“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
By Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The wave of popular demonstrations and grassroots political action that came to Seattle in late 2011 is in the middle of a period of transition. Where once hundreds gathered every week at Westlake Park to celebrate the Occupy movement, today only one information booth still stands. This is not to say the momentum of the past year’s political energy has dissipated; from the crowds and working groups of Occupy, new organizations and structures emerged. One such organization is SlutWalk Seattle, a social equality group that just held its second annual demonstration on Sunday.
SlutWalk Seattle began as a single demonstration last year in solidarity with the founding SlutWalk protest in Toronto. In January of 2011 at a campus safety presentation for Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, a police officer told students they could avoid sexual assault by “not dressing like sluts.” A demonstration evolved from the outrage over this comment and what the demonstration’s organizers see as a pervasive, institutionalized policy of blaming the victims of rape for their own assaults. The SlutWalk protest was designed to bring this discussion into the public forum. Several cities throughout the nation had their own SlutWalk demonstrations, including Seattle. Today, several of the individuals who developed SlutWalk Seattle in 2011 are on the path to establishing a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization for the group’s brand.
“We’re working very closely with the community,” said Robin Sacks, one of SlutWalk Seattle’s founding directors. Sacks is a student at the University of Washington pursuing a degree in political science. Should SlutWalk Seattle be approved for non-profit status, it will join many of the organizations in the community that participated in this year’s demonstration as new structures committed to social change.
The 501(c)(4) non-profit designation is reserved specifically for organizations that work for social justice. It would allow SlutWalk Seattle to raise tax-exempt funds, apply for grants, and permit their donors to deduct contributions from their own taxes.
The SlutWalk Seattle march on Sept. 9 followed a short but high-traffic path along 4th Avenue between Occidental Park and Westlake Park. At Westlake, several speakers and performers took the stage to discuss topics like sexual assault, judicial policies concerning rape, and empowerment through language. Some of the speakers were individuals who stood only for themselves and their personal experiences, but many of the people on the docket came as representatives of larger entities that have emerged from Seattle’s grassroots political culture.
Christopher and Ophelia de Serres spoke to the crowd at Westlake Park as the founders of (Wo)Men Speak Out, a non-profit that performs educational services to combat sexual assault and domestic violence. Ophelia de Serres is herself a survivor of abuse, both as a child and an adult. She has several years of experience volunteering with the Seattle Police Department’s Victim Support Team and other forms of advocacy. (Wo)Men Speak Out is a small and relatively new organization, but it is not alone in the new crop of non-profits that have taken root in Seattle.
SlutWalk Seattle’s staff has expanded over the past year. In addition to its three directors, Robin Sacks, Ta Granados and Samuel Schimmel, the organization has added a number of new coordinators to the roster. Zan Barker-Aderem serves as the volunteer coordinator, Beth Nelson is the group’s treasurer, and Sophia Miller and Christian Peckich are the much-lauded security coordinators.
This new sense of structure has already born fruit for SlutWalk Seattle. During the 2011 demonstration, there were several complaints about photographers who attended the event to take voyeuristic pictures of the sometimes scantily-clad demonstrators. The SWS security team made itself available this year to address those concerns. Over the course of the entire event Sunday, only one individual was accused of inappropriate photography. The individual, a man who appeared to be in his late 50s, was confronted by SlutWalk Seattle security in a non-physical manner and escorted away from the demonstration. No police involvement was necessary.
Looking forward to the next year, the directors of SlutWalk Seattle are discussing adding new events to the organization’s calendar. This may include a concert or a performance by members of Seattle’s burlesque community, some of whom participated at the demonstration. Currently, SlutWalk Seattle is awaiting approval for non-profit status and is encouraging all eligible citizens to register to vote in this November’s election.