A week of activism and social protest in Antigonish
Antigonish activists have been extremely present in the last few weeks, shining a light on both those fighting for justice, and those standing in the way. The annual Take Back the Night and pro-choice demonstrations, coupled with Visible @ X week, Orange Shirt Day, and a number of other events succeeded in showcasing our community’s readiness and willingness to fight for change. The following article details just a few examples of the wonderful activism that has been present in Antigonish over the last few weeks.
Take Back the Night
Hosted by the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre & Sexual Assault Services Association and emceed by Toronto activist Mandi Gray, Take Back the Night took place on September 27.
The rain that had been looming throughout the day held off as dozens of StFX students, staff, and community members gathered in front of Morrison Hall, sporting buttons and signs urging an end to violence and patriarchal norms. StFX student Sanjidha Ganeshan’s sign alluded to the university’s sub-par reputation in dealing with sexualized violence, reading “unique in our Xperiences, united in our purpose.”
Ganeshan’s poster fit well with the theme of the night: “speaking truth to power.” Emcee Mandi Gray acts on this theme in her film “Slut or Nut: Diary of a Rape Trial,” which was shown at StFX the night prior to the march and follows her on her personal journey through the legal system after a sexual assault. The theme continued to present itself throughout the night as well, with a number of open-mic participants calling out the university’s response to sexualized violence on campus, and the shortcomings of university policies.
Susannah Wolfe, a second- year student at StFX, was one of them - taking to the mic to perform a spoken word duo with one of the event’s organizers, Emma Kuzmyk. Before their performance, Wolfe shared that she had been assaulted on the StFX campus the year before, and chose not to report due to her knowledge of the university’s process for handling sexual assault. Unfortunately, Wolfe isn’t alone in making this decision - Statistics Canada estimates that less than 5% of sexual assaults in Canada are reported.
This is why events like Take Back the Night are so important. Women have been silenced for far too long, and gatherings like this one are making space for women to be loud. Kuzmyk believes that “by building a platform and an event that is safe and supportive, survivors are being empowered and inspired to take back much more than just the night.”
In the poem “Call to Arms” that Kuzmyk and Wolfe performed, they invited the audience to join their ranks and “soldier on” in the fight for a more gender equal world, and an end to sexualized violence.
Kuzmyk also stepped forward to share her poem “I Wonder,” which garnered attention last year following two incidents of sexual assault on the StFX campus. The poem centers around a generic “her” - a woman who has experienced sexualized violence - and is an extremely powerful statement about violence on university campuses.
Kuzmyk, however, wanted to make a revision. In a speech apologizing both to herself and to all the women who feel the need to remove themselves from their stories, she stated that she’d like to change the word “her” to the word “my.” Because, “at the end of the day, they aren’t stories that we’re sharing. They aren’t fiction, and there aren’t characters.”
Behind every story, there is a woman. Behind every woman are thousands of others with stories just like hers. The world is finally waking up, and more and more women are being empowered to share their stories. With every “#MeToo” shared on social media, and with every new voice that yells “Time’s Up” or “No More.” On September 27, Antigonish added its voice to the chorus - now, it’s up to the community to keep the noise going.
Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day also took place on September 27, organized by a group of six Bachelor of Education students. The day is inspired by the story of Phyllis Webstad, who attended a residential school as a child. When she was six years old, Phyllis arrived for her first day of school in the brand-new orange shirt her grandmother had given her, only to have it taken from her - never to be seen again. Now, every September 30, Canadians wear orange as a call to action - to continue moving forward with the process of reconciliation, share the stories of survivors, and remember those who didn’t survive. StFX chose to hold the event a few days early, given that the 30 fell on a Sunday, when many students would not be on campus.
Kate MacDonald, one of the students involved in organizing the event, states that it was a huge success. Participation in Orange Shirt Day, she says, “is important for individuals and communities to come together in reconciliation in the spirit of hope for the future,” and events on campus certainly achieved that goal. The group was able to sell shirts to students, faculty, staff, and the greater Antigonish community, and all shirts were sold out before the end of the day on the 27. MacDonald estimates that the total number of shirts sold was about 230.
Life Chain Pro-Life Rally and Counter Rally
Pro-life demonstrators gathered this Sunday, September 30, along the side of the old highway. Their gathering is an annual occasion, and part of country-wide rally known as “Life Chain.” According to the Campaign Life Coalition website, Life Chain demonstrations have been active in Canada since 1990 and involve more than 200 locations across Canada every year.
This year’s demonstration in Antigonish consisted of about 30 pro-life advocates boasting signs asking passing drivers to “defend life” and “pray to end abortion.”
Also present at the rally, however, was a group of prochoice activists, making their presence known with colourful signs and the odd round of cheering, encouraged by honking from passing cars. Though their numbers were smaller, the group (containing a number of StFX students) remained unfazed for the duration of the rally, which lasted about 45 minutes.
Kayleigh Trenholm, one of the organizers of the prochoice rally, said that she was really happy with the turnout considering that the counter rally had been planned on very short notice. She also shared her surprise over the fact that people in the community were still holding on to “such antiquated and hateful ideas” towards abortion.
“It’s not about saving a life for them, it’s about controlling the choices of women, that’s what it has always been about.” Ideally, Trenholm says, she’d like to see the succession of pro-life rallies come to end, but feels that if at least one woman passing by was reminded that her choice was valid, then the rally was ultimately successful. Eva Bertrand-Brunelle, another pro-choice advocate, commented on the religious nature of the rallies. “People have to understand that you can be Christian, believe in God, and still be pro-choice.” She pointed out that another pro-choice advocate was a Sunday school teacher. “Being pro-choice is about embracing women’s rights to their body and understanding that some women might not feel ready [to have a child],” not about religion. “It’s their choice,” she says.
Police were involved momentarily after an unknown individual called in a complaint regarding the pro-choice rally, but the officer simply reminded the group to remain behind the white line and continued on his way. The rest of the rally was largely uneventful, with both sides demonstrating a respectful and peaceful protest.