Denied permits by the city, activists hope pre-march will bring attention to cause
A group of activists has tried a new strategy to raise awareness and support for Take Back the Night, a protest of violence against women that has been a fixture on Calgary's social justice scene for over 30 years.
Take Back the Night's current route takes participants through side streets of the Beltline area of southwest Calgary. Organizers are eager to see the march expand to 17th Avenue, but while they have tried many times to obtain the necessary event permits, the city continues to say no.
For the first time, protesters held what they called a "convergence walk"on Sept. 19 prior to the official march later that night. Protesters took to the sidewalks of 17th Avenue,which they are legally allowed to do without a permit. They circulated a petition asking for signatures, and hope that the city will allow Take Back the Night to march in the middle of the busy east-west street next year.
Jennie Palmer, one of Take Back the Night's organizers, explained that while they contemplated securing permits this year, the city advised them not to because their chances of actually getting those permits were slim.
"Our committee made the decision not to make a fight out of it for this year, and to just walk in the Beltline," she said.
“It’s disheartening and difficult when you’re having a demonstration but you’re in an alley, because that is part of silencing the voice on this issue.”
-Stasha Huntingford, co-host of the Take Back 17th Avenue walk
That was when Stasha Huntingford stepped in to co-host the "Take Back 17th Avenue Convergence Walk". While it was too late to change this year's route, she says she hopes the sidewalk march will raise awareness so they can march on 17th Avenue officially in 2015.
Huntingford says her biggest concern is that the march's current side street route isn't visible enough. The purpose of Take Back the Night is to advocate the right of women to walk alone in high-traffic areas with lots of nightlife activity without being harassed, and 17th Avenue fits the bill perfectly.
"It's disheartening and difficult when you're having a demonstration but you're in an alley, because that is part of silencing the voice on this issue," Huntingford says. "A lot of the systemic violence against women is playing out on 17th Avenue, from catcalling, to date rape in bars, to how the public witnesses things and doesn't intervene. That's why it makes sense to us to have the protest in the same place."
The protesters who marched in the convergence walk are not officially affiliated with Take Back the Night, but the two groups plan to work together in the future by lobbying the City of Calgary to secure a more visible route.
Teresa Byrne, the city's superintendent of festivals and events, says the reason Event Services moved Take Back the Night off 17th Avenue, and why it continues to deny it permission to march there, is because the protest grew to the point that it was starting to impede the flow of traffic and pose a safety problem.
"In an event like Take Back the Night, you have a significant number of participants,"she explains. "In order to be able to safely keep them on 17th Avenue, you'd have to do a full closure."
According to Byrne, full closure of a busy road is an extremely cumbersome process. Take Back the Night is currently managed with a rolling closure, where small sections of the route are blocked and then reopened when protesters pass them by. A full closure of 17th Avenue would mean vehicular access to many businesses would be closed off, public transit rerouted and vehicle traffic completely halted.
The current policy does not allow any full-closure events on 17th Avenue for that reason. The avenue does host other events —the Calgary Marathon, for example —but that only takes up one lane. To accommodate Take Back the Night, where the number of participants can reach the hundreds, one lane isn't feasible.
In 2010, Event Services worked with Take Back the Night organizers to find a route that would be
visible, but wouldn't disrupt 17th Avenue traffic or businesses. The solution at the time was 8th Street. A major road with four lanes, it was comparatively easy to close two of them, leaving two more lanes for traffic to flow freely in both directions.
Back then, protesters like Huntingford were satisfied, but now their hopes for Take Back the Night have grown. They would like to see the event moved back to the high-visibility of 17th Avenue. Thanks to the Sept. 19 march, organizers gained more than 150 signatures for their petition.
"It would be a restoration of rights we used to have," Huntingford says of securing a 17th Avenue marching venue. "Increasing public awareness of violence against women helps all members of society."
Huntingford's pre-march met up with the official Take Back the Night event later that evening at Connaught Park.
- By Madison Farkas