are very seductive, but don’t be tempted. You need to find a neutral venue which isn’t going to offend potential marchers. And you also need to find somewhere which has disabled access, and it would be good if you could have food and drink there. Alcoholic beverages are good, generally, but the presence of a bar will potentially exclude strict Muslim or Methodist marchers, so you do have to think about that. Get used to the fact that organising any political event is a minefield – you are going to make mistakes, you will offend people and that is just the way it is. As long as you are generally pleasing more people than you are offending, it’s a good idea just to carry on regardless (and write down your mistakes so you can learn from them next time). It’s always better to do something rather than nothing after all.

Now to finding speakers for your rally. Try to get high-profile ones that represent large organisations if you can, like your local Women’s Aid, your local Rape Crisis or a trade union. Remember that having a trade union speaker does not make you a corporate sell out; some people think they are overly bureaucratic and detached from ‘ordinary people’. I know you were probably worrying about that. Trade unions represent millions of people however, and hundreds of thousands of women. So, having a speaker from one gives you the weight of all those people behind your event and also means you can get publicity to a very broad and diverse audience – the members of that union, who by the way are the ‘ordinary’ people you will bound to be asked whether your march reaches.

Once you have plans settled for your rally and entertainment, do another print run of flyers with that info highlighted. This is an attempt at attracting people to your march and is worth a try. You may also want to consider posters, and then flyposting them, only on buildings that you own of course. Note that I’m in no way suggesting anyone engage in criminal activities, remember, feminism says – always stay at home and do nothing.

You should definitely make some banners and encourage other people to do the same. It’s great to look out across a march and see the breadth of support from all the different groups; it also looks good in the press, if you get any there. Which reminds me – do a press release! Send it to ALL your local press, including free papers for listings. Do this as soon as you set the date, assembly location and route. Throw in some sound bites, editor’s notes and depressing stats about sexual violence in your area – unfortunately, these won’t be difficult to find. The Fawcett Society or Rape Crisis websites have a good section on all UK police force conviction rates for rape in different areas for example, and this is useful to put in publicity. Keep everything as local as possible, as it’s local press you are trying to attract. Get quotes from people, like the director of your local Rape Crisis or Women’s Aid refuge. Think of someone in your group to be a press contact and put their full details on the release; identify who is happy to do press interviews. Get yourselves media trained up if you can. You may find a local activist resource centre or women’s group that can offer this. Remember what I said about the means? This is another example. Organising a march is also about women learning new skills and gaining valuable experience for all areas of life. So share out jobs and try new things, like going on live television, it’s great, though you do sometimes have to wear make-up.

And that’s about it really. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well, women’s groups have been doing just this all over the country, from Aberdeen to Devon. So, there are plenty of other people you can ask and learn from too. How about twinning with a nearby town that has already held a march? You could double your numbers as well as picking up tips and contacts. Basically, it is a lot of work organising an RTN, but it is worth it. I don’t want to sound dramatic and worthy but let’s get to the point: women are dying. Every day. The levels of male violence against women in this country and around the world are an outrage. Our conviction rate for rape and sexual violence is a national disgrace. Why are we not giving up our town halls and school gyms to women fleeing violence? Why are we not marching in the streets every single day to demand an end to the war being waged on our sex? Why is a woman raped or killed no longer news in our society? You can change this situation. Get together and make something happen because you can’t rely on anyone else doing it. If not you, who? If not now, when? And all that jazz, etc. Anything is better than nothing.

Also, finally, remember: if you put your head above the parapet, you will get flack and you will work like a person that works very hard for very little reward, kind of like a woman. But even all this hard and thankless work can never be as bad as the atrocities that too many of our sisters resist and survive on a daily basis. If you have the time and freedom to do more than survive, then you should use it.

Get active! Useful websites

Abortion Rights UK

Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp

APMP (discussion and campaigns by men against porn)

Black Cultural Archives (includes an archive on the Black Women’s Movement)

British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection

Broken Rainbow (support for LGBT people affected by domestic abuse)

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

CATW (Coalition Against Trafficking in Women)

CGVR (Centre for Gender & Violence Research, University of Bristol)

CSC (Cuba Solidarity Campaign, UK)

CWASU (Child & Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University)

Daughters of Eve (campaigns & raises awareness to protect girls at risk of FGM)

Disability Rights UK

Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize

End Demand UK (campaign for Nordic policy on prostitution)

EVAW (End Violence Against Women Coalition)

False Economy (fighting against cuts)

Fawcett Society

Feminism in London

Feminist Archive (Leeds and Bristol)

Feminist Library London

Freedom Project UK (temporary foster care for dogs & cats when owners flee domestic abuse)

FWSA (Feminist & Women’s Studies Association)

IKWRO (campaigns on so-called honour crimes & forced marriage)

Justice for Women

Karma Nirvana (campaign/support for those affected by forced marriage/‘honour’ crimes)

KONP (stopping privatisation of the National Health Service in the UK)

London Reclaim the Night

MALE (support for men affected by domestic abuse) Men Can Stop Rape

Million Women Rise (annual march against VAWG on IWD London)

NAAR (National Assembly Against Racism, UK)

No More Page 3

NSPCC UK (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children)

Object (campaign against sex object culture)

OFN London (Older Feminist Network)

OLN London (Older Lesbian Network)

One25 (working with women in prostitution)

Prostitution Education & Research

PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign)

Rape Crisis UK

Respect (advice and services for male perpetrators of domestic abuse)

Southall Black Sisters (campaigns against VAWG in BME communities)

Stonewall (campaign for lesbian, gay & bisexual equality)

Survivors UK (support for male victims of rape and sexual abuse)

SWAN (Social Worker Action Network)

UK Feminista

Vegan Society UK

Vegetarian Society UK

WAMT (Women and Manual Trades)

WEA (Worker’s Educational Association)

White Ribbon UK (men against violence against women)


WISH (voice for women’s mental health)

Women’s Aid UK

Women in Prison

50/50 Campaign UK (campaigning for equal representation of women)

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