By Amber Turner-Brightman
On the 27th of March, Guildhall Square was filled with activists protesting in the name of the Reclaim These Streets movement. Reclaim These Streets began in response to the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, who was abducted whilst walking home in London this March. The news resonated with many women and non-binary individuals, who are all too familiar with the realities and dangers that come along with being female presenting in a misogynistic world. The outcry that has taken place in response to Sarah’s case has been remarkable to watch, particularly as it finds itself becoming more organised in the form of Reclaim These Streets.
I was extremely excited to attend this protest for a number of reasons, but mostly because I was proud of Portsmouth for coordinating its own demonstration, particularly one which was socially distanced and Covid safe. The day involved speeches from the organisers, chants from the crowd, and uplifting music, but what really made the day was the open mic section, where attendees were given the opportunity to speak. Those who shared their experiences were truly admirable and whilst it was at times painful and difficult to listen to, the bond we built with each other is incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced before.
Another important thing to mention was the protest’s level of inclusivity. Both the organisers and those present made an effort to ensure the space was safe for everybody, no matter their skin colour, gender identity, or sexuality. All attendees were encouraged to take to the stage, especially those from intersecting minority groups, whose experiences obviously differ vastly. Offering a platform to women and gender non-conforming folks from less privileged backgrounds is always incredibly important and it really made a difference at the protest.
I reached out to those who had attended and received overwhelmingly positive responses. Everyone I spoke to agreed that this was unlike any other protest we had been to. The sense of community we felt over those few hours was incredible, something that one attendee described to me as “truly overwhelming”. They also mentioned that it acted as a catalyst for many of us to “stop being afraid and start being angry”, something I agree with wholeheartedly.
I think it’s tempting to distance yourself from topics like these when you only hear about them on the news. That barrier makes it easy to assume something like that would never happen to you or anyone close to you, but with 97% of women having been sexually assaulted, it’s an issue which affects all of us. Hearing from survivors whose stories took place literally across the road from the Portsmouth Guildhall was more than enough to put things into perspective.
Demonstrations such as these are vital, not only to make our voices heard but also to cultivate a safe space for survivors all over Portsmouth, to let people know they aren’t alone.