How To Organise a Reclaim the Night march – blog (2007)

Well, here I am writing my first ever blog. Fresh (or rather – trashed) from a wonderful Reclaim The Night 2007, I thought that it would be appropriate to write a How To Guide to this fine tradition.

First of all, it’s good to point out what Reclaim The Night 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 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, 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 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 Reclaim The Night march? First of all you take some fine chocolate, milk or dark will do, fair trade is best. 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 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 November 25th, 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 mid-Summer, 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 Reclaim The Night 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. Fund-raise 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 6 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 Reclaim The Night 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 – £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 1970’s 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 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 Women’s Liberation Movement, 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 fund raise. 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, LFN says – always stay at home and do nothing.

You should definitely make some banners and encourage other people to do the same. Its 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. Fawcett’s website has a good section of all UK police force conviction rates for rape in different areas for example, 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, lets 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.

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