Why I organised what became Melbourne’s largest peace march of recent times.
So I’ve suddenly been thrust into the media limelight for having organised the Peace March for Jill Meagher. The response was beyond all expectations and I have since been receiving supportive and kind words from many friends and random strangers, people who all believe in the message of peace, hope and non-violence.
I figure I might as well use this space to tell my story, perhaps it’s all related.
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To be perfectly honest, when the images first started going round on Facebook about Jill Maegher’s disappearance I took little notice. I guess it was care fatigue mixed with a question of why random strangers suddenly care about her disappearance rather than the many other victims of crime.
However, early on Friday morning when I saw the news that her body had been found the physical violence of what was done to her really struck me and I felt deeply, deeply sad.
But first some background:
Violence against women is an issue that has concerned me for some time. I built the website for http://sisters-for-sisters.com as a donation to this loose collective who organise events to raise money for women’s charities. A close friend runs http://theart2healingproject.org, a charity that works to heal the wounds of sex trafficking, and helped organise her fundraiser http://www.celebratingwoman.com.au. I have signed up to http://whiteribbon.org.au and http://onebillionrising.org, two campaigns specifically to end violence against women and girls and am hoping to run a V-day event in February. [Jan 2014 Update: I ended up being one of the organisers for One Billion Rising in Melbourne in 2013, and support team in 2014.]
Please check them all out, I believe one of the most important messages to come out of all this is the difference one person and one simple action can make. There is so much we can do.
On a more personal level, I have a friend who was recently hospitalised by her boyfriend’s violent outburst, and beyond that have heard so many stories from women of their abuse, rape, harassment, etc. One very dear friend was subjected to truly horrific abuse for years as a child by a cult, abuse that goes far, far beyond what most people think humans are capable of, think Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but with children as victims, not adults. The hell realms really do manifest in the human realm, as do the celestial realms.
Of course it must be said that violence does not only affect women. Violence is violence, regardless of gender. That is very important to remember. Though as a whole, I personally believe that violence against physically weaker parties is worse than between equals.
Then there is the issue of sexual repression, genital mutilation of girls and boys (circumcision), body image shame and the taboo and shame around our bodies in general and sex organs in particular. A few years ago I read Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and was incredibly inspired by the awareness that she was raising around these issues and the foundation, V-Day, she created to combat them. Then there was Greg Taylor’s exhibition of hand crafted sculptures of vaginas simply called Cunts. These two projects in particular prompted me to create 101 Vagina, a coffee table photo book project to smash the taboo around our bodies in general and vaginas in particular. This has been ongoing for two years and I have just launched a Pozible crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds required for a first large print run that I’m self publishing because publishers are afraid of vaginas. I have also planned the 101 Penis book, because I believe that penises are surrounded by just as much shame as vaginas, but I want to finish this project first. Another friend of mine runs http://sexcamp.com.au and her partner runs sexual awareness workshops through http://tantraislove.com. All these projects are part of the growing “sex positive” movement.
To even mention the words sex or vagina in these circumstances seems horribly jarring, but I believe we need to look at the underlying issues of why rape occurs in the first place, rather than simply lament it’s occurrence. Our culture carries such deep shame around sexuality that we cannot heal without looking it squarely in the face, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
My mother was quite a strong feminist, as a result of which I perhaps have a better understanding of women’s issues than most men. It also inadvertently resulted in me growing up with the unconscious belief that men, especially male sexual desire, are the root cause of all evil in the world. Most of that belief has healed by now, and my photography was part of that process, but that’s another story. My parents were both members of their local peace initiative back in the 80’s and we would go on peace marches every now and then. This was during the cold war. I have also spent a lot of time meditating (Vipassana mediation), which certainly helps cultivate peace, compassion, non-violence, etc. There are fantastic documentaries about the effect of Vipassana in prisons (Doing Time Doing Vipassana, Dhamma Brothers and Changing from Inside), great examples that reform is possible through deep self reflection, more so than through punishment, very poignant in this case. I believe that violence will not and cannot resolve the issues resulting from violence.
I guess all that background contributed to my decision to take action.
I decided that a peace march was in order in to show a quiet, peaceful defiance against fear, hate and violence etc. To show that, as a society, we believe more in peace, love, forgiveness, hope and solidarity than their opposites. So, I made this poster straight away and sent it around to a few news organisations. I chose to call it a “peace march” very consciously. I figured something would need to be done quickly to catch the spirit of the day and make a strong case for peace and love to counter any messages of hate. That evening (Friday) I also went to the candle light vigil and handed the flier to a few news crews and stuck the poster up on a few power poles.
I was nervous about whether I was doing the right thing though, because I had gone to the police earlier and of course they spoke of all the (valid) concerns they had, including consulting with the family (which I hadn’t done) and whether it was appropriate for another poster with her photo to go up in the neighborhood. Was I doing the right thing? I was suddenly not so sure. But I had already sent it out and the media knew about it as did some Facebook friends, so I had not real choice but to ride it out and see what happens.
The next day (Saturday) it seemed the mass media had run with the story of the march. It was on. I don’t have a TV, believing that it rots your brain, especially commercial TV, so I had no clear indication of what kind of coverage the march had received and the Facebook page only had 200 likes. But someone I met at a wedding that evening said her sister was going. So I had some idea that the word was getting out, but still I thought it might just be a hundred people or so at best.
Sunday morning it was apparently on various news reports.
So, my housemate Ben and I made a couple of signs, printed out 10 spares in case people liked them and headed off. On the way we saw people heading the same way we were and I had a sense that they were not the usual Sunday morning Brunswick crowd. My sign read “Choosing peace, hope, non-violence and solidarity with all women”, his read “I won’t close with fear. I’ll open up with love.” Ben being Ben, he selflessly gave all his signs away to people in the crowd and didn’t even keep one for himself. (His beautiful message ended up being carried by a woman at the front of the march all the way along. She had her own story of violence in Tunisia, violence is obviously an international issue.)
We arrived and I met the police to check in with them at around 11:45am, already 2-300 people were there. They had closed off one lane of Moreland road for people to gather in preparation for the march. The officer in charge said it would be great if we could march down the sidewalk to minimise traffic and tram disruption and the danger of people being struck by cars. I said I thought it would be great if we could walk on the road. I love the way that marches and festivals can close down, or rather open up, a public road, give it back to people on foot.
Within minutes it was clear the footpath idea was quaint. People kept streaming in, waves of people arriving with the rhythm of the trains from the nearby station and trams that were still running. The police, as overwhelmed as everyone else by the response, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone safe, marshaling the traffic etc etc. Very supportive bunch of men and women. (The officer at the front of the march got a huge round of applause as we reached the end, everybody showing their appreciation of a job well done under overwhelming circumstances.)
They asked me to address the crowd before we marched off so I spoke of my belief in peace, love, hope, non-violence, and off we went.
The rest is history.
In hindsight the whole experience feels very ephemeral and yet powerful at the same time. All these souls, beings of light, came together, marched in a silent, peaceful show of the strength of hope, non-violence and love, and then vanished again, taking with them a brighter flame than with what they came. Like a wide, wide river that chose for a moment to channel itself through a ravine, running slow and very, very deep, before spreading out again over the land, refreshed and charged.
30,000 angels descended on Brunswick to show us all that love overcomes hate and that hope overcomes fear.
I believe that Jill was one of those angels.
The following quote expresses my sentiment for the peace march perfectly:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. … The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.