At the IWD march, there were thirteen of us that formed the radical feminist contingent. There were many hundreds in total attending the march, most of whom appeared to be vociferously opposed to our presence. Being completely outnumbered, we were shut out from the main group of the march from the very beginning. They moved all their people with the biggest flags and banners in front of us so as to confine us to the periphery. As the main group began to march, we too attempted to walk forward. The people in front of us with banners stopped in their tracks, trying to prevent us from moving as they were using their banners and bodies to block us. One woman was particularly aggressive as she stopped in front of one of our members, stepping side by side accordingly in order to stop her from moving past. She stooped even lower as she switched her target to one of our members who uses a wheelchair. This caused a ruckus, and she eventually let up. However, she and others continued to use similar tactics against us throughout the march.
We were trailing the back of the rally, struggling to even do that. Within minutes, people with pro-trans women, pro-sex industry and anti-radical feminist signs surrounded us as we all walked, shouting chants like ‘hey hey, ho ho, TERFs and SWERFs have got to go’. This chant and other similar ones were a recurring motif during the march, shouted aggressively as they encircled our group. Others took to senseless yelling in our faces, demanding that we leave and informing us that we were not welcome at the IWD march. We were maligned as ‘TERFs’, ‘SWERFs’ and ‘transphobes’. Whilst most of our signs made our radical-feminist leanings clear, we had not used deliberately inflammatory messages. A sign reading ‘powerful men rape with impunity, powerful women protect them’ that one of our members was holding was ripped.
The issue of having our way blocked continued. They would periodically hold back from the rest of their group to prevent us from moving forward. However, it would probably be more accurately described as them periodically allowing us to move forward unimpeded. Sometimes a few of us would slip through their defences, but we would eventually try to rejoin the group as we had one woman in a wheelchair, another who uses a cane and elderly women who were not so agile to be able to escape the human barrier they built to surround us.
There was a point early in the march when a woman started to use the same blocking tactic on me; that is, she would deliberately and forcefully ram her body into me in order to prevent me from moving forward. I managed to elude her. She then moved her sights on one of the women in our ranks who was holding a sign. She started to stand in her way, but she then quickly started to grab at our member’s hands, trying to pull the sign from her. This quickly became a scuffle, and I came to our member’s defence. Just as she was, I was aggressively pushed and shoved, and the sign eventually fell out of her hands. The sign broke away from the pole in the process. The attacker moved along but remained a persistent and aggressive agitator.
They continued with their antics, which included blocking our way, yelling in our faces and chanting at us whilst they had us surrounded. At a couple of points, we had people using megaphones right behind our ears, yelling in them their preferred pejoratives and demands that we leave.
A terrible point came when one of our members was knocked down. This woman uses a cane to walk, and a group of people surrounded her as she was walking. As such, she had nowhere to walk or place her cane; hence, she fell. The police immediately came to aid her. I heard one yelling at the aggressors for intimidating a disabled woman in this manner. She has since had to visit a doctor due to the injuries she sustained in the fall. She was unable to continue, so we lost her, her boyfriend and her father. With our numbers diminished, we started to see a number of union organisers form a line between us and the rest of the protest. At first, some of us were on board with this as it prevented the scuffles and violent intimidation we had been facing. This continued for some time, but the trouble came when instead of merely providing a barrier between the radical feminists and the liberal feminists, they began to actively hold us back. They stopped walking whilst the rest of the march continued. We became agitated at this point as we realised that we, a group comprising entirely women at this point, were being prevented from marching on International Women’s Day. We began to move forward more assertively, and some of us stated to these union organisers that it was wrong for them to exclude women from an event ostensibly for women.
We lost the compliance we had initially had with this human boundary formed to herd us in and away, so we began to move forward anyway. Note that our loss of compliance involved nothing more than us walking forward. They were unable to stop us. There was again an incident where the police got involved when a man was preventing our woman in the wheelchair from moving. I came along her right side as we were being quite tightly surrounded. Police asked me to move aside and threatened to arrest these people if they would not let her past. We then made it to the corner of the State Library and Little Lonsdale Street. The organisers tried to reform their line to surround us and keep us from listening to the speakers. A woman I did not recognise to be part of our group stood alongside me and asked me if we were radfems. I said we were and that we were gender critical. She said that she agreed with us but that it was unsafe in this year to say so. I agreed with her and said that there were many more of us who agreed who were not protesting.
