My Body Is Mine: A March for Freedom from Sexual Violence

Thank you to everyone who joined the march for freedom against sexual violence on April 11, 2015!

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Here’s the story: Friday evening April 10th, we gathered for an art-making event at 8th & Argyle, a women-owned artists cooperative. We enjoyed music, vegan treats, and took part in some inspired poster and puppet making. Freedom Arts / Arte de Libertad brought paint, cardboard, and their social justice art making expertise.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Freedom Arts, it’s headed up by the fabulous Bobbi Negrón and Jairo Robles (photos below). We are so lucky to have them here in Nashville! They also work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida and with our very own Workers’ Dignity/ Dignidad Obrera and Nashville Fair Food here at home.

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NFC came prepared with a number of slogans and many people chose to write their own messages.

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It’s not a march without a puppet. Marie, Bobbi, and others worked hard on our puppet with a “stop sexual violence now” message.

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As usual Rafi stole the show as the littlest and cutest (sorry everybody else!) feminist in the room.

The following day, April 11th, we prepared for the march. Whitney led us in a security training while folks gathered at the base of the Capitol at Bicentennial Park. When we arrived we were approached by a state trooper who explained this was state property – oops! None of the planners had ever led an action, so much capacity was built, many mistakes were made, and we learned so much. Thanks to everyone for bearing with us, despite all the hiccups: choosing a meeting point in full sun, not specifying clearly which part of the park to meet in, marching too far a distance, setting a pace that was too quick, etc.

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Hiccups and all, once we got started we were a vision.

We marched to Gay Street and around the Davidson County Criminal Justice Center. We stopped so that Whitney could read a speech that another member of NFC wrote about sexual assault in prison.

[TRANSCRIPT] “We stand here, outside of the Criminal Justice Center, to acknowledge that while we often turn to policing, jails and prisons as a response to sexual violence they are in fact themselves, purveyors of sexual violence. The stark realities are often masked by a culture that has made prison rape a running punch line.

Just last August, Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was arrested and charged with 32 sex crimes against at least 13 black women who had criminal histories of drug use and prostitution.[1] His assaults escalated from groping to rape and he returned to and re-victimized some of the same women, using threats of jail to illicit compliance.  At the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama it was recently revealed that corrections officers had raped, beaten and harassed women for at least 18 years and sex was used as currency for basic supplies such as toilet paper and tampons.[2]

Sexual assaults by law enforcement cannot be written off as isolated incidents but must be understood as part of the state violence of policing and incarceration. The U.S. incarcerates more of its people than any other country in the world—mostly poor people and disproportionately people of color. Most often charged with non-violent crimes, nearly 1 in 10 people in jail and prison—men, women, and youth—suffer sexual violence while incarcerated, queer and trans people disproportionately so.[3]  For those who have experienced sexual violence prior to or during incarceration, strip and cavity searches are re-traumatizing violations.

Incarceration strips people of their bodyright—saying in essence, “your body is not yours, it belongs to the state.” To create safe and healthy communities, we must stand in solidarity with all victims and survivors of sexual violence.*

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Then we swung back to 4th Ave, turned left to head towards Broadway, marched up Broadway to 8th, then on to Legislative Plaza, and back to Bicentennial.

Chants included: “Hey, Hey. Ho, Ho. / Sexual assault has got to go” …. “Our bodies. Our lives. / We will not be compromised” …. “1‐2‐3‐4 / We won’t take it anymore! / 5‐6‐7‐8 / No more violence! / No more hate!”

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At Legislative Plaza, Cristina, an organizer for Workers’ Dignity, shared a few words (thanks to Brenda for translating!) about the global fight against gender-based violence and how it’s important that we work across borders.

And Whitney talked about HB 1239/SB 981, a bill being considered this session in Tennessee that would create a protocol for the collection and testing of sexual assault evidence kits.

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At the conclusion of the march, we gathered for a Speak Out where survivors shared stories and everyone rallied in support. Olusola invited everyone to “MY BODY IS MINE: BEAUTIFUL, mystical magical, (W)holy” on Friday, April 24, 7:00 pm at Vanderbilt Divinity School. My Body is Mine is a creative arts gathering of poetry, dramatic readings, music, painting, dance, and community art making that seeks to empower women, speak out against domestic and sexual violence, and declare that all bodies are sacred. When broken bodies come together, we can all be made whole.

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News Channel 5 was there filming the event and covered our action on the 10 o’clock news. Watch the coverage here: News Channel 5: Survivors of Sexual Assault Rally In Downtown Nashville.

Please join us throughout the month as we continue to raise awareness about sexual violence. Stop Violence Period!


*For more information, see:
[1] Prosecutors File Six Additional Felony Counts Against OKC Officer
[2] Troubles at Women’s Prison Test Alabama
[3] Report: Nearly 10 percent of inmates suffer sexual abuse.

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