Coordinators and volunteers spoke out against gender oppression and sexual assault during the #MeToo Speak Out and Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 19 at Terry D. Schrunk Plaza in Southwest Portland.
The march was organized by Socialist Alternative Portland, Portland State International Socialist Organization and Portland Democratic Socialists of America.
The goal of protesting was to organize sexual assault survivor solidarity represented by the campaign #MeToo in the workplace, as well as to build a socialist form of feminism that is sex worker and transgender inclusive. The goals are not limited to sexual assault, as #MeToo is among a list of motivations for protesting, along with intersectionality and inclusion.
One of the morning’s first volunteers T. Chicome spoke to recognize the rights and existence of indigenous women, which she said are overshadowed by a movement that often does little to acknowledge stolen indigenous land and the rights of indigenous peoples.
“There usually aren’t that many indigenous people at these rallies, so I’m throwing myself out here so our people can have a voice,” Chicome said as she described balancing her indigenous identity with the grim statistics facing women. “Indigenous women are more likely to be murdered and raped in this country still today.”
Indigenous women are reported missing or murdered at higher rates, but their information is only logged into federal or state databases two percent of the time, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.
Chicome said when she was 17, she joined the military and was sent to the Persian Gulf War “like a lot of people in indigenous communities.”
“80 percent of women in the military are raped or severely sexually harassed,” Chicome said in her speech. “Sexual harassment and rape in the military is so bad, and when [people] disrespect #MeToo, they’re disrespecting United States veterans—the ones they say they care so much about.”
58 percent of the women in the military who reported their sexual assault were served reprisals or experienced retaliation.
“These people want receipts? Our receipts are in the jails, people locked away in psych wards, people trapped in addiction—those are our fucking receipts. Veterans killing themselves every day are our receipts.”
Chicome emphasizes a common theme throughout the protest—many survivors touch on how they have been disserviced by society or even the #MeToo movement itself.
Salem, a working stripper, illuminated some of these experiences.
“I still don’t know how to talk about the bulk of the violence and sexual assault in sex work,” Salem said. She recalled a joke circulating in middle school that brought her to tears. “If you rape a prostitute, is it actually rape or just shoplifting?”
“[I was angry because] I didn’t yet understand the systematic dehumanization of sex workers,” Salem continued. “There’s a kind of numbness surrounding sexual assault that I’ve developed as a sex worker, because when sex workers are sexually assaulted, it’s not called assault; it’s called part of the job.”
Salem said her coworkers have had similar experiences. “The management at the club I work at knows about these actions and has done nothing,” she said. “I go to work every day wondering if this will be the shift when a customer rapes me. As a sex worker, it hurts that my consent is valued so much less.”
Many of the speeches also focused on the political aspect of the #MeToo movement. Camille White-Avian, a participant in the “Red for Ed” movement and the #MeToo movement as well as a member of the International Socialist Organization, spoke of the failings of the U.S. justice system to protect and vindicate survivors of sexual assault.
On Cyntoia Brown, a survivor of sexual assault granted clemency after being imprisoned for 15 years, White-Avian said, “This is a huge win—[it’s] not justice, though. If it weren’t for people calling and fighting for her case for years and years, she wouldn’t have even gotten parole, and it’s up to us to continue fighting. [We have] to make sure that young women and all people can defend themselves from violence and not be blamed.”
Activist and member of Multnomah County Democrats Rachelle Dixon mentioned the small but significant steps political activism is creating toward reform, referencing HB 2625, introduced by indigenous female Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D–Ore. The bill is an effort to protect indigenous women in Oregon, but Dixon said it is not enough.
“I don’t think anybody should vote for anybody who can’t answer the question ‘what are you doing about the concerns of women?’” Dixon said. “Don’t just give your vote away—make them earn it. We still need to make our leaders accountable. We need a political solution.”
The socialist organizations present also protested against Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 2018 and the presence of sexual harassment in politics. As White-Avian said, they “favor a political solution.”
“I’m tired, I’m sad, I’m scared but mostly I am angry. I can turn that anger into motivation to help build a socialist feminist movement that includes sex workers—a movement that fights for all of us,” Salem said.
“We stand, especially as socialists, for the right of self-defense, be that against sexual violence, racist violence, sexist violence, transphobic violence and against imperial violence,” White-Avian finished, reminding the audience that fighting back is not only necessary, it is a right.