Thousands Brave the Wind and Rain to Take Part in Vancouver Women’s March

“We have to let our light shine, and let everyone else’s light shine.”

A woman holds a sign reading, “Consent is the new black” during the 2018 Women’s March in Vancouver. (Ashley Hyshka)

Pouring rain and strong winds were not enough to dampen the spirits of hundreds of people who marched in Downtown Vancouver’s Jack Poole Plaza on Jan. 20.

The second annual Vancouver Women’s March coincided with hundreds of other events worldwide. Last year’s march was held in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., which protested the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

The grassroots organization “March On” Vancouver hosted Saturday’s event. Organizer Sam Monckton says the group advocates for diversity and inclusivity, adding that one year after the first women’s march in Vancouver, work still needs to be done.

“We would like to showcase some voices that people have never heard,” says Monckton. “Lift up the people who are more marginalized in the community, because they don’t get a chance to speak out, and their voices are being crushed at twice the rate.”

More than a dozen activists and high-profile figures spoke at the event, which was opened by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Relationships and Protocol Agreements Coordinator Carleen Thomas. She reminded the marchers that “we should look at each other as human beings, and we have to remember that, as human beings, we have the right to be treated with respect, with integrity, and honour.”

The most important theme of the march centered on viewing women’s rights as human rights. Violence against women, racism, human trafficking, rape culture, LGBTQ rights, missing and murdered Indigenous women, immigration rights, and affordable daycare were also discussed.

Judi Lewinson, a figure in the entertainment industry, said that “speaking up [as a person of colour] in Vancouver meant screaming at the top of our lungs that the black community is not a monolith.”

“We are not just one thing, one voice or one idea,” said Lewinson. “Some of us are still screaming, but truth is on the rise!”

Black Lives Matter Vancouver representative Ariam Yetbarek and transgender sex worker Hailey Heartless challenged the audience to help defend their human rights, not just on the day of the march, but from that moment forward.

“This year, when I was announced as a speaker, I received a lot of hate online from some … transphobic, whorephobic people who really, really wanted to tell me that I am not allowed to be here,” Heartless told the crowd.

Yetbarek also reminded the audience of the importance of the “Me Too” movement, which was popularized by actress Alyssa Milano but originally created by a black woman named Tarana Burke, who gave a voice to victims of sexual assault and harassment.

Bi-racial Black activist Angela Marie MacDougall noted that, for many women, telling their story can put their lives in jeopardy. Every year in B.C., 14 women on average are killed by their male partners.

While the event was referred to as a women’s march, it was also attended by men and children who walked in solidarity with the women in their lives.

“We all have to work together. Men are always going to be, hopefully, our allies,” says Monckton. “There are sons, there are fathers, there are brothers. There are lots of good, good men out there.”

Noor Fadel is an 18-year-old Muslim woman who was physically and verbally assaulted on the Canada Line last month. Fadel, who was one of the speakers at the march, is a poet and activist. She fought back tears as she read her poem “I Forgive You” to the audience.

“You will never know our stories, and we may never know yours. Yet life moves on whether we chose to continue or not. I gripped tight to the handle and held myself up, climbed over the hills and saw the view of fields. I tumbled, but I survived, and you couldn’t stop me. No one could stop me,” recited Fadel. “I forgive you, but I will never be sorry. Because this is our truth. This is my truth.”

The last person to speak before the march began was Lorelei Williams, an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls who performed a dance routine with her troupe, Butterflies in Spirit.

The march took participants from Jack Poole Plaza to Thurlow Street, down West Georgia, and past the Trump International Hotel and Tower. As they passed, the crowd chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” Afterward, they returned to the plaza where a small closing ceremony concluded the event.

Viki Douglas, a volunteer with the KPU Women’s Centre, was stunned to see 15 neo-Nazi posters hung up around the plaza upon arriving on Saturday morning.

“It was really disheartening to see that, but it’s a reminder of why we’re coming together to march,” says Douglas.

Still, she adds, “It was so empowering and humbling to see various community members whose voices are often silenced be able to have a platform to speak up.”

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