Activists young and old come together at CodePink’s International Women’s Day event
NORTHAMPTON — The titanic, centuries-old pipe organ at First Church’s sanctuary appeared to have a pulse on Wednesday night, as if trying to be drawn into the throbbing rhythms of the offbeat womyn drummers below.
Women danced in the aisles, some in their 70s, others in their teens, all there to celebrate International Women’s Day, presented by the Western Mass CodePink Women for Peace, with its theme: “Women’s voices in struggle, for our bodies , our life.”
“It’s the 18th annual gathering of the CodePink clan,” said emcee Paki Wieland, who denounced the genocidal treatment of local Native American tribes by colonists, saying, “To all indigenous peoples: we know you, we see you and we know you I.” been here the whole time.”
Speaking of the church itself and its meeting house legend, past and present, Pastor Sarah Buteux said, “We’ve been here since 1654 and I’m the first woman pastor here.” some of the best people reminding us to show up, be present and lead the fight.”
The struggle of immediate concern is the struggle for reproductive freedom, reflected in the many banners hung on the walls, including WOMEN WILL NOT GO BACK and ABORT THE COURT.
“Abortion must be free!” sang the crazy Raging Grannies, followed by “Move on over or we’ll move you. The time of women has come!”
And talk about fight. “We create this society; it comes from us,” said Hakimeh Zadeh of Northampton, who spoke softly of fleeing Iran 40 years ago while organizing remotely against the Shah’s oppressive regime, always running, always arrested.
“2023 should be supported and strengthened,” Zadeh said, contrasting the present with conditions in 1909, the year of the first Women’s Day march, “A dog and a woman have equal status.”
“Every five minutes, 22 women are raped and killed,” she said. “We don’t have to go to Iran – it’s here. There is a long line of women who are tortured and they die.”
“Every day should be our day,” she said. “People suffer from not having community.”
The concept of community takes some getting used to, said Zadeh. When she demanded justice from the Shah of Iran, she felt alone and said: “It was only me living my life. Getting through all the chapters is not easy – defying the Shah, getting arrested, leaving the country, living in the mountains – I still carry that.”
Although she believes in “People Without Borders, that we are citizens of the universe, that their problems are my problems, I’m not used to that community aspect”.
“We’re a community,” Weiland interjected. “Look around – you are us!”
“Art is medicine, and that’s what I practice,” said Athol artist Nayanna LaFond, whose striking paintings of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (currently on display at UMass’s Augusta Savage Gallery) have played a significant role in the Seeking a movement have played justice for the unjust.
It all started by coincidence, she said, in the midst of the pandemic, three years ago in May this year when she saw a selfie of a Saskatchewan woman named Lauraina Bear on the Social Distance Powwow website. Bear wore red makeup, she explained, to honor other Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing.
But Lauraina Bear’s selfie got LaFond involved. She asked Bear’s permission to paint her portrait, and a phenomenon was in sight. In moving black and white tones, Bear appears with a red hand over his mouth and cheeks. After LaFond posted a picture of the portrait to the Social Distance Powwow, she was inundated with additional requests, so she wrote on the website, “I will paint you or your loved one in honor of this movement if you send me photos.”
She got 25 straight away, all with tales of fear and heartbreak and no hint of closure — “This is my cousin, this is my mother, this is my sister, this happened, we’re mourning.”
“It was overwhelming,” LaFond said. “Another painting, same reaction. Millions responded.”
Although many of the artist’s subjects are murdered or missing, there are also portraits of domestic violence survivors and activists trying to stop the abuses.
LaFond uses an almost impatient, direct delivery that reflects the frustration of dealing with hundreds of unsolved crimes and light sentences. The painting she brought with her, the 290th portrait in the series, shows Corinne: “Thirty years old when she disappeared. There are 5,700 missing women reports.”
LaFond herself is a leukemia survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient.
“For me, doing it every time is healing because I can bring a little bit of the pain that’s inside me into the picture,” LaFond said. “And I want to make sure my indigenous community knows I’m doing this for the right reasons.”
