Last night, the annual Take Back The Night march, demonstrating against sexual violence and raising awareness of the oft-neglected or trivialized issue, wound its way through Morningside Heights for the 22nd time. Bwog’s Mark Hay was on the streets following the march step by step throughout the night.
Rolling out from the Barnard Gates at 8 PM, last night’s march started strong, keeping its energy throughout the evening. As cries and chants of “take back the day, take back the night, take back our bodies, take up the fight,” “university silence perpetuates the violence,” and many others reverberated through the urban canyons, drawing any waking life to the windows and fire escapes to peer down in support. Some rushed out to the steps, banging pots and pans or screaming out praise and support for the marchers, while others stood bemused by the wending line preventing them from crossing the street.
Police estimates place the attendance of last night’s march at approximately 500 – among them Barnard President Debora Spar, although event organizers estimated that, at its peak, the line was 700 strong, drawing in people off the streets despite an intermittent drizzle and gusting winds. While stopped for a moment on College Walk, the troop filled the main drag from street to sundial.
Marshals – student event coordinators marked by their grey shirts and reflective armbands – scurried about informing confused pedestrians of the event’s purpose, sparking up new chants and pacing the march. A less savory duty, marshals also stopped bystanders from photographing the front or sides of the crowd, allowing only aerial or real shots to protect the anonymity of survivors and allies of sexual violence. They also managed the line between the general march and the somewhat controversial female-only section at the head of the column. The section is intended as a space for women to feel secure during the march and acknowledges the roots of the organization as a female-only movement. It also recognizes the predominance of females as victims of sexual violence and males as perpetrators. Some feel that this creates an unnecessary gender binary, denies the pain of male sufferers , and alienates male allies; the coordinators recognize this problematic arrangement and have entered into talks on how to better integrate marchers in years to come.
The controversy, though, may be of less import than the strum und drang of students would suggest – throughout the night only a handful of students made use of the space and the bulk was devoted to marshals stretching out the group’s larger banners. The bulk of the march remained integrated, with men making up an estimated one-third of the audience (a high increase from 10-15 percent in recent years) and this year featured two male marshals – the first in the march’s history and a sign of the movement towards gender integration.
While passing by St. Luke’s, the line fell silent in respect of the work taking place within. The silent mass drew some quizzical stares, but marshals readily explained the event’s nature – one ambulance driver turned his lights on in respect upon receiving an explanation. Despite wide showings of support, some remained flippant about the event, ignoring the explanations of the marshals, flinging their hands in the air and grumbling variations on, “there’re too many angry women out tonight, I just can’t take it.”
The march snaked its way back through Barnard’s gates after an hour’s journey (half the length of the old route to accommodate those with less time and/or stamina). Many then flooded into the LeFrak Gym for a speak-out on sexual violence, an open forum for survivors and allies to anonymously share their stories – an admirable event not open, for good reason, to direct reporting by the press. Counseling was available throughout the night and remains available – learn more about Columbia’s resources for sexual violence prevention and response here.