Protesters marched with determination, chanting their cries for all to hear. There would be no ignoring them tonight, no ignoring the countless millions who have been assaulted, harassed and victimized. It was time to Take Back the Night.
As an ongoing part of sexual assault awareness month, SOU’s Women’s Resource Center (WRC) sponsored the annual Take Back the Night event on Friday the 24th of April. In a show of unity survivors and supporters alike marched from the Stevenson Union to the downtown Ashland plaza. With handmade picket signs, drums and various instruments, protesters loudly and proudly chanted rally cries, determined to increase the community’s awareness of sexual assault.
“We’re trying to encourage people from marginalized communities to have a voice and reclaim a space in society,” said Justine Yahnke, a member of the WRC and an organizer for Take Back the Night.
Here lies the heart of Take Back the Night. Dating back to England as early as 1877, Take Back the Night acts as a call to action for society to finally confront sexual violence. “The goal is to end sexual assault and harassment,” said Jaimie Armstrong, an attending activist. “We haven’t done that yet but we’re doing what we can in our community.”
The rally began with a survivors circle in the Stevenson Union, which according to Yahnke provides “a space for people to share their stories and experiences.” The circle allowed survivors who wished to share their experiences with all who were present. A highly emotional event, it acted as a type of release, enabling survivors to confront their attacks and feel the support of the people around them.
The march was well met as bystanders greeted the activists with numerous waves, thumbs held high in the air and a plethora of cars honking in support.
The march climaxed when protesters arrived at the plaza in downtown Ashland, where excitement began to build over the next scheduled event, Take Back the Bars. “Tonight we occupy the bars and bring our energy into them. Be sure to love each other, be there for each other and check on each other,” Ahsante Foree said, addressing the collection of protesters.
An extension of Take Back the Night, Take Back the Bars is an event in which protesters were encouraged to patron Ashland bars that have received official training from the Ashland Police Department and the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). A few of these Ashland bars include Louie’s Restaurant and Bar, The Black Sheep Pub, Omar’s and Creekside Pizza. The training enables employees of these bars to effectively combat sexual misconduct in their area.
Throughout the rest of the night one could find groups of these protesters enjoying themselves in the many sponsored bars. As Armstrong said, the fight is far from over, but looking at the protesters sharing a laugh over good drinks in good company, it seemed a victory had been achieved.