Most Recent Thoughts on SlutWalk Chicago

On May 17th you, dear readers, sent me a message, perhaps without ever meaning to. After I posted my open letter to SlutWalk Chicago my blog received more hits within an eight-hour period than it had on any entire day prior to the 17th. The letter is currently the most visited page of my blog. This is so despite the fact I wrote the letter with a sense of urgency and did not spend as much time proofreading it as I would have liked to. I can only conclude that the matter of inclusion at SlutWalk is a matter important to many of you. Because I feel that what has become apparent regarding SlutWalk since the 17th is more significant than anything I included in my letter, I suspect you will want to know what I now know.

Shortly after I sent my open letter to SlutWalk Chicago I wrote another letter, this one private, to a member of SlutWalk’s organizational board in the belief that she would be interested in dialogue. In this letter I did the following:

  1. I told the organizer that in view of a variety of circumstances, some of them unique to present-day Chicago, SlutWalk Chicago has an obligation to be conscious of the ways in which different communities view the Chicago Police Department.
  2. I expressed an interest in discussing my concerns in a forum, so long as it were possible for me to participate without appearing to endorse SlutWalk.
  3. I said that it appeared to me as though SlutWalk’s organizers were a small group of self-appointed people appointing others to leadership positions in an entirely top-down manner.
  4. I explained why the language then (and currently) on SlutWalk Chicago’s home page and in its mission statement is not trans-inclusive, and I offered concrete suggestions on how to make it so.

What has been SlutWalk Chicago’s response? As some of you already know, May 17th was also the date when SlutWalk Chicago decided to make a blog post entitled “SlutWalk Chicago on Inclusivity, Diversity”. Since then Jessica Skolnik, a member of the organizational board (who is not the person I wrote to on the 17th), has made a related blog post entitled “About being an ally, privilege, marginalization, naming, and SlutWalk’s place in feminist activism”. Because no one in SlutWalk Chicago has yet acknowledged its critics by name, there is no way of knowing for sure whom they were responding to. (What the fuck, SlutWalk Chicago? Even SlutWalk Toronto, in its massive fail, had the decency to mention Aura Blogando by name.) In any case, SlutWalk Chicago has talked the talk, but what has it done so far to walk the walk? In a word, nothing. I will use the remainder of this post to expand on some of the problems I currently have.

1. Apart from the forum SlutWalk Chicago might hold after the march the organization has not announced any opportunities for dialogue concerning oppressed groups’ relation to the police.

When I read people’s concerns regarding the SlutWalk movement, I feel that it is only a matter of time before they mention the police. TJ’s friend notes, “Most women still do not report sexual assaults to the police.” Aura Blogando questioned the idea of inviting a police officer to speak about safety to begin with. While critical of many of the other points Aura makes, Little Red Henski says this about one of the aims of SlutWalk Toronto:

OK, so SlutWalk organizers are really bummed they can’t think of the police as friends anymore and they really want to work with them to repair their relationship. I’m with Blogando on this 100%. Boo fucking hoo. Granted, I don’t know what the police in Canada are like. I hear things are better up there in a lot of ways. It could be that Toronto police aren’t a repressive internal military force designed to violently preserve what is itself a violent racial and economic order. I’m inclined to think they’re more or less the same as police in the US; but, if they aren’t, SlutWalk organizers need a reality check before crossing the border and telling us how to be free. Their failure to deal with the police as an institution is damning evidence that the organizers are inadvertently reifying white supremacy.

When it comes to the police, is Chicago in any way exceptional? Marginalized people have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the Chicago Police Department. I cannot hope to give an exhaustive list of the reasons here, but I hope this non-representative sampling will give my readers some idea of the threat oppressed folks face:

Despite this marginalized people have not had the opportunity to express their concerns regarding the Chicago Police Department to SlutWalk Chicago in a public forum. This cannot be attributed to a failure to consider police presence or involvement on the part of the organizational board. In a registration form SlutWalk Chicago tells prospective volunteers, “Your job will be to keep people out of the street, keep crowds from getting unruly, and generally encourage enthusiasm! Police will be on hand to assist with these tasks, so you will not be responsible for any sort of physical intervention in the unlikely event that such an action is required.” It looks as though SlutWalk Chicago will be very welcoming to anyone who has enough privilege to equate the police with safety.

