I’ve suddenly been thrust into the media limelight for having organised the Peace March attended by 30,000 people for Jill Meagher, the Irish emigrant who was raped and murdered on her way home after an evening out in Melbourne.
The response was beyond all expectations and I have since been receiving supportive and kind words from many friends and random strangers, people who all believe in the message of peace, hope and non-violence.
I figure I might as well use this space to tell my story, perhaps it's all related.
To be perfectly honest, when the images first started going round on Facebook about Jill Meagher’s disappearance, I took little notice. I guess it was care fatigue mixed with a question of why random strangers suddenly care about her disappearance rather than the many other victims of crime.
However, early on Friday morning when I saw the news that her body had been found, the physical violence of what was done to her really struck me and I felt deeply, deeply sad.
But first some background:
Violence against women is an issue that affected me for a long time. I built the website for Sisters For Sisters as a donation to this loose collective who organise events to raise money for women's charities. A close friend runs The Art 2 Healing Project, a charity that works to heal the wounds of sex trafficking, and helped organise her fundraiser Celebrating Woman. I have signed up to White Ribbon and One Billion Rising, two campaigns specifically to end violence against women and girls and I am hoping to run a V-day event in February.
I guess all that background contributed to my decision to take action.
I decided that a peace march was in order in to show a quiet, peaceful defiance against fear, hate, and violence etc. To show that, as a society, we believe more in peace, love, forgiveness, hope and solidarity than their opposites. So, I made this poster straight away and sent it around to a few news organisations. I chose to call it a "peace march" very consciously.
I figured something would need to be done quickly to catch the spirit of the day and make a strong case for peace and love to counter any messages of hate. That evening (Friday) I also went to the candlelight vigil and handed the flier to a few news crews and stuck the poster up on a few power poles.
I was nervous about whether I was doing the right thing though, because I had gone to the police earlier and of course they spoke of all the (valid) concerns they had, including consulting with the family (which I hadn't done) and whether it was appropriate for another poster with her photo to go up in the neighborhood. Was I doing the right thing? I was suddenly not so sure. But I had already sent it out and the media knew about it as did some Facebook friends, so I had no real choice but to ride it out and see what happens.
The next day (Saturday) it seemed the mass media had run with the story of the march. It was on. I don't have a TV, believing that it rots your brain, especially commercial TV, so I had no clear indication of what kind of coverage the march had received and the Facebook page only had 200 likes. But someone I met at a wedding that evening said her sister was going. So I had some idea that the word was getting out, but still I thought it might just be a hundred people or so at best.
Sunday morning it was apparently on various news reports.
So, my housemate Ben and I made a couple of signs, printed out 10 spares in case people liked them and headed off. On the way, we saw people heading the same way we were and I had a sense that they were not the usual Sunday morning Brunswick crowd. My sign read, "Choosing peace, hope, nonviolence and solidarity with all women", his read, "I won't close with fear. I'll open up with love." Ben being Ben, he selflessly gave all his signs away to people in the crowd and didn't even keep one for himself. (His beautiful message ended up being carried by a woman at the front of the march all the way along. She had her own story of violence in Tunisia, violence is obviously an international issue.)
We arrived and I met the police to check in with them at around 11:45am, already 2-300 people were there. They had closed off one lane of Moreland road for people to gather in preparation for the march. The officer in charge said it would be great if we could march down the sidewalk to minimise traffic and tram disruption and the danger of people being struck by cars. I said I thought it would be great if we could walk on the road. I love the way that marches and festivals can close down, or rather open up, a public road, giving it back to people on foot.
A few hundred people waiting for the peace march to begin. About quarter to 12.
Within minutes it was clear the footpath idea was quaint. People kept streaming in, waves of people arriving with the rhythm of the trains from the nearby station and trams that were still running. The police, as overwhelmed as everyone else by the response, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone safe, marshaling the traffic etc etc. Very supportive bunch of men and women. (The officer at the front of the march got a huge round of applause as we reached the end, everybody showing their appreciation of a job well done under overwhelming circumstances.)
They asked me to address the crowd before we marched off so I spoke of my belief in peace, love, hope, and nonviolence, and off we went.
The rest is history.
In hindsight, the whole experience feels very ephemeral and yet powerful at the same time. All these souls, beings of light, came together, marched in a silent, peaceful show of the strength of hope, nonviolence and love, and then vanished again, taking with them a brighter flame than with which they came. Like a wide, wide river that chose for a moment to channel itself through a ravine, running slow and very, very deep, before spreading out again over the land, refreshed and charged.
30,000 angels descended on Brunswick to show us all that love overcomes hate, that hope overcomes fear, that violence will not and cannot resolve the issues resulting from violence.