Why I March
My protest journey began in 2016 with an academic research paper I was writing on activism. I met and interviewed activists from all walks of life, including a female Iranian activist, a May ‘68 veteran, and a group of South American women. As I got to know them, pre- conceived ideas I had of protests and protesters, often depicted as violent, angry, with only one objective - to disrupt ‘civil society’ - began to shatter. Attending these demonstrations filled me with admiration for people who chose to demonstrate, occupying the public space to fight for something they believed in, never thinking I could one day be one of them. I had always been an observer, never a participant. Though I was in awe of these people, I still didn’t understand what it felt like to have something revolt me so much to have me take to the streets.
Then, the 2016 US elections happened. I was angry.
So, my first real march - as a participant and no longer observer - was the 'Trump Not Welcome' demonstration in May 2017, during his first official visit to Brussels as ‘number 45’, a march that truly changed everything. Walking out of North Station, I was blown away by the size of the crowds, the flags, the energy. Everyone was here for the same reason I was. We were all angry, we didn’t want this man in our country, we hated what he represented and what he stood for. Within this crowd of protesters, I felt like I belonged, like I was a part of something bigger than myself, something that mattered.
During my academic research, the interview that stuck with me the most was that of the female Iranian activist, who I will call “Marjane”. She grew up in Iran with a religious mother and a patriarchal father. She started meeting political activists during her university years, joining an underground left-wing student movement as well as a women’s movement. As her political knowledge blossomed, Marjane uncovered truths about the horrors committed by the Iranian government. It was then she decided to become a revolutionary.
“When you know the truth, you have two choices, you follow the truth or you close your eyes. For me, when you get the truth, you follow the truth.”
This decision was undoubtedly difficult for Marjane, as any kind of political activism opposing the government was extremely dangerous - all dissidents had been executed so far. This wasn’t just a risk for her life, but for her family’s life as well. Marjane had to hide her political convictions from her family until she was out of the country, as her uncle was a high-ranking member of the Iranian army. She eventually found political asylum in Belgium, where she continues to fight for women’s liberation and against the capitalist system.
“You can’t fight to change the system by just saying “let’s change the system”, for that, you should fight on different fronts: women, workers, climate change, refugees. Without the oppression of women there is no capitalism.”
Thinking back on this interview and the path of protest I have since walked, I know now that activism allows you to affirm your identity within a collective movement. Through that, you reach autonomy as an individual. Marjane asserts her identity as a woman and revolutionary through her activism, and this choice has defined her life.
Then, in January 2017, the US Women’s March happened. I was in awe, I couldn’t describe how badly I wanted to be there, marching with my sisters in the street. I knew I needed to be a part of something similar.
A year later, after being invited to a general assembly of the Collecti.e.f 8 maars organisation, I started volunteering in the communications commission, working as a social media manager. Through the Collecti.e.f, I became increasingly more integrated in the activist network in Brussels. It dawned on me how much work, dedication, and investment it truly takes to mobilise people and make genuine impact. Even so, my commitment wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I couldn’t always see clearly what we were working towards. It was to be the first strike of its kind in Belgium. There was no way of evaluating our progress.
However, one thing I couldn’t deny was how empowering it felt to be surrounded by such diverse, powerful women*, and the effect this had - not just on my identity, but on my life. After joining the Collecti.e.f 8 maars, I began to consciously analyse more and more the status of inferiority women occupy in conversations, public spaces, and even within our own homes. Women are never given the same amount of respect as men, nor the space to use their voice equally.
“When we fight for women’s rights, it’s not just for daily rights, it’s not just for equality, we are fighting for emancipation of women.”
I had had enough. I wanted change. Not just for me and what I had encountered - but for women everywhere. Because let’s face it, I am privileged, white, educated, and financially stable. I live in a country in which I can protest without fearing for my life or for my family’s life. I don’t have to fear getting deported, or worse, being killed for speaking out.
On March 8 2019, Belgium successfully had its first ever women’s strike, organised by the Collecti.e.f 8 maars, of which I am still a proud member.
That same day, the 'Marche Mondiale des Femmes' organised a march in Brussels, significant because it hadn’t taken place in over 10 years. We were 15,000 in the streets: blocking cars, making women visible, and most importantly, making women heard.
Whilst marching the street, I felt how freeing it was to be part of a movement, how liberating it was to make noise with my fellow sisters in the streets. From then on, I knew there was no going back; activism was going to be a crucial part of my identity, just like it was for Marjane.
“It was the moment I started saying 'no'.”
I march because I want women to feel safe walking in the streets and taking the metro. I march because I want invisible domestic work and emotional labour to be recognised. I march for women to be taken seriously. I march for equal pay. I march against racist, classist, psychological, social, and physical violence against women. I march because I want all violence against women to end. I march because I want the justice system to take these crimes against women seriously. I march for legal and safe abortions for every woman. I march for the female victims of climate change. I march for the rights of undocumented women.
“Social movements are the lungs of society, without them we can’t breathe.”
I march for the women who can’t.
* Any person who identifies themselves and/or is identified as a woman.
This article was first published as part of LSESU Amnesty International Society’s annual human rights journal “A Climate of Change.”