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Taking Back the Night

October 11, 2012   

Fall Break officially started yesterday at 4, and I’ve already been busy. Last night, the Womyn’s Center bused a bunch of us to Utica (a city about 20 minutes away) to march in the Utica YWCA’s Take Back the Night protest.

Take Back the Night is an annual rally held across the world to protest and raise awareness about rape, abuse and other violence prevalent in every community. Some rallies are huge, bringing in hundreds of people to support the cause. Others are small, but no less important. The one held last night in Utica was small, but powerful.

It started with a march around downtown. We all grabbed signs, learned chants and peacefully swarmed the streets (well, sidewalks). I walked alongside a girl I’d never met, who was from Utica and very proudly marched through town. It wasn’t much for me, a Hamilton student with virtually no connection to the area, to shout and protest and get angry. But it took guts for a girl who probably knew half the people watching to do so, and I felt honored to walk alongside her and all the others who didn’t get to return safely to the Hill afterward like I did.

After the march, we returned to City Hall, where survivors and those who had lost people to abuse stood and told their stories. I was expecting adults. I was expecting young women, maybe even girls my own age. I was not expecting an 11-year-old boy.

This boy was one of the first to stand in front of the crowd and tell his story. He was shaking and trying very hard not to cry, and told us all about his abusive father. In the end, he started crying, and we were all crying with him, and it was so poignant that the world just seemed to stop for a moment. A woman hugged him, and I realized how important this gathering was, not just to raise awareness, but for survivors to realize that they are not alone.

There were many more stories shared, from men and women, young and old, of all backgrounds and ways of life. I am not ashamed to say I cried through most of it, and I wasn’t the only one. A coach from a nearby small town had brought 15 of his athletes, all young girls, to share his own story, and not a single one of them had a dry eye by the end. There was much hugging and crying and words of support. It was a powerful sight.

Once there were no more stories to be shared, we all stepped outside and held a candlelight vigil for all the victims of violence in the area. I have never found Utica to be a beautiful city, but in that moment the damp, gray courtyard of City Hall was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. We raised our candles in silence, reflected the scattered stars above, then blew them out, and returned to our lives as normal.

That night I ate pizza and watched bad movies with friends, but I couldn’t help but feel a little different. Campus hadn’t changed since I’d left (though it was noticeably less populated), but it felt different. Warmer. Safer.

Sometimes you lose yourself, on top of the Hill. It’s easy to get caught up with schoolwork and friends and parties and forget that there’s a whole, wide world out there were everything isn’t about “How will I finish this paper on time?” or “Should we order Chinese tonight?” Take Back the Night was eye-opening and heart-wrenching and so very powerful, and I will never forget the stories that I heard and the things I felt.