Thursday, April 5th, marked the 40th anniversary of the Take Back The Night march and rally in Ann Arbor. Take Back The Night started as one of the earliest protests against sexual violence in the ‘70s, and has since developed into the Take Back The Night Foundation, an organization that works for sexual assault awareness and prevention.
This year’s rally was held in the Michigan Union ballroom, with tables set up for representatives from partnering organizations, including SafeHouse Center, Planned Parenthood, and Women’s March Michigan. Many University of Michigan student organizations were also present, including Sexperteam, Women in Gender and Public Policy, and SAPAC, UM’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center
Speakers push for continued resistance
Nicole Denson, Associate Director of the Wayne County SAFE program and vice president of Women’s March Michigan hosted the rally. Throughout the night, she offered statistics about sexual assault. Startling numbers include the notions that one in three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, and 98% of assailants never spend a day in prison.
The evening included an opening address from Mayor of Ann Arbor, Christopher Taylor. Mayor Taylor gave an impassioned speech that fired up the whole crowd, reminding the audience of our strength even in the current climate of our country, and emphasizing that Ann Arbor “will support survivors of sexual assault and violence, and demand a change.”
Keynote speaker Margaret “Peg” Tallet, COO of Michigan’s Women’s Foundation, highlighted the importance of grassroot activism and the huge difference people can make together. She described her Enough Said campaign, which succeeded in raising funds and drawing support to test thousands of rape kits in Detroit, some of which had been sitting untested for decades.
A pledge for men
The rally also included a performance from Michigan native singer and American Idol finalist, Jena Asciutto. She sang three songs from her debut album Cold Fame. The audience also enjoyed a lively performance from UM’s Leim Irish Dance organization of the University of Michigan.
In addition, a video featuring Jeremy Loveday, a Canadian Performance Poet and Victoria City Councillor, urged men to be more conscious of rape culture and to call out the harmful behavior found in their words to each other. After the video, male participants of the rally were asked to sign a pledge to take responsibility for their role in fighting gendered violence.
Reclaiming the streets
After the rally, the crowd took to the streets with posters, banners, and drums. Marchers began southbound down State street. Per tradition, on Thompson street, a block of silence was honored in remembrance of those who have passed away as result of sexual violence.
The Ann Arbor Police Department partnered with Take Back The Night to close off streets downtown for marchers. Many people driving by honked horns to support the cause, and several restaurant patrons came out to the sidewalk to cheer on the marchers. Downtown became a cacophony of chants and cheers including, “We have the power, we have the right, the streets are ours, take back the night!” and “Yes means yes, no means no, however we dress, wherever we go!”