2. SlutWalk Chicago does not use trans-inclusive language.

When I wrote to SlutWalk Chicago, I figured that the organization would do what so many other social justice organizations have done: Modify its words while doing little to back them. As it turns out, the organization has not even done that much. In this matter I feel conflicted. On the one hand, SlutWalk Chicago has failed to make a minimal effort to help trans people feel included. On the other hand, it has avoided making trans people tokens. While I try to resolve my inner turmoil, I would like to note that there is a preferable way to go about avoiding the tokenization of trans people: Include us both in word and in deed.

3. The only dialogue SlutWalk Chicago is having with various communities is limited and on SlutWalk Chicago’s own terms.

The above might not be so problematic if SlutWalk Chicago were flexible. However, in the ten days that have followed the letter I sent on the 17th the SlutWalk Chicago organizers have not bothered to correct my view that all major decisions regarding SlutWalk are made by an unelected board. Skolnik might have hoped to quell this concern when she wrote, “We need and value your input! There are only five of us on the organizing team, and we in no way want to be the figureheads of a movement (what kind of egalitarian movement has figureheads, anyway? We’re all leaders!)” But how can there be a community-based dialogue regarding marginalized people’s concerns if not so much as a forum will be held until after the march? And what incentive will there be for the board to start taking oppressed folks’ concerns to heart, if we have neither voting power nor access to the board’s deliberations? If “we’re all leaders”, why do so many people who were initially interested in participating in SlutWalk now feel alienated by the board and its process?

While SlutWalk Chicago’s organizational board may have in some important sense the right to organize in an undemocratic fashion, if it wants to, it is rather disingenuous to do this while claiming that it wants our “input” and “does not endorse tokenizing minorities”. I find it telling that SlutWalk Chicago has told the readers of its May 17th post that it is “making SlutWalk Chicago an inclusive event” by making its words accessible to marginalized people (as by “putting together a Spanish language flyer”) but without telling marginalized people how we can overcome barriers to contact them or have influence over the decision-making process. Currently it does not appear that SlutWalk Chicago will be a march for people who believe in grassroots organizing.

I hope that in my posts I help my readers become aware of not only my views on SlutWalk but also the views of many other people throughout the world. To that end I will close by linking to other recent posts about SlutWalk:

“SlutWalk, Rape, White Supremacy”—The Chicago activist who gives us The Body Electric shares hir thoughts.

“Slutwalks v. Ho Strolls”

“SlutWalk: To march or not to march”

“We’re Sluts, Not Feminists. Wherein my relationship with SlutWalk gets rocky.”

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3 Responses to Most Recent Thoughts on SlutWalk Chicago

  1. Veronika,

    I just saw this post too – we’re not an official organization, just community organizers! I am the person who wrote those posts, and I was not aware of your criticism, which is the only criticism I’ve seen of us directly – I was responding to criticism I’d seen that did not address us directly, so I didn’t address anyone by name.

    Also, nothing I’ve written was an attempt to “quell” concerns – just to participate in an ongoing dialogue. What are the ways that we could best address your concerns? I am open to hearing what you have to say – please email us directly.
    I’ve made an effort to personally use trans-inclusive language whenever I can, and I hope that the other organizers do too.

    We wanted to hold the forum before the walk but because of time concerns and logistics just weren’t able to do so.

    Again, we are not an official organization, we’re just some community organizers who came together to make this event happen.

    We have our Facebook page open to express ideas in a public forum, but are aware that that is not an option everyone wants to use. Please let us know what we can do to address your concerns.

