“Tonight,” declared one of the Take Back the Night organizers before the march, “we reclaim the streets!” And for the 21st time, anti-sexual violence marchers (about 200 this year) took to the streets around campus with a mix of chants and whistles, adding a dose of public emotion to their campaign against sexual violence.

Unlike last year’s version, there was little groundbreaking about the march. For the second year in a row, though, men were allowed to march from the beginning, although a woman-only “safe space” zone at the head of the march remained in effect (when TBTN organizers decided to go equal gender last year, Columbia’s Sexual Violence and Prevention people objected, saying that some survivors preferred marching without men and so the safe zone was created). Men remained about 10-15% of the whole group.

As the group turned off of Broadway onto 116th, the chanting began in earnest: “What do we want? Safe streets! When do we want it? Now!” and “University silence perpetuates the violence” were two particularly common ones, though sometimes the back and front of the march had two rhythms going. But the most ear-splitting effect was when the group used its whistles as a whole – the high pitches bouncing off building facades split this writer’s ear drums quite effectively.

As the march snaked (at various points) along Broadway, Claremont, Amsterdam, and the various cross streets between 113th and 120th, bemused observers hung out of their windows, or stared at the passing marchers. Bwog heard about ten different groups of bystanders having the same conversation: “What’s going on?” “It’s some sort of anti-sexual violence march” “Oh yeah…” Each show of support, though, including from those along frat row (where organizers told Bwog that in decades past was sometimes a site of catcalls), strengthened the spirit of the marchers, who responded with even louder whistles and chants.

After pausing for a traditional moment of silence in the middle of campus, the march returned to Barnard at around 11 p.m. for the speakout in LeFrak gymnasium, always the most powerful part of the event. Students gathered in a pitch-dark room to hear survivors tell their tales from behind a curtain until early in the morning, with audience members (many survivors themselves) often breaking down in tears from the stories.

– photo and story by JCD