What we love about DC is that it can be so unpredictable!! With only two weeks of preparation, and all the organizers organizing via email, we were scared if anyone would show up. The rally, Our Streets, Too! A Big Queer/Feminist/Allies Street Fest, started off at SunTrust plaza on 18th and Columbia. We never realized, until yesterday, under the blazing sun, how there really aren’t many places in DC to gather that aren’t related to parks (which, let’s be real, are mostly dog parks). People started making signs, assisting with the incredible banner, and sharing their stories of harassment. Then at 2P, Batala started playing. If you haven’t heard them, man, you are missing out on an amazing group of sisters who can really rock a drum. Everyone was dancing and enjoying themselves, while more people started gathering.
Curious onlookers asked, “What is this about? Why are people gathering?” And, fliers went out to them with volunteers talking about street harassment in DC towards women and LGBTQ individuals. Watching and listening to some of these bystanders say, “Yeah, harassment does happen and it really shouldn’t,” made the rally planning and stress worth it.
Around 2:30, the march started down 18th Street. A la Rob Lowe on Parks and Recreation, we literally stopped traffic, as the march took over the streets. It was amazing. MPD stopped the protest a few times, but, no one was arrested and they didn’t give us much push back.
We made a left on U Street and marched up 16th Street towards Malcolm X park. While at Malcolm X park, we had our workshop leaders, Holly from Stop Street Harassment and Board member of Holla Back DC! and Dienna, an activist, talk about ways to address street harassment and share in the collective activism around this issue. While they were skills sharing with a group of 20 to 25, others were mingling and talking about DC social justice activism, when a Park Police officer came over and told us to cut off the amplified music and asked if we were protesting. We told him that we weren’t, as our protest was done, and we were conducting workshops. He then walked up a set of stairs towards a group of people who were placing the anti-harassment banner on an over hang. He told them to take it down, and when all individuals left, he followed the two women and started yelling at them to take down the banner. He then proceeded to ask for their IDs, which they gave over, and detained them without telling them what they did wrong.
Because of the Park Police officer’s lack of knowledge around criminal law or lack of wanting to share why he was detaining these women, many rally goers started to get involved and ask the officer what these two women did wrong, since the banner was taken down. He said, “I had to ask them twice.” The officer proceeded to call in his unit, which included five other officers (including the captain/chief, and special ops). It was a sight for sore eyes and a lawyer’s dream.
After that 30 minutes of that intense drama, the two women were not papered or arrested. It was all for show. And the irony is that many of our issues around street harassment come from people who abuse their authority. The two women remained calm through out the process, which was just amazing.
Lauren, from Defend Yourself, did a wonderful workshop which concluded the protest and rally. Seeing so many people gather in support of raising awareness on street harassment, stopping traffic, and getting some skills on how to address the harassment was a great way to start the summer.
Many thanks to the supporters and friends of Holla Back DC! who came out to the rally!
If you were at the rally or wanted to be, and feel inspired to get more involved in this issue, please fill out this volunteer form and we’ll get back to you!