Healing Gaia

If a Change is Gonna Come, We Have to Work For It

The struggles of the civil rights movement epitomized by Selma, the treatment of Indigenous women in Canada, and the plight of millions of women worldwide are intersecting at the point of inherent patriarchal power and control.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published January 13, 2015

this article has been updated

On Sunday I saw the film Selma. For those too young to remember, Selma was the 1965 march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery. The peaceful 54 mile march was undertaken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters to emphasize the fact that although African Americans had the legal right to vote, they were finding it impossible to register due to indiscriminate decisions made at the state level - especially in the good old south where good old boys like George Wallace were in charge.

Dr. King was not part of the initial march on Sunday, March 7 that met with unprecedented violence when 600 African American activists were attacked by state troopers and a locals as they left Selma. The human destruction and devastation, televised live to over 7 million people with pictures of the brutality published worldwide, became known as Bloody Sunday.

The marchers set out again on March 9 with Dr. King. By this time the peaceful protesters had been joined by black and white supporters from around America and from every denomination. The peaceful protesters once again reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge but this time the troopers stood down. However, instead of continuing the march, Dr. King turned and led the supporters back to Selma. Dr. King feared that the group would be compromised if state troopers closed ranks behind them cutting off access to supplies and help.

Dr. King sought protection from a federal court and once that was granted the third, and final, march officially began on March 21. 2,000 soldiers, 1,900 National Guards from Alabama, FBI agents and Federal Marshals were on hand to protect the growing throng of peaceful protesters. On March 24, 1965, 25,000 people entered Montgomery in support of voting rights for African Americans.

The incredibly cruel and unwarranted violence portrayed in the film was very disturbing and difficult to watch. But, it was real for all of the activists who lived and died fighting for this basic human right. I was one of the last to leave the theatre because as I sat watching the credits it struck me that the Civil Rights Movement, a series of political movements for equality before the law, is the 1960's equivalent of the gendered violence movement of today.

Worldwide women have been peacefully protesting for the right to an education, the right to drive, the right to choose their life partner, the right to reproductive choices, the right to vote, the right to hold political office, as well as the right to live a life free from fear and violence. Yet, often these peaceful protests are marred by violence initiated by men who believe they have an innate right to power and control over those considered inferior.

In Canada, our Aboriginal sisters have been peacefully demonstrating and asking the federal government for an enquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women. The federal government consistently refuses their request.

Instead, we continue to read about cases like the RCMP officer in northern Manitoba who arrested an intoxicated indigenous woman at a house party only to return, off duty, to request her release into his custody so that he could, "pursue a personal relationship."

Or we read about the Portage la Prairie, Man., RCMP constable who took a complaint from a woman who was choked, beaten, stripped, and pushed out of a house naked by her boyfriend.

The constable failed to interview witnesses as well as refusing to lay charges as per RCMP policy on domestic violence, which states, in part, "A charge will be laid when reasonable and probable grounds exist, irrespective of the willingness of the victim to give evidence."

When those in charge of protecting the safety of vulnerable individuals are the very people exposing them to further violence and marginalization, we as a society have a very real problem that must be investigated and remedied.

The Idle No More Movement calls for change to "actively resist violence against women and hold a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and involve Indigenous women in the design, decision-making, process and implementation of this inquiry, as a step toward initiating a comprehensive and coordinated national action plan."

The Native Women's Association is also committed to ending violence against women and calling for an enquiry through events like the Sisters in Sprit Vigils held each October 4.

As of Monday, January 12, 2015 we can add the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report on its investigation [PDF] into the murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls in British Columbia.

The report clearly states that Canada is legally required to identify and address the systemic causes of violence against Aboriginal women and girls. The IACHR strongly supports a nationwide inquiry to address violence against Aboriginal women and girls. To be effective, the inquiry must be developed and carried out with the full participation of Aboriginal women. It should also involve the federal and provincial governments.

The struggles of the civil rights movement epitomized by Selma, the treatment of Indigenous women in Canada, and the plight of millions of women worldwide are intersecting at the point of inherent patriarchal power and control. It's time to not only continue, but to redouble our efforts to make the oppression of women as repulsive and socially unacceptable as the oppression of African Americans.

Let's give the last word to Sam Cooke who released the song "A Change Is Gonna Come" in March of 1964. Inspirational words that offered hope to the Civil Rights Movement and that help me focus on the goal - a world without gendered violence.


Update: this article originally had the march to Montgomery on March 23, 1964, but it was actually March 24, 1965. RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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By AP (registered) | Posted January 14, 2015 at 11:18:54

Thanks, as always, Doreen, for bringing light to these issues for the RTH and Hamilton communities. Through no scientific review, it's struck me that with each of your articles focused on gender-equity and (men's) violence against women, the often-prolific commenting on RTH goes silent. If I'm being optimistic, it's because we're all in agreement there's nothing to debate here. But we can do better than silent agreement. We often take part in an empassioned rallying call around visions of a better future with complete streets and vibrant places to live, work and play. They're often met with a few dissenting voices calling out some variation of "_____ ____ ___ and the war on cars!" while the vast majority of Hamiltonians remain silent, unaware or unconcerned. There's an equivalent 'war on men and boys' retort that meets calls like Doreen's to acknowledge and address the injustices and improve the lives of women and girls. We can do better than sit by in silence. As the RTH community, I hope we can begin to realize, one commenter, one retweeter at a time, the importance of supporting gender-equity and eliminating gender-based violence in our communities.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 14, 2015 at 20:21:57 in reply to Comment 107804

It is a powerfully argued piece ... I hope Doreen contributes more often. And, yes many of us in "RTH community" are interested in social justice issues beyond "urbanism". I think we've been preoccupied with the bus-lane saga the last couple of days. I wonder what sort of movie would be a Canadian "Selma"? (or why we can't talk about race, gender, and class without doing so vicariously ... Doreen has pointed us in a couple of directions if we choose not to, however).

Comment edited by RobF on 2015-01-14 20:24:10

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 12:40:13

Misogyny, racism, homophobia, and economic slavery are really all part of the same picture: the powerful subjugating the weak because they can.

These things hurt the victims and offend anyone else with a sense of justice and responsibility. But that's the thing, having a sense of responsibility is accidental, just a characteristic of people that is more is less occurring by blind luck.

Until responsibility is part of the culture, taught by every father and mother to every child, reinforced by teachers and students and employers and coworkers and random people on the street, there will always be struggles like these.

So if you see something that's 'not right', you need to speak up because maybe nobody else will, and by silently condoning it, you bear part of the responsibility for the perpetrator's lack of it.

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