Take Back the Night, Re-Envisioning Political Participation

Monday, April 25, 2011

I haven't gotten very involved with political activism since I've been at Barnard. I had thought that I would be more inclined to it, having been to a fair number of marches and canvassing missions in my high school years, but my interests have been so all over the map that I haven't had the same concentrated chance to get fired up and ready to go in NYC. One of my friends put it nicely when she said that it's difficult to get involved in NYC politics when you haven't lived here for the majority of your life.

And I suppose that's true: when you move to a new place, the first thing you think about is not who the state reps are, but what kind of friendships you're going to make and where you can get a good meal. It's even harder to feel like you need to participate when you are thrown into a sea of people, some of which seem so outstanding in their motivation that you feel like you can take a backseat.

But, after going to Take Back the Night, I've started to think about it, and this nonchalant attitude has gotten me worried.

For those that don't know, Take Back the Night is a march and speak-out that Barnard (and a bunch of other colleges nationwide) puts on in order to fight back against street harassment and sexual violence. The premise is that everyone should be able to walk safely on the streets at any time of the day, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, clothing or other factors.

While I was marching, I got to thinking:
Am I encouraging street harassment by not actively participating in the movement to end it?
What am I contributing to the education of women and girls about their safety on the streets? What about to men and the way that they should be treating us?*
And, most frustratingly, am I doing enough?

Not to say that everyone should be jumping in on all the issues that are available out there (boy, wouldn't that be a doozy?), but after going to this event, I started thinking about the small ways in which we can contribute. For me, that was legitimated by going to the march, but it can also come in other forms.
I think that blogging about the issues and getting the word out about political subjects can do more than enough as a form of participation. That's why I believe that websites such as Refuse the Silence are so important. Participating as a peer educator at my campus also contributes to the general safety of others - while we are not overtly political, we do stress bodily autonomy and choice as our modus operandi, and that makes me feel safer on this campus than in many other parts of the city.

I believe that my understanding of political participation has changed since coming to college. Although I was definitely gung ho about the political process itself and the fair treatment of minorities, women, and people of different sexual orientations before coming to college, I believe now that there are ways to support that are not as flash-bang as attending a march or getting riled up about a protest. These things have their place, but I feel that there has to be a continued effort, a continued conversation, by the people involved in order to effect real change.
And so, while I may choose to attend more gatherings and wave my fist in the air, I have decided not to feel left out or guilty if I'm not participating in that way. I will just continue to educate myself and others on the issues and that will be enough.

Tell me what you think about political participation. Does it have to be event-based or should it be more localized? Is the personal made political when we go out marching about it or when we choose to alter our lives in even a small way? What does political participation mean in the new century?

*Not to say that harassment can't go in the opposite direction or be a man on man or woman on woman harassment situation, but this is the way that it primarily affects me.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy my other posts on feminist topics.