Why I organised what became Melbourne’s largest peace march of recent times.

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There’s me, the bald dude with the orange Indian shawl. “Choosing peace, hope, non-violence and solidarity with all women!”

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.

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

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 VipassanaDhamma 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.

The poster I made for the march.

 

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.

A few hundred people waiting for the peace march to begin. About quarter to 12.

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.

Ben’s beautiful sign carried by a woman at the front of the march.

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.

 

2013 annotation:

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.

 

26 Responses to Why I organised what became Melbourne’s largest peace march of recent times.

  • Anna-maria Pontonio says:

    in the end, I’m glad I did attend -for all and whichever reasons I felt compelled to be there.
    Thanks Philip

  • Nikolai Halay says:

    Very inspiring Philip.

  • Rubydayle Joy Watkins says:

    As an organiser and MC of the Geelong Reclaim The Night and October Month Against Violence for many moons as a younger woman I had such a public and personal fire in my belly around the issue of violence against women and children in all its definitions…For those years Geelong actually attracted more marching feet than Melbourne Town and there has been incredible work done in the Barwon South West Region as a result.
    One of the annual dilemmas as each October approached was the ‘role of men within the Rally and March” and other activities. What fascinated me was the sense of separation people felt and how every year a screaming chorus of “No Men” would rise up and end often in Chaos yet always meant healthy debate and people having a voice ( the long important road of democratic process ).
    An elder once spoke to me of how women used to be expected to ‘seat in the backseat’ of a car while the husband drove and I recall this informing our decisions around the Reclaim the Night marches; a chance for men to sit in the backseat.
    I was blessed to witness men like Phillip who found ways to make a strong statement against violence against women in ways that acknowledged a womens right to feel safe on the streets ( the original premise of Reclaim the Night in Rome 1970’s ).
    My son would relate very much to Phillip’s comments about the feminist Mother and he lives from the place of deep understanding of inequity and peace.
    What I found the most enlightening about Phillip’s March was there was no separation and there were people without political agendas all walking together to say “ENOUGH” no more and for those of us involved for many years in building awareness and community accountability around the impact of family violence “gratitude gratitude” and as a women like so many others who has experienced the shadows of it personally ‘my heart sings’ for this statement and the potential of what is yet to come.
    When a light is shone on darkness it can transform into something exceptionally beautiful.

    • Philip Werner says:

      Dear Ruby,

      Thanks so much, it’s great to hear from a veteran like you.

      I agree that there is far, far too much focus on the division of the genders and not enough on how much we love and need each other.

      Also worth remembering that in many countries where genital mutilation occurs it is done by women, not men. Violence is violence, it has no gender.

      When we have our eyes closed in silent reflection or meditation we are not of any gender but are simply human beings. Peace is peace, it has no gender.

      Love,
      Philip

  • michael chalk says:

    Thanks Philip for organising, and for this piece. That same deep sadness has been affecting me too. I’ve been out of town the whole time, and would have loved to join the march on the day, so it’s good to hear the stories. michael

  • remedios says:

    Thank you so much for organising such an empowering and significant event. I attended with my toddler son and my partner. Like you, I grew up in a family that espoused feminist and anti-violence principles and from a young age I was no stranger to attending peace marches and reclaim the night marches. Therefore it was natural for me to attend yesterday, and I felt very strongly that it was imperative that my young son attend as well as he will, I hope, grow to be a peaceful, gentle and respectful man. My partner, who did not grow up in as liberal a family as mine, found the experience life-changing and profound and has talked constantly,for the last 24 hour, about how incredible and amazing it was!
    You should be immensely proud to have inspired 30,000 people, many of whom have probably never before taken such a public stance, to take over the street and stand up against violence. I was very very proud to be there. Thank you for making it happen.

    • Philip Werner says:

      Thanks so much for your words of support. Yes, peace marches are a beautiful thing to grow up with.

      Ans yes, I agree, we need to start with our children. Why don’t we have emotional intelligence classes in school, along side maths and science?

      That way people would be less easily led by people who incite hate and fear, like the Andrew Bolts of the world.

