On Sunday afternoon, September 24, the spirit of community activism that has long characterized New Paltz will make its presence known at Hasbrouck Park, when a long list of local progressive organizations join forces under the aegis of the New Paltz chapter of March On! for a Community Action Festival. There will be live music from a variety of local bands headlined by the Trapps, information tables and fun activities going on from 1 to 6 p.m. But first, women and their allies will march down Main Street in the town’s second annual SlutWalk, reclaiming a pejorative label and using it as fuel for a lively protest against “rape culture.”
The SlutWalk movement began in Canada in 2011, following widespread media coverage of a Toronto police constable advising a group of York University students that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Thousands of women took to the streets, many deliberately dressed in so-called “provocative” clothing, expressing outrage over a series of incidents in which law enforcement officers and judges had resorted to victim-blaming and “slut-shaming,” instead of placing responsibility squarely upon the perpetrators of sex crimes.
This campaign of feminist political theater spread quickly to the US and other countries, and an informal organization calling itself SlutPaltz formed in 2016 in response to a critical mass of events, both local and national. At the beginning of the fall semester, several SUNY students were sexually attacked by an assailant who has since been arrested and convicted. The New Paltz Middle School began enforcing a dress code that many perceived as unfairly singling out girls wearing tank tops during a spell of very hot weather. The release of rapist Brock Turner from prison after serving only half of his six-month sentence created a national outcry, as did the release of recordings of offensive statements about women’s bodies by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The group of New Paltz activists that arose following these events calls itself “a collective of local intersectional feminists dedicated to standing up for human rights, with a focus on the eradication of rape culture. We aim to create proactive social change by asserting a public expression of our beliefs, fostering awareness, discussion and action within the community.” The first SlutWalk in New Paltz in October 2016 drew an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, and now those fishnet-stockinged vixens-on-a-mission will be back for another consciousness-raising Walk against Rape Culture, “taking up positive space on our sidewalks on our Main Street,” in the words of organizer Alexandria Wojcik. “The vision of SlutWalk is so important. It’s not a parade. We don’t close down the streets. We want traffic to see us; we want people in the shops to see us, people on their way to the mountains for a nice hike.”
Women and their male allies will converge at the middle school at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday and head down Main Street around noon, using the sidewalks, and “march to Rape Avenue, also known as Plattekill,” says Wojcik. A SUNY graduate who works in Village Hall as an assistant to the mayor and has at times found herself accosted by men while walking on Plattekill Avenue after dark, the SlutPaltz co-founder says that such experiences helped shape her awareness of the “rape culture” that still permeates America and this community. Recent improvements in street lighting are “not a beacon of hope,” she says. “It’s not about a well-lit road; it’s about smashing the mindset that permits a patriarchal vision to persist.”
The line of march will then merge with the other groups who are co-sponsoring the Community Action Festival in Hasbrouck Park for the rest of the afternoon. Besides a nonstop music lineup and plenty of activist networking, the event will include a costumed Handmaids’ Resistance Protest that should draw some momentum from all the Emmy Award attention paid on Sunday night to the Hulu TV dramatization of Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale. E-mail email@example.com if you’d like to show up in your bonnet and take part in the theatricals!
Some SlutWalk participants will head over to Snug Harbor for a parallel concert event from 2 to 6 p.m. Dubbed Rock against Rape Culture, this “party with a purpose” will donate all proceeds from optional donations to local organizations that help victims of domestic and sexual violence. Bands donating their services to perform include Exit 17, It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Surmiser, Multiple Bird Strikes, Babe Patrol, DJ Hue Man. Wojcik sees a vital link between activism and the arts, noting, “It’s when we’re going out at night that we run into the most obvious examples of rape culture.”
“Join us and invite your friends who agree with the radical notion that no one deserves to get raped,” says the promotional material for the SlutWalk event. While all supporters are invited to participate, says Wojcik, it’s particularly important for younger women to attend and learn from the experiences of other women. “People just starting college — we need them so bad,” she avers. “The most important thing is the conversations that we have while we march down the street.”