‘Just Be You:’ Chicago SlutWalk Organizer Sounds Conciliatory Tone Over ‘Zionist Displays’ Controversy
As controversy continues to swirl around the upcoming August 12 SlutWalk march in Chicago, one of the organizing collective’s members has sounded a more conciliatory note regarding an earlier warning that “Zionist displays” will not be permitted at the protest.
“If you’re not hurting, attacking or harassing us, we don’t have a mechanism in place to say ‘We don’t like the way you look — stand over there,'” Red S., a SlutWalk collective member, told Chicago journalist Gretchen Rachel Hammond in an extensive interview conducted for The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
Despite the attempts of anti-Zionist activists to insert the BDS campaign targeting Israel into domestic civil rights advocacy — as demonstrated in June by the Chicago Dyke March’s decision to eject Jewish women waving rainbow flags embossed with the Star of David — Red S.’s observations to Hammond on this year’s march were largely focused on the SlutWalk’s core issues: alleged police abuse, including rape, of persons working in the sex industry — a major concern in Chicago — and broader confrontation with what the collective defines as “rape culture” and its attendant prejudices of “slut-shaming” and “whorephobia.”
“‘Slut-shaming’ includes people who may not be in the commercial sex industry, trade or engaged in survival sex work,” Red S. told Hammond. “If people are discriminating against or marginalizing them because of their sexual activity or perceived promiscuity, that is slut shaming. ‘Whorephobia’ is specifically negative associations with or marginalizing of sex-working people. That takes all kinds of shapes: stigma with the work or the criminalization of sex-working people.”
Red S. stressed personal support for the Palestinians at the same time, describing it as “very much a part of my anti-imperialist and anti-war politics.”
“It goes hand-in-hand with all of my perspectives on global violence and what happens to people’s bodies around borders and checkpoints,” Red S. said. “During times of conflict, we often see the most marginalized people hurt.”
Asked by Hammond about the double standard concerning Israel on much of the left — highlighting alleged Israeli abuses, while ignoring a range of other issues from the treatment of Aboriginals in Australia to anti-Muslim bigotry in Europe — Red S. expressed broad agreement that these other violations deserve equal attention.
“No debate here,” Red S. said. “I am 100 percent an anti-imperialist and I think that it is all connected. I’m about as far left as you can get, so I’m about abolishing borders and smashing nationalism.”
Throughout the interview with Hammond, Red S. placed a strong accent on the inclusivity of the protest.
“I must emphasize that flags are not banned from SlutWalk,” Red S. said. “What is banned is bigoted behavior or things that threaten other people or make them feel unsafe.”
But, Red S. added, “as an organizer, I’m not going to wag my finger at someone who shows up wearing a t-shirt that says something like ‘British Feminist’ or ‘Jewish Feminist’ or anything which says, ‘This is how I identify and this is how I want to be proud in my defiance of a society that shames us for our bodies, sexuality or gender.’”
Yet there is no guarantee that marchers who turn up with symbols deemed to be “Zionist” in nature will not be excluded in the same manner as at the Dyke March. Throughout this week, activists on social media — many of them associated with “Jewish Voice for Peace,” a small far-left extremist group that harasses pro-Israel advocates at events like the Dyke March — have been warning that “Zionists” will be “kicked out” of the SlutWalk while it “reclaims” the Star of David.
We reclaim it in an anti-Zionist context. Queer Jews: we can still celebrate our pride in being queer and Jewish. But leave the Zionism.
— أندرو (@menajew) July 22, 2017
One activist went so far as to design an “anti-Zionist” version of the Star of David, combining both the yellow star and the pink triangle enforced on Jews and homosexuals respectively by the Nazi regime.
Asked about the invocation of the Holocaust in this context, Red S. told Hammond again that the goal was to be “as radically inclusive as possible.”
“I want the most people to feel safe in community,” Red S. continued. “I want them to be coming from a place of love, solidarity and appreciation but not spitefulness, hate or bigotry. So, I’m going to operate on an ‘assume the best intention’ perspective when engaging in folks who ask if we are banning religious symbols. We’re not.”
“We are concerned about the people who said they were going to show up with thousands of Israeli flags and attack us. Is it likely going to happen? No. Was it alarming? Yes. But we’re not banning these symbols,” Red S. clarified. “I really don’t want people to be worried about self-censoring or needing to come up with new imagery. Just be you. Just come and be a part of the event and lift up and stand with survivors. We’re going to have your back too.”
Pressed by Hammond for complete clarification as to whether marchers carrying Israeli flags would be told to leave, Red S. responded candidly, “We don’t have the ability to keep anyone from participating. If you’re not hurting attacking or harassing us, we don’t have a mechanism in place to say, ‘We don’t like the way you look. Stand over there.’ That is not a thing that Slutwalk does.”
“Just come with good intentions of participating in a demonstration that’s about supporting survivors of rape culture. If you do, you’ll be welcomed,” Red S. emphasized.
Visit Gretchen Rachel Hammond’s website to read the full transcript of her interview with Red S.