  • Andrew McKinnon says:

    Nice one mate.

  • Deshnee Moodley-Schroter says:

    Philip, I just want to say thank you for organising such a peaceful march for Jill. I have never marched for anything before and to be a part of something so extraordinary, was an incredible feeling. The March was so moving and emotional. I am so glad that I was a part of it, together with my son. THANK YOU.

    • Philip Werner says:

      Dear Deshnee,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so glad you came and experienced the deep healing space of a peace march. And how wonderful that your son was with you, what a beautiful, beautiful lesson for him to learn, to see so many other men and women and children who know that love will overcome. I don’t know how old he is, but I suspect that that is something that he will never, never forget.

      Love
      Philip

  • Trish Hunt says:

    Nice one. I hope that this sentiment starts being reflected in the wider community with a result of violence against women decreasing instead of increasing as it has been over the last decade. It is shameful that perpetrators against women can be let off lightly (or simply let off the hook) for crimes committed against women. It is time that the law makers started taking this more seriously and targeted this through mandatory education programs within schools, TAFEs, and universities, public and private work places, the prisons, and for the unemployed and retired. Violence against women is not limited to any culture or demographic so these programs need to be targeted at all of us.

    • Philip Werner says:

      I agree, it would be good to have some sort of emotional intelligence classes along side maths and science in school.

      For perpetrators of violence, however, I don’t think the focus should be on punishment, that approach has never worked. We need to place importance on rehabilitation, not punishment.

      Seriously, take the time to watch one or two (or all three) of those prison videos I posted. Would be interested in your thoughts.

      • Jennifer Mcneil says:

        Hi Philip,

        At Glen Waverley Secondary College, we do have emotional intelligence classes in Years 7-10 in a special class called Living and Learning and its embedded in the curriculum as well. In my class we looked at the Idiot abroad as a case study (which was humorous), we reflected on James Camerons EQ when dealing with a team of investigators with his docos on the titanic, they do surveys of EQ and have ongoing assessments tied to communication, habits of mind which are used as student reflections in their own reports. I do EQ in Maths especially…..my students analyse their performances and their emotional responses to maths in a personal online Maths journal. :) I cant remember all the rest of the stuff honestly as its done weekly…..oh!! They are at the moment reviewing a character studies of characters in Howls Moving Castle in Living and Learning.

        In Science, I tackle racism, sexism and homophobia from a scientific point of view and tie in EQ….

        Jen

        • Philip Werner says:

          Hi Jen,

          Yes, obviously I am out of the loop on this issue and things seem to have changed a lot since I was in school.

          I have heard little bits and pieces of this and it’s great to hear more. It’s such important work.

          Thanks for everything you do and for sharing :)

          Kind regards,
          Philip

  • toni childs says:

    Thank you for being a ‘Peaceful Warrior’. I recently did a 32 date concert tour thru out Australia. For the first time, I asked the men who had made a commitment in their lives to be peaceful warriors to stand up so I could honor them and sing to them my song ‘Zimbabwe’. A song about a man who chose peace while his own family was being torn a part from war.

    Thank you so much for listening and following your heart’s desire to honor Jill in a meaningful way that could include so many others. Your heart light sparked a massive collective voice that I am delighted and was sure existed.

    Thank you for allowing me to witness from afar… I too am committed to ending violence against woman. Eve Ensler asked me to write an Anthem in 2003 that would inspire people to end violence against woman and girls for all time! Quite an ask… cheeky big hearted new yorker! Please go to http://www.causeyourebeautiful.com to see my video. I have a global project called “Wrap the World in Beauty” that I would love to talk to you about… as a photographer and an activist I think you may find it interesting.

    I am now living in Byron Bay

    • Philip Werner says:

      Toni! I’m swoooooning :)

      Thank you so much for dropping in and adding your voice to the angels call!

      Would love to talk to you about your project, well, would love to talk to you about anything actually if I can get my jaw off the ground ;)

      [Philip clicks on link to http://www.causeyourebeautiful.com]

      Toni! I’m feeling inspired by your song and your message!