LaFond mostly painted her MMIW – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women – portraits for free because she didn’t want to profit from the loss of others, she says.
“The Creator puts you on the path you should be on,” she said. “Three out of four Native Americans suffer from violence,” she continued, speaking of one: “She was 22. Three young children. Her remains have been found. Burned, mutilated. He was charged with manslaughter. Homicide! These stories are intertwined.”
LaFond, who is of Native American heritage, was familiar with MMIW and its goal of raising awareness of violence against Native women and girls. According to the MMIW movement, indigenous women in Canada and the US experience higher rates of domestic violence, including sexual assault, than any other demographic, with two-thirds of those assaults being committed by non-natives.
A look-aside attitude on the part of law enforcement agencies contributes to this.
“It’s judicial,” LaFond said. “The federal government will not be complicit in crimes on reservations. You can’t even bring up the subject.”
She spoke of the existence of hidden pipelines on and near reservations, from which soulless drifters emerge and from which young women disappear. “I know a woman who’s afraid to walk to the end of her driveway because someone has disappeared there,” LaFond said.
“Maybe we can start to address these issues,” she said.
Responding to audience questions on the part that deals with protest, Zadeh said: “In my experience, you get identified, profiled, you have nightmares and you are afraid that you will silence everyone.”
“But you have to back off,” LaFond said. “Go on, cheer up, stand firm, try to be brave. I find it can be therapeutic.”
“If you have unity with someone, you can melt the stone,” said Zadeh.
Then came the fierce guitar playing and defiant vocals of Easthampton’s singer/songwriter Pamela Means to melt it even more.
“Time to tear it all down and build something new,” she sang. “Reconciliation and reparation are due.”
“As a woman, I’ve been asked to apologize, but I refuse,” she said to great applause.
Means then began a song, a whispered song, but it got too emotional to continue. She dried tears and waved, “As long as I’ve got breath in my lungs, I’ll fight for justice and sing for love!” — a song dedicated to stopping fascism, “Cause fascism will stop us all.”
Easthampton spectator Mary McCarthy, of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, said the event was liberating and marked her first evening with large groups of people since COVID.
“I’ve been to a lot of rallies,” she said. “I recognize a lot of older faces, but it’s so inspiring to see all the young people here.”
Two of those young people have been given the spotlight by organizers, Alice Jenkins, 17, from Westhampton, who organized the Women’s Wave and Bigger Than Roe rallies and received the Defending Democracy Award from the League of Women Voters last year, and Inanna Balkin, 13 , from Amherst , who emerged from Zoom’s encased COVID cave to become a force in her city’s Generation Ratify (in relation to the Equality Change), with many of its members occupying tables in front of the pews.
“It’s really important to have a voice,” said Balkin, a dynamic speaker. The crowd beamed in approval, no doubt secretly hoping that that enthusiasm would carry through the victories and defeats to come. But Balkin is one of those people who hasn’t seen anything, who is already planning, she said, to be elected President of the United States. “You must be 35,” she said. “I have a lot of time.”
“I wouldn’t bet against her,” said Alice Jenkins, who said she was inspired at a young age by the actions of her grandparents, Pat and Bob Miller, who “spent their lives fighting for all issues of social justice . My grandparents were great and always cheered me on. When I organized my own rallies there was no one telling me not to do it.”
Things got murky towards the end when CodePink’s Susan Triolo described the ongoing battle with the Supreme Court as “so horrific, so regressive for reproductive rights” and looked back to the movement’s earliest days. “To be in control of our lives, we had to be in control of our medical procedures,” she said, mentioning the Jane Collective, where women learned to perform safe abortions themselves in a time when abortion was almost universally illegal.
Means closed with Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ bout a Revolution” and even threw in a little Satchmo growl at the end of “What a Wonderful World.”
“Being myself makes me feel bigger tonight,” Zadeh said. “It’s overwhelming to know that there is hope.”