A few of us made it up to a bush on the State Library lawn where liberal feminists attempted to cover up our signs with theirs. The lead marshal began ordering the other marshals to surround us with a human line. We tried to evade the line they had formed so that we could rejoin the rest of our group. Pushing through the line was hectic, but we managed it. As I had to do many times during that day, I ducked under people’s joined hands and arms to get past them. We were able to rejoin the group.
The marshals were instructing their helpers to form three arcs around us as they really didn’t want us getting through this time. I was at the front of the group. They all sported either red or yellow duct tape armbands. To these marshals’ credit, they did not verbally engage with us as they were instructed by their leaders. What followed felt quite strange. Our group was standing together, and the lead marshals were yelling ‘one step forward’ to the lines surrounding us. Then they would say ‘one step back’. They would say ‘two steps forward’, and the line would step twice forward. It was a bizarre sight. I admit that I was not above making snide remarks such as ‘at ease, good little foot-soldiers for the patriarchy’. I refused to move from where I was standing. Hence, when the organisers would say ‘two steps forward’, I would be stepped into by multiple people at once as I was only one step back. Had I not been so tightly pressed against these marshals, I think I would have likely slipped on the wet slabs as I tried to withstand this human battering ram. This happened many times over the course of around ten to fifteen minutes of these instructions for the marshals to step forward and back. During many of these times, I was viciously elbowed in my ribs and stomach as I refused to move no matter how many steps they were asked to take. There was no point trying to get past them as there were two other similar lines of people right behind them. It was almost militaristic how they were organised. The marshals alone outnumbered us four to one. The lead marshal would turn to them and say ‘if you need to swap out, let me know, but whatever you do, do not move’. I heard this lead marshal say to her helpers that we were trying to cause violence. There were about nine of us at that point, and most of us were either elderly or disabled. Behind the marshals were a mob of rally attendees who were constantly yelling at us to leave. However, one of the marshals who was right in front of me and part of this militaristic line stepped forward unprompted. I was instinctively defensive; however, he turned to me and said ‘I’m leaving the line’, and he left the rally altogether.
We endured constant verbal harassment and physical intimidation during the march. At one point, the lady in the wheelchair attempted to move forward by slipping down the side of the pavement. We followed. A furore erupted amongst the mob who were pressing against us. The police were immediately unhappy with this development and did their best to form a line between us and those preventing us from participating. However, I was left on the wrong side. I felt a little unsafe as I was separated from my group and on the side of our assailants. I asked two police officers if I could rejoin my group. They each told me sharply, ‘no, you have been told no’. I give them the benefit of the doubt that I was perhaps not easily identifiable as being part of the radical feminist contingent. However, shortly thereafter a policewoman said ‘you have to come back to the group’. I gladly walked through the space she allowed me and said ‘thank you, I’ve been trying to’. At this point, I saw a policeman talking to our lady in the wheelchair. I couldn’t hear much of what was being said. The next thing I knew, we were leaving the rally. The yelling and screaming, verbal harassment that was constant during this march, turned to roaring cheers, celebrating our departure.
A policeman clarified when asked that we had not done anything wrong and that we were being asked to move along as they identified the risk of potential violence and danger. He cited breach of peace orders that meant that we could be asked to move along for fear of potential violence. One policeman had issued very thinly veiled threats to arrest us. The policeman to whom we spoke thereafter fully acknowledged that we were doing nothing wrong. We all felt that the police were very annoyed by the marshals wargaming of the situation in which they had formed a barricade consisting of multiple lines of people to prevent us from proceeding on public property.
We did, however, comply. We were upset that we were made to leave a march that was supposedly for women. There were no men in our ranks and plenty in theirs. We lost a woman and her companions due to their violence. We felt that just because the union had organised that rally, they did not have a right to expel us from public property. However, the police asking us to leave was the only thing I felt they did wrong. It felt like a violation of our right to freedom of political speech.
As we walked back towards Parliament, I heard what sounded to be teenage girls giggling and laughing; I heard the words ‘transphobe’ and ‘transphobic’ quite loudly. It occurred to me that they could read the words I had put on my hoodie: ‘here’s a target on my back: a woman is an adult human female’. We were not near the protest, so it was not immediately clear to me that they were from the march. They didn’t follow us. As we said our goodbyes outside a car park, protesters returning yelled at us, having recognised us. I left sore in my ribs and stomach from all the elbowing and being stepped into, but I was glad to have made a difference and revealed these people to be military-wannabes who jump at the chance to exclude, harass and intimidate women.
[*Moderator's note: there are pictures of the injuries sustained by one of these thirteen women here and here].
#australia #IWD2021 #womensmarch #physicalviolence #intimidation #handmaidens