Sunday, 9 December 2012

Some thoughts on solidarity and sisterhood after yesterday's rally

Yesterday UK Uncut organised a series of occupations across the UK of Starbucks. The focus was on how if tax dodging companies paid their taxes, then women’s services such as refuges would not be facing the cuts that are destroying the violence against women support services. Obviously, Bristol Feminist Network is on board with any protest that challenges cuts to these services that save lives. We encouraged our members to join the UK Uncut protest in Bristol, whilst also organising our own rally, flyering members of the public with info about the cuts, the impact of domestic violence and what we can all do to challenge any cuts to the sector – i.e. writing to councillors to ensure the budget protects women’s services. This rally and protest will be followed up by letter writing. BFN will be posting statements up on our website that members and interested parties can send to the council.

We gave out 300 flyers yesterday, to 300 people who may or may not care about the cuts, but who may read the information and decide to take action. The way I look at it, if 10 people take the flyer and write to the council, then we’ve done a good job. If another ten sign a petition, or talk to their friends about what they’ve read, then that’s great. We know that 300 people aren’t going to respond. But some people might and that’s hugely important.

It was a great hour and a half. We giggled at how the police watched us like hawks, whilst allowing a charity group who were also flyering the public to do so without observation. Some people were aggressive towards us, shouting at us for being intimidating when they were intimidating us! But as ever with feminist gatherings, the atmosphere was great, we were laughing, chatting and stubbornly not intimidating anyone – including Starbucks staff and customers. We were just there to hand out flyers.

When planning yesterday, we wanted to create three levels of action so that everyone who wanted to could get involved. This meant telling people about the occupation so they could attend that. For those of us who were concerned about being arrested – for example teachers, social workers and mums with childcare issues, or those who weren’t sure about shutting down a cafĂ© without knowing if the staff would get paid for the afternoon they weren’t working, we had the flyering rally. And for people who couldn’t attend either, we have letter writing – an action that can be done from your living room. In my mind, it was a truly accessible event for feminist activist. There was a way for everyone to be involved.

So I was kind of upset when a sour note entered the day. One fellow feminist seemed upset that we weren’t going to invade Starbucks, despite me explaining that UK Uncut would make this happen later. She told me she didn’t know what was wrong with young feminists today, that she despaired of us. I explained that BFN couldn’t be seen to be doing an illegal action. Instead we were making the protest accessible to everyone by ensuring that anyone could attend at least one facet of the day. The fact is, risking arrest is not optional for a lot of people, including those I mention above. Having a legal and peaceful flyering gathering meant that those excluded from occupations could still come together to make a stand against the cuts to domestic violence services.

To me, yesterday was a group of feminist women coming together to reach out to women and men in our city with info about how they can take action. It was empowering and fun and we were making a difference. I don’t know what there was to despair of. The event was planned in a women-only open space event last month, another empowering gathering of women’s voices and minds where we planned to take action against these cuts.

I don’t expect a medal or praise for doing what I do. But I can’t help but feel frustrated when I see women coming together to make a difference, women who have given up their time and energy to create a feminist action, being criticised for not running the risk of being arrested. Being criticised for not doing enough, when we already struggle on the meagre resources we have. What I saw yesterday was an uplifting, awareness-raising rally that had the potential to reach people who might not have thought about the cuts to DV services and now want to take action. If that’s something to despair of then I don’t know how to respond.

We don’t get it right all the time. But to me, we did yesterday. I don’t think I deserved that criticism, and I don’t think any of the women standing in the cold talking to people about the cuts to domestic abuse support services deserved it either. They didn’t have to be there. I, for one, am proud that we were.