This year, I was in the town of Vanderhoof on December 6th, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. This day marks the anniversary of a massacre that took place in 1989 at the École Polytechnique in Montreal where a gunman singled out woman-identified students for their gender, killing 14 of them and injuring many more. In Vanderhoof, to remember these women and all women affected by violence, a local group organized a gathering, march, and discussion that combined the “remembrance” and “action” components of this day very effectively. I left feeling hopeful, inspired, and challenged (in a good way!).
First and foremost, it was inspiring to see the number and diversity of participants at the event. For a town of approximately 4,000 residents, having about 150 individuals participate in an event that took place at noon on a Thursday was, to me, very impressive. More so than the number, however, was the diverse group that participated. Participants were young and old, First Nations, settlers, and immigrants, men and women, students and retirees, the list goes on! All were invited to listen to a few speeches, walk a short route through town led by Saik’uz First Nation drummers, and take part in an action-pledge following the march.
The event left me hopeful for a few reasons. One important reason is the amount of intergenerational conversation that was happening. Many attendees talked about “where they were” on December 6, 1989, and what they remembered about that day. I am too young to remember 1989 and none of the high school students who were present would even have been born but that makes the intergenerational nature of this event so much more important. To have an older generation share their memories is a powerful reminder of the “remembrance” part of this day – which will, I hope, ultimately drive us all to act. It was also very nice to hear conversations about ending violence take place during the march as well, as various individuals talked about the issue at hand rather than, say, the weather. To see a community willing to talk about these difficult issues is inspiring and speaks to a lot of courage within the community.
The other component of the event that left me hopeful was the action component. Too often, public events focus on raising awareness and lose a valuable opportunity to unite communities to take action. In Vanderhoof, the organizing committee printed a banner on which, following the march, attendees could write down their action pledge. While each individual reflected on what they could write, we were all able to learn from one another’s action ideas and build a type of accountability to the community as well. Knowing that someone saw me write my action down makes me feel that much more accountable to following through with it.
I also left the event, however, feeling challenged, as I often do on December 6th. Here are a few reasons why:
– In Vanderhoof, more so than in any other place I have lived, the community is reminded of violence against women every day. There are several high-profile local cases of violence against women and Highway 16 – the Highway of Tears – runs right through town and, along with it, regular reminders of the women who have been murdered and who have gone missing along that road. I don’t believe that Vanderhoof has rates of violence against women that are any higher than other parts of B.C. or Canada but what it does have is high-profile local cases that serve as daily, visual reminders of violence against women. This remains such an important and immense issue and action needs to be taken on a daily basis.
– The organizers of the event in Vanderhoof did a good job of talking about the systemic issues that underlie violence against women. They discussed violence as an issue with deep, structural roots. While this is very important and I really appreciated that they drew attention to these issues, these discussions also serve as reminders of the immensity of the issue that we are facing. Re-defining masculinity, confronting and addressing colonial injustices, and challenging unequal power relations is an awfully tall order for a community!
– For me, the role of men on December 6th (and other days) always poses some challenges. On the one hand, I truly think that it is wonderful to see a relatively large number of men out for December 6th events. On the other hand, it can be very easy to slip into narratives that are not ultimately productive, such as being self-congratulatory (“I am one of the good guys”), a white knight (“I will save women”), or in denial (“My community/group/school/class is not sexist”). The role of man-identified allies in ending violence against women is rife with blurry lines where power and privilege intersect in myriad ways. Others have written about this at length but I still find every situation to be unique.
Ultimately, I think that these challenges are good. They keep me on my toes, they keep me critical, and they keep me driven to talk about and act on the issue of gender-based violence.
By: Vince Terstappen