‘Fight for the Night’ protest marchers: refusing to be silenced

Beaming with glittered cheeks and armed with noisy placards, over a hundred of Edinburgh’s students gathered this past Tuesday in Bristo Square for the 2019 Fight for The Night Protest March. 

The event was promoted as an opportunity to reclaim the night for anyone who fears gendered violence and to stand in solidarity with survivors. A mix of age and genders, the march consisted of students and non-students alike, with members of the homeless population also taking part. 

Starting in the early evening, the protest quickly drew attention from the public, with chants loud enough to fill the street – “Sexist, racist, anti-gay – You can’t take our nights away!” 

The route through central Edinburgh ended with a gathering in Grassmarket, where organisers and local activists gave speeches, read poems and shared personal experiences. 

Leading the stream of impassioned speakers was Anna Cowan of Girls Against, a campaign focused on the live music community. Having organised the march along with her friend Martha Reilly – both are on the committee for the Students’ Association Women’s Liberation Campaign – Anna spoke about feeling silenced as a young girl: “Remember yourself at that age. You wanted your voice to be heard, and now you’re speaking up for all [the young people like you].” 

The following speakers included activists from campaigns such as Sisters Uncut and Sexpression. The Students’ Association’s Black and Minority Ethnic Officer, Isabella Neergaard-Petersen, read Mary Angelou’s emotional poem ‘Still I Rise.’  Driving past by complete coincidence, Katy Jon Went from Norwich, an intersex and non-binary activist, jumped at the chance to join in and speak their mind to a group of like-minded protesters. 

During the march, there was much discussion among participants on the palpable change that protests such as Fight for the Night can have.

Speaking to The Student while protesting, Laetitia Dorlas, a third-year student and next year’s President of the Women in STEM Committee, spoke about the power of a protest to raise awareness, saying “I was surprised by the number of people stopping to stare at us and listen. Like [Anna Cowan] said, this might be small, but people, including young girls, do see this.”

However, there was a widespread feeling that a protest march on its own would not be enough to bring about progress – many participants expressed their keenness also get involved in practical activities such as fundraising. 

The participants of the march worked hard to be inclusive, with chants such as “RESPECT Intersectionality!” and the event’s stated aim to “centre the most marginalised members of our communities” illustrating this. 

Speaking to The Student, members of the organisation committee reflected on encouraging greater participation, saying “This is really good fun and it is a straight-forward cause that everyone would and should believe in. Why would you not?”

On being put off by the fear of seeming ‘aggressive’ for marching, they responded that getting “in people’s faces” is necessary for progress.

The public reaction to the march consisted mostly of supportive waves and cheers, though there was, unfortunately, one instance of hateful comments and misogynistic slurs. This public display of aggression towards the marchers was met with a flurry of impassioned chanting, and speaker Isabella continued with her poem as soon as possible. Lilli Freischem, a second-year student and first-time marcher, told The Student that the occurrence had highlighted how necessary the march was, saying “this is exactly what we’re marching against, and then it happened to a whole crowd of us.” 

Throughout the affront, the crowd of marchers were united in this indignant and powerful reaction, refusing to let their voices be silenced and showing that the Fight For the Night March 2019 would not be the last of its kind. 

 

Image: Beth Tinsley

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The Student Newspaper 2016