Helen Manning has been attending Take Back the Night (TBTN) in Hamilton since 1982. Marching with her megaphone and children, she would lead chants as what she likes to call an Empowerment Officer in the march.
Erin: What was the feeling like at early TBTN’s.
Helen: It seemed to be more radical. We didn’t necessarily listen to the police back then. They would be trying to get us back off the street and on the sidewalk and we wouldn’t always do as they said. We just wanted to make our voices heard. It was more noisy back then.
E: What was your role at TBTN?
H: For a couple years, I was on the loudspeaker being an Empowerment Officer. One year someone said to me ‘You’re too loud!’ I like being loud.
E: What was the general conversation about sexual violence and women’s safety at that time?
H: Women were very angry but they were very glad that we had this march. This was so new, especially in Hamilton.
E: What did it feel like in the early years to take over the streets and be loud?
H: It felt great. It still feels great. I think that it is a great venue for women still to this day.
E: Do you remember what conversations you would have with your friends about TBTN?
H: I remember not getting positive responses from my workplace. They said the usual slurs and insults – that we are man haters or dykes. I would try to explain in a calm way that this is the only day that we have once a year to feel safe on our streets.
E: What was it like after the march was finished?
H: I felt so proud to be a part of something like that. I felt empowered and I didn’t care what anyone thought. I knew that I needed to be there and I just felt great. I still know a lot of women that won’t go. But on the other hand, at every TBTN I see people that I only see at the march. I love it! There’s a lot camaraderie there.
E: For me TBTN is my favourite holiday of the year.
H: Women show up from all walks of life.
E: What was it like to be taking those risks?
H: One year my friend said to me during the march ‘Aren’t you scared?’ and I said no. She said ‘There could be a sniper up on one of those buildings.’ And she was right. I said ‘If there is. Here I am.’ That’s how afraid women were to speak out. Something could happen to us even while doing a march. We used to get yelled at by men. They would yell rude disgusting things. It’s not so much like that anymore. One of the big things that TBTN has done in Hamilton is educating people. We would just keep going and hold our heads high. It’s a great thing that it has been going on for thirty years.
I say to men who ask why they can’t be at the march: ‘If you are walking down the street late at night and two women are walking towards you, would you feel nervous?’ This is my one night where I don’t have to feel nervous.
E: Who are you marching for this year?
H: I always think of my sister. She never went to the march. She was afraid to go because of her husband and I always felt when I marched I would be marching for her too.