    With solidarity and an open heart,
    Jessica

  2. Stephanie Lane Sutton says:

    Hi there, Veronika. I’m Stephanie, another member of the SlutWalk Chicago organizing team. I want you to let you know that I, also, was unaware of your blog until someone posted it on our event page just a few moments ago. Therefore our relative silence should be taken at face value. It was probably Jamie who you had emailed, and she did not forward your email to any of us. We have received numerous emails and open letters from all sorts of people with their concerns about SlutWalk — you are not alone in your apprehensions. But I doubt any of us have read your blog here before. Therefore you should not assume that anything on our blog was a direct response to you, nor that it ever will be a direct response to anyone.

    Now, in terms of problems of inclusivity within SlutWalk — we are aware of many of the issues, from people not being able to reclaim the “slut” identity due to differing racial binaries to the heteronormativity that comes with the term “slut.” Personally I’ve always seen the title “SlutWalk” as a somewhat ironic way of pointing out that not only is it not always “slutty women” who are raped, but men, children, and transfolk as well are also raped. However, as a cisgendered white woman, I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what they should or should not support or identify with. I think it is impossible for SlutWalk to be all-inclusive because issues of identity are so personal (even within the political spectrum). I believe that many trans and non-binary folk will never identify with SlutWalk no matter what efforts we make (I think this post sums up pretty succinctly the issues of gender inclusivity: http://imagesfromapoet.tumblr.com/post/5910623434). That does not mean that we don’t care about making our event as comfortable for all people as possible, as I think should be evident by the efforts we are making both within comments we leave on others’ blogs as well as our attempts to begin dialogue on our own blog. The fact of the matter is, the five of us organizers will always have privilege, and we can’t change that. Sorry we tainted the event with our predispositions. However, we want to hold this forum as a way of changing that, of getting more ideas and voices from others, of hearing what we could have done better, and uniting us all in dialogue outside of the internet in a way that will hopefully lead to direct action in a way that a protest cannot. I know myself and the other organizers want to keep working at what’s at the heart of SlutWalk — the end of victim-blaming and assault for all — after the protest, although we haven’t discussed whether or not we’ll create a formal organization, nor whether we’ll keep the name “SlutWalk” connected to our continued efforts.

    The issue of gender inclusivity is a big one to me, to be honest. From the start when I wrote up our mission statement, it was a challenge for me to both acknowledge the message of SlutWalk while aligning it with the experiences of other victims of sexual assault. I had a friend from high school send me an emotional message on facebook after debating with someone else about SlutWalk confiding in me about his rape in prison, and how the message of SlutWalk could not pertain to his experience, and how hurt and isolated some of the opinions of SlutWalk had made him feel in terms of his own experience. Let’s face it, despite the fact that women are the majority of rape victims, it’s a global problem that no one gender, class, race, or anything else is immune from experiencing. I’m not sure about statistics regarding trans-people and assault, however I know from experiences transfriends have relayed to me that the harassment and threats are far more common than they are for me. However, I’m digressing from your issues with SlutWalk now. Here’s what I have to say in response to your numbered concerns:

    1. We would love to have an event addressing how police treat survivors and oppressed groups’ relations to the police. I figured this would be a topic of discussion at the forum. Personally the issue of police brutality is very important to me, and what’s got me involved in protesting and grassroots organizing in the first place (this is the first protest I’ve participated in that had an openly feminist agenda).

    The reason we are holding the forum after the event is because there are 5 of us who are helping to organize the event, and we have full-time jobs, school, families, etc — we are all doing this for free. I think it’s somewhat unfair for you to assume that we don’t care about issues of police brutality, when SlutWalk was inspired by a brutal attitude possessed by a police officer, and both Jessica and I have spoken publicly on more than one occasion about our negative experiences with the police in the wake of our assaults. Your assumption, “Despite this marginalized people have not had the opportunity to express their concerns regarding the Chicago Police Department to SlutWalk Chicago in a public forum,” is completely false. This is exactly why we are having the forum in the first place.