      The thought arose after the march to stage a followup concert. My feet had not landed back on earth and as I thought about where to hold it my thoughts went from one venue to the next thinking about crowd numbers. Suddenly I thought about filling a stadium! Then my feet landed on earth again and I just wanted things to go back to normal.

      Now you have blown wind into my sails again and I’m wondering…

      Toni, shall we fill a stadium? I think we can, I think we can! Dare I think we can?

  • toni childs says:

    peace love and gratitude = aloha

    toni childs

  • Lucy McKeon says:

    Dear Philip,

    I left a message on the Facebook group but I wanted to write again to express my deep gratitude to you for organising this march, and to anyone else reading this who attended.

    Gillian was my cousin. I still don’t quite have the words to express how darkly painful the last two weeks have been. There are no words. But reading about the march, and the care of 30,000 people, most of whom didn’t even know Jill, touches me in a way that starts to feel like the path to healing.

    What I am left with now, that the initial shock, disgust, and anger that paralysed me are starting to subside, is a reaffirmation of my lifelong feminism and a deepened commitment to understanding, promoting and ultimately bettering the female experience. I am currently traveling, and before this happened did not have a long-term life plan. Now I am going to be returning to my home in the UK to extend the work that you and countless other brave freethinkers around the world do for women.

    At the moment I don’t, can’t, understand the evil that exists in a human that makes this kind of thing happen – it feels beyond human – but I will do whatever I can to help prevent this happening to another woman, another family.

    Thank you Philip, and everyone who marched for Gillian and for peace. Please let us all ‘open up with love’.

    Lucy

    • Philip Werner says:

      Dear Lucy,

      Thank you so much for your message.

      It’s good for me to hear that those close to her have felt healed by this march also, considering that I organised it spontaneously without having consulted her family (I would not have known how).

      And great that you feel moved to action and purpose.

      I hope I’m not misreading you, and I apologise if I am, but one thing I will say is that I think it’s dangerous to think that others are all evil and we are all good. Us vs them. Good and evil resides in all of us and so may studies have shown what horrors ordinary people will stoop to when placed in circumstances, beyond their control, that foster their darker sides. When we come from a belief that we are good and they are evil it suddenly becomes all to easy for us to justify our own evils committed against “them”. Without letting go of this I think it becomes impossible to really understand the circumstances that lead people to violence, and without properly understanding these causes we cannot hope to undo them. The better we understand our own evils the less likely we will succumb to them and the better we can understand others’.

      Also, I actually don’t do what I do for women, I do it for everyone. Violence against women is as bad for men as it is for women. And the perpetrator of any violence, regardless of their gender, is the first victim of their own crime. They are writhing in the pain of their own anger, hate, fear, ignorance, etc. I believe it is precisely because of their extreme suffering that they inflict that same suffering on others. Both perpetrator and victim suffer and if we only look to alleviate the suffering of the victim then we will only ever solve half the problem. In a way it is even more important to alleviate the suffering of the perpetrators since they are the ones who otherwise continue spread that suffering onto others around them. One perpetrator healed is worth all the crimes they no longer commit.

      I don’t think it’s easy, but I think if we can love our enemy, most of the work is done. This is probably the hardest work of all.

      Let us all open up with love :)

      Philip

  • Richard says:

    Phillip,

    I just want to thank you for what you did to assist the community in exposing the shameful violence that goes on in our society against women and indeed, against all others. I was one of the many unfortunates who could not be there physically at the march, but was in spirit.

    I was very touched by the similar circumstances to Jill as with my girlfriend and I’m sure we all felt that this could have been our daughter, our girlfriend, our wife or our sister. As a community, we must say no to violence and that is why I applaude the stance you took.

    I wish you well in the future and I am sure that what will come of this tragic loss will undoubtedly be a community focus point of enormous value to those at risk.

    Kind regards,

    Richard Brown

    • Philip Werner says:

      Hi Richard,

      Thank you, and yes, let’s hope this tragedy will motivate us to make a positive change and healing in our community.

      Kind regards,
      Philip

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