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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Racism: From 1972 to 1991 police lieutenant Jon Burge and police officers under his command tortured more than 200 people, most of whom were black or Latino. Burge did not face any sort of conviction until June 28, 2010, and many in Chicago are still outraged that the only justice ordered by the court was four and a half years in prison.
Heterosexism: As I recently told a member of SlutWalk Chicago’s organizational board, my initiation into activism was witnessing the queer-bashing and arrest of three queer rights activists in 2004. In the years that followed many gay and lesbian people were wrongfully arrested by a homophobic police officer, Richard Fiorito.
Cissexism: Chicago is one of the cities where trans women and transfeminine people can be arrested for the crime of CCWT—that is, Carrying Condoms While Trans.
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.