What began as a peaceful but impassioned rally at the Daley Center Aug. 23 became a heated confrontation on North Michigan Avenue between officers of the Chicago Police Department and almost 1,000 participants in the 4th annual SlutWalk.
The event has become a nationwide movement since protestors first took to the streets of Toronto in early 2011 after Constable Michael Sanguinetti of the Toronto Police Service suggested to a small gathering of students at York University that women could stop being victimized by not "dressing like sluts."
As this year's participantswho included a racially mixed spectrum of both cis and transgender women and men of all agestook their message from the Daley Center, down Monroe Street and onto Michigan Avenue, members of the CPD demanded that they move off the street and onto the sidewalk.
At Randolph Street and Michigan, officers on bicycles and Segways formed a barricade in front of the marchers, who included two 15-year-old students from Lakeview High SchoolGlenda Villalon and Sara Geiger. The protestors responded with cries of "These are our streets. we will not be moved!"
The police temporarily backed away and created a new barricade at Wacker Drive and Michigan. By this time, at least a half dozen police SUVs and cruisers attempted to push through the marchers from behind and herd them onto the sidewalk. One SUV looked as if it was colliding with the legs of some of the women walking in front of it. At least three of the protestors claimed they were struck by either a police car or an officer on a Segway. One of the womenSlutWalk co-organizer J. S.displayed a bruise that ran halfway down her calf.
Ironically, an integral part of this year's march was to call awareness to what participants claim is a continuing cycle of profiling and abuse by the CPD toward women whether they are victims of sexual violence, sex workers or trans women of color.
Organizers of the Chicago protest this year partnered with a number of advocacy organizations throughout the city in order to broaden their message beyond an end to what they claim is a society that sustains "institutional rape culture, slut-shaming and victim blaming."
"We wanted to become more inclusive," SlutWalk co-organizer Red Schulte told Windy City Times. "We want to stand against transphobia, racism, classism and the manifestations of oppression that Capitalism hoists upon us. We're creating a safe space for people to feel empowered, to challenge discrimination and to feel valued, legitimate and have their voices heard."
Those voices included representatives from the Gay Liberation Network, The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) of Chicago, the Illinois Choice Action Team, Rape Victim Advocates, Fight for 15: Lucha por 15 and the prison abolitionist movement Black and Pink Chicago.
As police presence intensified along North Michigan Avenue, the marchers took up the cry of those protesting the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri "Hands up, don't shoot." That cry intensified even as the sirens on the CPD vehicles were switched on and the resulting noise became deafening.
When the rally began at noon in Daley Plaza, there were only a few CPD officers observing as speakers took to the microphone and called for unwavering solidarity from an energized crowd.
"As we've seen with the recent murder in Ferguson and police murders in our own town, solidarity is essential for all of us," co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network Andy Thayer said. "And speaking outwhether you're women or notagainst the rape culture we live in."
Netiya Shiner is a volunteer with the Illinois Choice Action Team- an organization which, among other initiatives, helps guide women past protestors at abortion clinics across the state. "There are protestors harassing women and physically assaulting women. They use racial slurs," she said. "They are often Christian, often white, often men. We have unarmed people of color being murdered in this country but the pro-life people don't seem to care about their lives."
J.S. was emotional as she read a letter written by Billy (AKA Wolf Blue Eagle)a 29-year-old bisexual man currently in administrative segregation in a Colorado prison. He claimed to be defending himself from a sexual assault, adding that he had already been raped three times since his incarceration. "I should be able to do my time without fear of being raped because of my sexuality," Eagle wrote. "No one should ever have to be subjected to harm or abuse because of their past or lifestyle."
Steve Adler is a prevention education specialist with Rape Victim Advocates. "When 98 percent of sexual assault towards women and 93 percent of sexual assault towards men is committed by men, this is a men's issue and we need to take responsibility for it," he said.
Among the participants was Ian Davis. He carried a placard with the faces of two teenage women who had taken their own lives after a sexual assault. "They both faced ostracism after the assault," Davis said. "They are reminders of the toll that rape culture takes on young women in our society today."
Many Illinois sex workers claim to bear the brunt of both sexual assault and police harassment because of a negative attitude towards their work. SWOP Chicago is an organization advocating for their rights through education and peer support. "Sex workers are at a massive risk of violence because we are so heavily stigmatized," SWOP spokeswoman Kathryn Berarovich said. "We are also criminalized which means thatwhen we suffer violencemuch of the time we can't report it."
Villalon and Geiger were there to call attention to a disparity in the dress code between male and female students at Lakeview High School. "We were at the SlutWalk last year and I was amazed by how supportive people were about everyone's situation and how uplifting the spirit was," Villalon told Windy City Times.
With each participant feeling free and secure to wear as much or as little clothing as they desired, the march began with a unified cry of "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no."
Legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild walked or cycled alongside keeping an eye on but not commenting on the march as it progressed onto the Magnificent Mile. A SlutWalk organizer informed Windy City Times that they had deliberately not pre-publicized their route for fear of police intervention.
Nevertheless, the CPD was as determined to keep the SlutWalk participants off North Michigan Avenue as they were to stay the course. "Who do you protect? Who do you serve?" They demanded.
"The streets are ours," co-organizer Ashley Bohrar said. "We pay for them to be maintained. They are public spaces and we have a right to demonstrate peacefully on them. The actions of the police today show what side they stand on. They don't stand on the side of the first amendment, of women, of survivors, or trans*folk, queer folk or our allies. We need to be better organized, in more numbers so we can take the streets and keep the streets."
Bohrar also claimed she had also been struck by a Segway-riding CPD officer.
Nevertheless, the marchers were jubilant as they reached Water Tower Place, followed by nine CPD vehicles. "We made it!" Schulte cried. "Despite everything the cops tried to do, we are where we want to be."
The CPD could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.