Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills

Open minds, loving hearts, helping hands


Reflections on Take Back the Night

Author Sarah Ahrens, Written Apr 27, 2015

As previously posted, I participated in the Take Back the Night 2015 march and rally at Rutgers University.  While at first I wasn’t sure what to expect or how determined I was to navigate abysmal traffic and questionable weather forecasts to get to it- I was ultimately glad I attended!

I gave myself enough time to park on Douglass Campus and make my way to the Jameson Hall basement where participants were gathering (having had to move to the basement from the courtyard for the time being due to rainy weather).    An array of posters and banners were already prepared and waiting to be carried on display during the march, with many more blank placards and paintbrushes for people to make their own as well.  Organizers were checking people in- getting check-marked on the hand then entitled you to some pizza- of which there were copious amounts!

Representatives of the Rutgers martial arts club were also invited to demonstrate self-defense techniques for those who were interested in learning such.  Having studied kung fu many a year ago, I made my way over to them to refresh my memory.  Regrettably, I forgot the names of the martial arts reps, but they did a terrific job explaining the techniques and showing the typical college contexts one might be in that would warrant such self defense- someone at a party getting a little too “leany” and “hanging on around the neck”, or unwanted advances while on the dance floor at the club.   Moreover, the techniques ranged from minimal force to remove oneself from a situation, to more fully disabling additions if needed.

Fortunately, the weather improved- at least it stopped raining for the most part even if still a bit chilly out- for everyone to move to the courtyard as people continued to show up.  Shortly before taking to the streets to march, a number of speakers shared some of their experiences and hopes for the event.
It was at this point that I was most grateful to have chosen to attend, as hearing the brief testimony of those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, and rape was incredibly powerful, moving, and tragic.  Not only the experience of the assault itself, but the unfortunately all too common response (or lack thereof) by the Rutgers administration and society in general.  Though it should be noted a Rutgers representative was also present on behalf of the school and that awareness and process improvements have been made within the institution- there is still much work to be done.

As the time arrived to start the march, helping hands were needed to carry some of the large banners.  While I lingered back for a bit, when more hands were still needed, I stuck my hand up to carry one of the large “Take Back the Night” banners. Now, I’ve been to a justice event or two in my day, but I’m not a full on veteran of lots of marches and rallies, so while it didn’t seem like carrying the banner would be too difficult, even something that light, held for so long at an odd position of the arms and shoulders took its toll!  But the constant refrain of many marching chants helped distract from the dull ache and the surge of energy from the marching crowd (300ish?) was motivating.

The march wound its way through the streets of New Brunswick and onto College Avenue, coming to a conclusion where a de facto stage had been co-opted out of a school building’s steps.  Here again were moving words shared by march leaders and organizers and poems delivered to the crowd.
Participants were invited to speak if they would like, so long as time allowed.  While I was tempted to sign up to do so, I hadn’t given much thought to what I would say, and at this point the ache of my feet, lower back, and arms pushed me to call it quits as there was a solid walk back to the car.
The morning after, thoughts did come to mind of what I would’ve liked to have said.  At the same time, as I am a straight, white, male, coming from a middle class background.  I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy a great deal of unearned privilege.  And my voice, more often than not, is heard loud and clear in all aspects of society.  So I thought it better that those who rarely have their voices heard deserved the space provided by the speak out component.
However, with my professional role affording me this blogging venue, I thought I might use it to share a few of those thoughts that arose in the hours after I left…

As I was layered up that evening for whatever weather and temps were in store, each layer was a piece of Standing on the Side of Love apparel.  So first I would say thank you to all who made the Take Back the Night event possible, the Women Organizing Against Harassment, the VPVA of Rutgers, and many others.  Second, I made a point of wearing that standing on the side of love apparel as an expression of what my Unitarian Universalist faith calls me to do- to stand on the side of love.  Or in this case, to march on the side of love, to do whatever is asked of me on the side of love- carry a banner, march, shout, listen, learn, unlearn.  Though I do not know if any other march participants were Unitarian Universalists, know that there are Unitarian Universalists- and people of all faiths, and no faiths- standing on the side of love with take back the night, in body and in spirit.  Know that Unitarian Universalists are doing what they can to undo this “rape culture” by offering children, youth, and adults the Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education series- which stresses the importance of consent, respect for oneself and others, empowering the individual to make healthy and informed decisions about one’s body.  We chanted, “not the church, not the state, people must control their fate”- to which Unitarian Universalists would say- “yes!”.

There are times I have said, “social justice stuff just has never really been my thing.”  And I’ve been thinking about that statement and it occurs to me that given those privileged identities I have, social justice doesn’t have to be “my thing”, because typically the injustices being perpetuated don’t impact me (at least not directly), as well as actually reinforcing those unearned privileges.  To ignore or avoid social justice issues is a privilege in and of itself.
So attending this Take Back the Night march and rally was a needed reminder for me that harassment and rape are not “women’s issues” they are human issues, human rights issues, civil rights issues that I have a responsibility to work for.  It was a reminder that as a father of a son (with another son due in July!) that I have a responsibility to raise them in such a way, with the values that hopefully will become the norm that Take Back the Night events will no longer be necessary, because the dominant culture and laws will have finally changed to truly reflect that all lives matter and are actually treated as such.  Thank you to all who were there to allow me the opportunity to stand and march on the side of love, and for all who tirelessly work on the side of love for Take Back the Night.