Estamos atentos: Photos and lessons from Friday's anti-violence march in the Mission


It's hard to say if the march of neighbors from the 16th Street BART station, to Valencia Street, to 24th Street, and back down Mission Street will stop attacks like the January 6th assault on 23rd and Guerrero Streets that inspired last Friday's anti-violence demonstration and walk. But for a community that feels nervous about walking one's own sidewalks at times due to an ongoing spate of sexual assaults, that wasn't really the point. 

"No violence, no police! From the bathroom, to the streets!" went the crowd's chant, led by an ambulatory drum circle past the 1,000 new restaurant seats on Valencia and the tourists snapping photos of the massive, swaying protest puppets above our heads. Making the violence visible? Check. A disempowering situation turned into a show of strength? Check.

Bilingual handmade signs, bodies made out of roses on the sidewalk at the 16th Street BART plaza, musical instruments, famous writers -- that was how the Mission spoke its mind at the march. Information was passed around about the International Women's Day protest in UN Plaza, and a bright orange "Manifesto for Safe Streets" called for the right to be on the street safely at any hour (head to Mission Mission to read the full manifesto.)

Events were kicked off by a rally at the BART station, where announcements about Impact Bay Area self-defense courses and safe cab services shared time with a poetry reading, a first-person testimonial from a local sexual assault survivor, and remarks by writer Rebecca Solnit, who recently moved to the neighborhood after living in Western Addition for decades. Solnit is working on a new book which examines the various permutations of violence against women today -- the recent attack in India, football players and rape in Stuebenville, the Republican Party. 

Impact Bay Area passed out a flier with the following tips on how to stay safe in the streets. (Though we think these "10 Ways to Prevent Rape" would be way more effective):

Be alert: Using awareness and intuition are two of the best ways to keep yourself safe. Pay attention to where you are, and what is happening when you are out in public. Texting, looking at a smart phone, or even talking on the phone divides your attention and may prevent you from noticing important information. If your intuition tells you something is wrong, listen to it and take steps to get to a safe place (even if you can't articulate why you feel like something is wrong.)

Use strong, confident body language: If someone sets off your internal alarms or gives you a bad feeling, don't look away and don't be afraid to make eye contact. Often we have the instinct to avoid eye contact for fear of provoking someone. A person with no bad intentions will not harm you because you look at him. On the other hand, someone who is looking for a victim will read you body language and by facing that person you send the message that you will not be an easy target. 

Use your voice: Your voice is one of your strongest self defense weapons. Not only did the neighbors hear her and open a window, scaring the man off, but yelling is a good way to start harnessing your adrenaline by breakign the common "freeze response." If you don't know what to say, you can just yell "NO!" as loud as you can. 

Fight back: Every situation is different and you must use your best judgement about whether to fight back. But don't assume that you can't fight if you don't think of yourself as particularily strong. Adrenaline dramatically increases strength and speed. The element of surprise is also very important. Most assailants don't expect their victims to fight back. The moment you start fighting back, you force that person to reassess their plan, and if they were looking for an easy victim you have shown that that's not going to be you.