By Shilpa

Yesterday’s Million Women Rise march in London was phenomenal. It’s an annual march organised by Sabrina and a small team of dedicated volunteers, aiming to stop gendered violence against women and children.

Thousands of women, including loads of Black and Brown women, occupying the central shopping thoroughfare Oxford Street with our bodies, voices and drums. Shoppers looking confused, bemused or curious. A buzzy energy in the air that made my hands and head tingle. I normally feel the cold, but yesterday I didn’t. So many women with tears in their eyes. The march organisers chanted with loud strong voices and we echoed their words right back. A Latin American drumming group led the way. I marched next to Tobi, who was carrying her curious and super sharp 2-yr old daughter on her back – she heard the singing, looked around for a while, then was lulled to sleep immediately by thousands of aunties acting with the wish that her generation won’t have reason to march in this way.

My Heart Sings women rushed ahead at the end to get to the rally at Trafalgar Square and sing songs of strength and togetherness to welcome the marchers in. Obscure, pendatic bullying by council officials and intrusive filming of the event, clamping down on most of the musical contributions, stopped us (and others) from singing then.

Collective singing and other forms of music as part of protest is extremely, potently, powerful (think of the anti-Apartheid and US Civil Rights eras) – it’s clever for authorities to limit the amount of music in protests.
So when we heard the march was around the corner, we didn’t sing, we chanted..¬†Standing shoulder to shoulder on the small stage with a LOUD sound system, with other singers, led by the march organisers…. Power to the Women! Women got the Power! Sister can you feel it! It’s getting stronger by the hour! POWER!

Then the long yellow and black banner and loads of red t-shirts, coats, hats, scarfs, exhilarated faces and placards appeared in front of the National Gallery. Just at that moment the sun came out and time stretched for a moment.. It felt like a huge, love-filled conquering army of powerful women, being welcomed home. They stopped, chanting and drumming, a call and response from either end of Trafalgar Square. Then this sea of red, black, brown, white, spilled into the square and formed a mass to listen to the speakers.

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The speakers were a blend of angry, rousing, loving, mournful and full of grace. Some spoke of very local London women’s projects, others from places like the DRC and Iran. The connection between violence against women and the treatment of women asylum seekers held in detention centres such as Yarls Wood was made clear, especially by Antonia from Movement for Justice. She encouraged everyone to join the mass protest at Yarl’s Wood next Saturday 12th March. Surround #YarlsWood demonstration: Detention Centres SHUT THEM DOWN!

British Sign Language interpreters signed every single speech for the audience. The fabulous Christina, the one singer who was allowed a slot, generously agreed to let us share it. We mashed up Lean on Me with Bollywood classic Yeh Dosti (This Friendship) and you can hear the end of it on Million Women Rise’s video below. I saw women joining in, and my heart melted to see two young South Asian Women hugging each other, rocking and singing Yeh Dosti to each other.

 

A few years ago, I went through a phase of feeling quite jaded about protest – they happen, they finish, they’re negative, the usual suspects attend and the people who need to hear don’t want to listen…. However, recent protests, particularly those by Movement for Justice and this one (which centre the leadership of those most affected by the issues, rather than claim to speak for them), have reminded me of the potential to build cross-movement connections. And the potential for building confidence and voices.

I think women attending, including me and the other singers, left the day feeling a few inches taller, with broader shoulders, grounded feet and a sense of being part of a wider community. This is a huge achievement and Million Women Rise and partners should be commended. In a world where all the mainstream patriarchal messages tell women we are valued for our looks, bodies, politeness, domestic and child-rearing duties, and ability to accept suffering quietly, it is revolutionary work to create a day where women of all hues and ages can express anger, sadness, power and hope and really be heard and validated.

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