The 28th of May saw Reclaim the Night return to Edinburgh after a two year absence of this important event from our streets. Feminist groups from all over Edinburgh came together to collaborate on the event, including, Ladyfest, Edinburgh University Reclaim the Night, and the local Anarcha-Feminist collective. As a result, a variety of different activities took place over the course of the day and night, attended by a wide range of people.
The day began at 1pm with a “Free-School” at the Forest Cafe organised by the Edinburgh Anarcha-Feminist Collective. The Free-School took place upstairs in the main hall and was a space for discussion, film projection, and arts and craft. Most importantly, it was a place were people could meet others who planned to go on the march later that evening. There was a chill out space with cushions, sofas, tea and cake, and zines on topics about consent, domestic violence, self defence, and challenging privilege. People made banners together with friends they had just met and engaged in spontaneous group discussions about issues relating to gender violence. Over the course of the day, people also submitted stories to an anonymous art and writing project, currently being created by Anarcha-Feminists and Ladyfest. The aim of the project is to document some of the motivations, feelings, emotions, reasons, desires and visions that people have for Reclaim the Night, to find out what it means to them and share this (1).
As one contributor said “Reclaim The Night, for me, is an amazing opportunity to meet strong, empowered and motivated people who stand for what they believe in: the radical notion that women are entitled to human rights. It’s also heartening to feel the understanding and belonging that comes with people who are aware of all the obstacles that I and other women experience while trying to live the best lives we can. That means everything.”
The Free-School ended at 5:00pm with just enough time for banners to dry before assembling at Festival Square for the Reclaim the Night march at 7:30pm. Despite problems with the council in gaining permission for the march earlier in the month, it was able to go ahead on the condition that the march take place an hour earlier than planned, 7:30pm instead of the original 8:30pm. Apparently the reason for this was so as not to clash with men coming out of pubs after the champions league finals, who would threaten our health and safety (2).
Undaunted by these obstacles, around 200 people arrived at the set meeting place bringing banners, placards, megaphones, whistles, energy and attitude. Chanting and singing ensued, and the familiar “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!” chant was taken up by the crowd. People came along for a variety of reasons, but all were united under the common idea that gender violence in all its forms, is unacceptable.
One banner, which summed up the vast array of issues that people march for, read:
“Gender Violence is: War, Domestic Violence, Sexual Harassment, Female Infanticide, Rape, Intimidation, Lower (or no) Pay, Cuts to Services, Poverty, Genital Mutilation, Forced Marriage, Child Marriage, Forced Prostitution and Trafficking, Economic Dependency, Homophobia, Transphobia, The Gender Binary, No Access to Education/Contraception/Health Care, Racist Immigration Controls, Sexual Objectification, Beauty Norms, Gender Stereotypes, Discrimination, Patriarchy: Smash it!”
The march wound through Bread Street, West Port, Grassmarket, Candlemaker Row, George IV Bridge, The Royal Mile, North Bridge, West Nicolson Street, Chapel Street, Crichton Street, and finished up in Bristo Square. All events over the course of Reclaim the Night were open to people of any gender to attend, and it was great to see feminist allies from all walks of life, gender and sexual orientation marching together for a common cause. The police on the other hand, did not express any particular affinity with Reclaiming the Night, but decided to attend to entirety of the march regardless, for reasons best known to themselves.
The march culminated with a few speeches emphasising the low rape conviction rate in Scotland, the blame culture associated with rape cases, and the need for safer streets that everyone can feel confident to walk on at night. After this, protesters were encouraged to make their way to St Lenoards Police Station, where two women had been taken after being brutally arrested at British Home Stores during an Edinburgh Uncut demonstration earlier in the day (3). This in itself, serving as a poignant and timely example of how the police serve to enforce violence by maintaining the status quo; defending patriarchy, the bosses, and corporate interests above the rights of the people.
While some did go on to show active solidarity with the women behind bars, the rest of the march made its way into Teviot, where an evening of entertainment organised by Ladyfest commenced. Artists and musicians featured included, Gudrun Hirt, Hanna Wurdmuller, Jeanne Dark, and Scragfight. The rest of the evening was spent in celebration of a day which was successful in drawing attention to the very real threat of violence that people live with all the time. It was a day where gender issues were brought back to the streets of Edinburgh once again, but not for the last time. See you on the streets next year!
(1) If you have photos, accounts of Reclaim the Night, or anything else to share, The Edinburgh Anarcha-Feminist collective will be accepting contributions to our zine project until the 1st of July 2011 so please email/post/send us anything you would like to add to it and we will release a compilation of everyone’s work in September 2011.
(2) See full story: “Edinburgh City Council Advocates Violence Against Women”
(3) See full story: “Police defend corporate criminals: arrests at Edinburgh Uncut action.”
Contact the Edinburgh Anarcha-Feminist Collective on edinburghanarchafeminist[at]noflag.org.uk