    It seems you also have issues with the presence of police at our protest. This is standard procedure for every protest. I actually look forward to the presence of police at a demonstration because it forces them to face people who are willing to call them out on their bullshit. There is no way around this — the permit has been filed, and that’s what happens when you file a permit (however the police were not present at our Guerilla Street Performance this past weekend, which, as the name suggests, was executed completely guerilla-style).

    2. I agree that we could use more trans-inclusive language. I will bring these concerns up with our webmaster immediately. Again, however, I ask for your patience as there are only a few of us running the show and we’re trying to reach out to a larger community for help.

    3. I ask you to define what you mean by “on our own terms.” If someone outside of the SlutWalk organizational team was holding a forum about issues of inclusivity within SlutWalk, what terms would that be on? The way I saw it, we were asking readers and dissenters to determine their own terms. Yes, we are an unelected board — again, there are only 5 of us, and there aren’t really people working under us, other than my friends whom I’ve gotten involved in my own committee. I don’t know who would elect us, and I don’t think that’s really feasible when you’re talking about organizing a single protest that has no affiliation with any existing organization whatsoever, and which is not really intended to evolve into an organization on a local or global scale (although it may, but it would necessitate coming together on issues much broader than what SlutWalk addresses). We hope to move forward to work with others on a grassroots level, however, when our duties are mostly “who’s going to file for the permit?” and “who’s in charge with distributing flyers?” it’s hard to see the necessity of an electoral process. Perhaps if we move forward as an organization this will be more relevant, however I think it’s a little impractical to demand we hold elections for an event that’s happening in a few days. Don’t you think that at the forum, the ones receiving feedback should be us? Or should we elect someone else to receive our criticism?

    Also, there are no barriers as to how to contact us. Our email is public all over the place, and Jamie does a fantastic job and replying to emails or forwarding them to us when she can’t. Many of us other organizers have also posted our emails publicly (I posted my own only to almost immediately receive flat-out hate mail in which I was called “a glorious piece of shit” and a “cunt”). Further, the blog itself is a means of contacting us — on the very post you mentioned Jessica engages in dialogue with a commenter. Writing a blog post and expecting us to see it and then being frustrated when we don’t address your concerns is just creating your own barriers in terms of contact.

    I think the key thing to remember here is that we mostly agree on everything. It is important that we find a way to stay united in the cause and I hope that you can be more direct and constructive in your criticism from here on out upon realizing that we share the same goals.

    • Veronika says:

      But I doubt any of us have read your blog here before.

      I also doubt it, but that is a moot point. The text of the open letter I posted to my blog is indentical to what I sent to slutwalkchicago@gmail.com on the 16th. (I also sent another e-mail on the following day.) If someone read the e-mail and did not forward it to anyone who could take action within ten days, then it sounds to me like you have an internal communication problem to work out.

      The issue of gender inclusivity is a big one to me, to be honest.

      When you couch the matter of trans inclusion in terms of gender inclusion, you are not including me. My gender is woman. As far as I can tell, SlutWalk Chicago has not been responsible for excluding women (not across the board, anyway). My concern is that you have been failing to include I and others, because you have failed to take into account people whose trans status is not cisgender.

      Your assumption, “Despite this marginalized people have not had the opportunity to express their concerns regarding the Chicago Police Department to SlutWalk Chicago in a public forum,” is completely false.

      But you just said, “The reason we are holding the forum after the event is . . . .” Was there another public forum that I am unaware of?

      Perhaps if we move forward as an organization this will be more relevant, however I think it’s a little impractical to demand we hold elections for an event that’s happening in a few days.

      On May 17th there were more than a few days before SlutWalk. And is holding elections the only way to open up the process?

      Also, there are no barriers as to how to contact us. Our email is public all over the place

      How meaningful is this if nothing gets done? I wrote to slutwalkchicago@gmail.com twice before the 18th, and no one involved in the organizing has taken any sort of action regarding my concerns until today, which as you say is only “a few days” before the march. This leaves little time for anything but the most cosmetic changes. Again, it seems to me that you have some communication issues on your end that you need to work out.

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