Interview with Krista Warnke

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Krista Warnke is a Public Educator with SACHA.  She has been involved with the organization – as a volunteer, a board member and as a staff member – since 1979.  Krista attended the first Take Back the Night (TBTN) in Hamilton in 1981.  Eventually, Krista moved into the position of and coordinating the Take Back the Night committee.

Krista was interviewed by Erin, also a Public Educator with SACHA and current coordinator of the Take Back the Night committee.

Here’s what it looks/sounds like when two public educators chat about herstory:

Erin: Do you remember what Take Back the Night was like in 1981?

Krista: I’m pretty sure for me that it would have been the first time I had ever been involved in a protest march.  I remember being incredibly excited. I remember there being generally a lot of excitement because there was recognition that in some ways it was long overdue.  Women were feeling all of these different things about violence against women and yet there wasn’t a forum for us to express ourselves.  There was a lot of excitement.  I remember a certain amount of creativity too.  I wore a hard hat to the first TBTN.  At the time I was working at a real male dominated profession and I don’t even remember exactly why I chose to wear the hardhat but I was making some kind of a statement whatever that was.

E: What was the feeling at the actual event?

K: Excitement. Excitement. Excitement. Pride in being a woman.  Pride in being with all these other women who were speaking out, who dared to take to the streets.  Back then we didn’t have a parade permit or police stopping traffic at intersections.  We just did it.  There was this pride in demanding what we wanted and doing what we wanted to do.  It was very exciting, very liberating, very empowering.

E: That can be really scary and really powerful.  To take to the streets, to be yelling about issues that we don’t usually talk about.

K: Not so much at the first TBTN in 1981 but I remember in earlier generations of TBTN personally feeling a lot of fear because we were heckled.  There were men yelling things at us.  The community as a whole did not necessarily appreciate what we were doing especially because it was women only.  We took lots of criticism for that.  In the beginning there was not a lot of support.  It was very controversial.  We still struggle with that even to this day.  I was fearful as we were taking an intersection that somebody would say “That’s enough of you” and just plough us with a vehicle.  I do remember a lot of fear.  I also remember some women being too scared to participate because of the levels of hostility.

E: What was the feeling after the march was over and this incredible event had happened and so many people had actually shown up?

K: Relief. Relief that we did it and everyone was safe.

E: Can you talk about the changes that you have seen at TBTN in thirty years?

K: The most significant change that I see is TBTN becoming more a celebration of women’s strengths.  Some women didn’t come because it was a protest.  That was not something that resonated for them or spoke to them.  The walk is still the focus.  That’s what women come for.  We’ve begun to honour that and deliver other ways of educating or getting the information out there.  The shift has been to a celebration of women’s strengths.  Clearly the walk is still a protest.

E: Anytime women talk about their space in society it is a political act.

K: I remember at some point in our herstory of TBTN that men marched with us.  But I also recall that it was not a safe space for some women because men were there.  In particular, one woman’s ex-partner used TBTN as an opportunity to further harass, stalk and victimize her.  That was when we went back to women only.

E: How has public perception changed over the years?

K: I think it’s better now.  I think the community has come to accept that TBTN is a women-identified only event.  It still makes me very sad that after thirty years we still have to justify three hours out of the entire year to be together as women.

E: What are your hopes for TBTN in the future?

K: That it keeps getting bigger and better and continues to be something that is relevant for women.  I really hope that it remains a woman-identified only event because there are shrinking spaces for us to do that.  We’ve held out for this long in the face of some pretty extreme resistance so I feel pretty confident that it will remain woman-identified only.

E: Do you have anything else to add?

K: At the first TBTN it never occurred to use that people wouldn’t be supportive of what we were doing.  All I remember is excitement.  I don’t remember any fear or anxiety.  I don’t remember any worry about public criticism of what we were doing.  We were just really excited to be doing it.  I think that it was a bit of naivety on our part.  It never occurred to me that there would be people who wouldn’t think that this was a great idea.  As we started to do TBTN year after year it became more apparent that this was not an easy thing to do or necessarily a safe thing to do or that there would be backlash.  I don’t think that I anticipated a backlash in the beginning.  That may speak to where I was in my feminist journey.  That was right at the beginning for me.  I started in this movement in 1979 so it was still a fairly new thing and I am not even sure if at the time I even called it ‘feminism’.  It was still ‘women’s liberation’ back then.

E: Can you tell me more about what you were excited about at the TBTN in 1981?

K: Being loud.  Being vocal.  It was the first time I ever participated in a protest.  That whole idea was exciting to me.  To walk the streets yelling, chanting and carrying signs.  Which is still part of the appeal of TBTN.  Which is why the walk is so important.  It gives women the outlet that we just don’t get anywhere else – especially about issues about violence against women.  Because TBTN is specific to violence against women those kinds of outlets are even rarer.

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