#MeToo campaign spurs action from local feminist organizers

Tessa Vikander - Westender

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American activist Tarana Burke first started the #MeToo social media campaign in 2006 as a way to unite survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Photograph Contributed

The #MeToo campaign has shown that sexual assault and sexual harassment are pervasive in Vancouver and, in the wake of the global social media campaign that saw millions of people posting personal stories and comments about their own experiences, a number of local feminist organizers are responding

Specifically, a new collective is working to address abuses of power in Vancouver’s nightlife scene, while organizers of the Women’s March on Vancouver are putting on a Me Too Rally this Saturday.

Rally organizer Samantha Monckton said the calls for the Me Too event came to her and others over social media. She hopes the rally this weekend will provide a space where people can come together over a difficult issue. The list of speakers had not been released as of posting this story but Monckton said the list includes women, men and trans people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.

“We’re doing this because this hashtag resonates with a lot of people, everybody’s experienced [harassment] at one point in their life, and it’s a way for us to figure out a way to move forward and heal together as a group,” she said.

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“MeToo” by artist Susie Milne, is being used to promote this Saturday’s MeToo rally on Facebook. – Contributed

Last January, Monckton helped organize the March on Vancouver, which was attended by an estimated 15,000 people. While women of various different origins and faiths spoke at the event and helped organize, members of Black Lives Matter did not attend

In a statement, the group said they had not been invited, and expressed concern in interviews that the march planners had lost sight of the event’s origins with black feminists in the U.S. What ensued was a flurry of heated social media discussions, a public community forum on inclusive organizing, and ultimately, a meeting between the two groups.

Asked about whether this experience informed the organizing of Saturday’s rally, Monckton said Black Lives Matter Vancouver (BLM-V) had been invited several times but hadn’t confirmed its attendance. Westender contacted BLM-V to ask about their attendance but received an automatic reply saying the volunteer-run group was on hiatus, but expected to resume activities soon.

“We have done due diligence,” Monckton said. “We’ve even talked to [American activist] Tarana Burke, who started the #MeToo hashtag back in 2006 and asked for her permission to do the rally.”

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Elsewhere, prominent voices and organizers from Vancouver’s nightlife scene have formed the Shape Shift collective, adding to the growing number of feminist groups (such as Good Night Out Vancouver and D.A.M.E.) and events (such as INTERSECT) working to combat sexism, racism and transphobia in local clubs and nightlife spaces.

In the outpouring of the #MeToo campaign, a number of people came forward and named several Vancouver DJs and promoters as serial offenders of sexual assault. None of the allegations have been tested in court and no charges have been laid.

“A lot of the guys that have been working in the city for over two decades… they have a lot of power and they’ve been abusing it for years,” said collective member Sydney Gregoire.

The grassroots organization is in its beginning phase, and has plans to partner with local groups to offer counselling and support workshops for survivors of sexual assault and harassment in the nightlife community. It also plans to host events where it takes over local venues and puts young women and trans and non-binary people in leadership positions.

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Camille Heron, another member of the collective, says her expertise in communications as well as her experience as a black woman means that she’s able to support the collective in creating an inclusive mandate.

“I definitely see myself as being part of the process, and also trying to be a rallier of sorts to get other people from other scenes and ethnicities, as well, involved.”

Heron, who works as an event curator, also said the issue of sexual assault and harassment is widespread.

“If anything, what I want to do is definitely drive this message that there is a rampant rape culture within our society and… we want to see about change… It’s affecting everyone.”

Westender will be following this story and providing more information as it develops.
• The Me Too Rally takes place Nov. 4 at 10 a.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

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