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This past Thursday in Dorchester I joined the Defend, Don’t Offend rally with an amazing local organization, Close to Home.
Hearing about the event on the anti-street harassment grapevine over Facebook I felt a very strong desire to join and support them at their first rally and march to end street hollering. Being a Boston native, more specifically a native to Dorchester, my first experiences with street harassment happened on the VERY street we were marching on. When introducing myself to the Hollaback! Boston community the story I shared about being street harassed on the way to the store was on Dorchester Ave. It was incredibly powerful to me, and brought up a lot of feelings about the importance of reclaiming spaces. Towards the end of the event I felt a sense of healing that I had no idea I was going to experience on my way to the rally.
After facebook messaging back and forth with a woman named Tyla about the details of the rally, I headed out from work ready to spread the message of ending street hollering!
When arriving I introduced myself, and made some important connections (my first time using my newly ordered Hollaback!Boston business cards – SO EXCITING!) with the organizers and workers/volunteers at Close to Home, as well as the Asian Task Force that is located in Boston and does great work combating domestic violence in the Asian community.
My post on facebook brought Stephanie from Cambridge Women’s Center to join us after her commute home from work, she lives a few blocks away! That was a great addition!
After introducing myself to the participants and taking some photos we were ready to hear from Devonte, a youth leader from Close to Home. He spoke as a male ally to women who experience street hollering, and about how men need to stand up and not allow women to be disrespected. Everyone cheered and clapped and that set off the march down Dorchester Ave!
We were all armed with signs that ranged from “I’m 15 years old, why are you hollering at me? You should be ashamed of yourself,” to, “Stop street hollering!” Each one was written by a teen who had attended their sign making/pizza party on the 8th of August.
Our presence was definitely made known. Danielle led the group of about 20 people down the sidewalk with a bull horn. We chanted “Hey hey ho ho street hollering has got to go,” ” R-E-S-P-E-C-T, I’m just walking down the street,” “What do we want? RESPECT When do we want it? NOW,” and, “Safe streets for all!” People slowed down in their cars wondering what was happening, many women smiled and nodded their heads. Some people beeped and waved. Others took pictures and videos with their smart phones. A worker from Close to Home passed out pamphlets they made on street hollering and resources for support. It was really great to find out that Hollaback! Boston was listed in their information!!!!
While we marched down Dorchester ave to the Townfield Park in Fields Corner, the reactions varied. Many men looked puzzled at our demands to be respected while walking down the street, clearly not understanding that street hollering affects us negatively. There was one man in particular who responded “Yeah, who doesn’t?” when we were chanting for respect. I responded “Women need respect from men when they are on the streets!” but he seemed ignore me.
The closer we got to Fields Corner the louder we got, bringing people out of businesses to see what all the commotion was about. When passing the Tedeschis a young man in his early twenties started walking with us and asked what the march was for. After we explained that we were marching against street hollering he said, “Yeah, that’s cool” and proceeded to holler at us! “You all look so beautiful, can I walk with you?” At that point I told him that he was in fact street hollering – we didn’t know him, and weren’t interested in what he thought about our looks. I also denied him the right to walk with us for disrespecting our cause and making us feel uncomfortable.
After a 15 minute walk we reached our destination, Townfield Park. It was very busy with kids playing, families watching their daughters at cheer and spirit practice, and young men playing basketball. The Close to Home team split up and talked to women about street hollering and passed out more literature. Stephanie and I busted out the chalk and wrote empowering messages against street hollering: “Stop telling women to smile,” “Women are not objects,” “Respect on the streets,” etc. As we were writing the phrases on the concrete, men and women were talking amongst themselves about what we were writing and you could hear they were definitely agreeing.
After filling the concrete walkway with kickass chalk walking slogans we met up with the women and men from Close to Home. We shared our experiences and did an interview for the teens who were making a video about the march.
It was a great experience overall and I hope that the message to end street hollering resonated with the women and men in the Dorchester area who witnessed the march and heard our chants from the windows of their homes and cars: the message to respect all who are simply walking down the street, regardless of their gender, orientation, gender expression, race, or the clothes they are wearing!
image credits: Brandie Skorker
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