When I moved to Brooklyn last year I was determined to really get to know my new community, and contribute in a real way! Right away I was directed to Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC) — a membership-led, direct-action, community organizing body based in Central Brooklyn. [Check out one of the videos Veralyn Media created with BMC!] Central Brooklyn I quickly realized covers Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, and in both neighborhoods BMC tackles education, food justice, citizen journalism training, and most recently street harassment.
Besides being an issue that affects the community BMC servers, women being sexually harassed on the street also hits home within their doors, as 2/3rds of the organization is female. Anthonine Pierre (Community Organizer) and Marly Pierre-Louis (Communications Organizer) say they are constantly harassed on their way to and from work, and they decided they no longer wanted to remain silent about this topic.
Veralyn Media: What’s your definition of Street Harassment?
Marly Pierre-Louis: Street harassment is unsolicited comments, gestures, and actions from a male/male identified person towards a woman/woman-identified person.
Anthonine Pierre: I define street harassment as any unwanted attention a woman receives from a man because of her gender. This includes (but is not limited to) language, gestures, exposing himself, or physical intimidation, like following or touching. I think Marly and I are more or less on the same page here.
VM: How has street harassment affected your life?
Anthonine: How hasn’t it! The potential for being harassed plays a big role in how I navigate the city. When I’m getting dressed to leave my house, I consider who I’m going to be with, whether I’ll be in a car or walking/on public transportation most of the day and a whole host of things that affect how much attention I get and how I can deal with it. When I’m out and about, I stay on guard for groups of men, men that are walking too close to me, streets and corridors that are poorly lit, cars that drive really slowly — anything that signifies I could soon be in a dangerous situation.
Marly: Because I’m constantly and persistently being sexualized in the streets, because of the fact that men use street harassment as a form of *rape-testing, because I’ve been cursed out when I’ve said “no thank you” or “I’m not interested,” because I’ve been chased and followed countless times, because I don’t carry any weapons and could not fight off a man, street harassment has made me weary of all men. It makes me incredibly sad that I no longer know how to engage with men I don’t know in my community, because I cannot risk the loss of power and the feeling of dehumanization that these interactions so often lead to.
[*Read more about “rape-testing” in the 3rd paragraph here: Street Harassment of Women by Rachel B.]
VM: Sadly too many woman can relate to that feeling of dehumanization. How will BMC’s community organizing mission affect the way you guys tackle this issue?
Marly: As a membership driven organization, the participation of women in the community is critical to how our work is shaped. First and foremost we want to engage the women, here their stories, and support them in developing a vision for what a street harassment free community would look like and we can work together to achieve that vision. Secondly, we want to engage the men. We want to develop allies who can talk to other men about why street harassment hurts women and negatively impacts our community.
VM: Now BMC launched this Anti-Street Harassment Movement during International Anti-Street Harassment Week last month– tell us what the week stands for and how BMC commemorated it?
Anthonine: International Anti-Street Harassment Week is a week where women in cities around the world celebrate their resistance to street harassment! We had an intimate discussion with women about how we deal with harassment, which was a great starting point for women who want to do this work. We also had a Chalk Party in Fulton Park, where both men and women wrote messages against street harassment. Charla Harlow of the Harlow Project was also on hand to videotape women and male allies’ stories about harassment. You can view the pictures in our Facebook album.
Marly: The chalk party was a great success! We realized we have our work cut out for us in terms of engaging with men but we are excited and ready for it. We really want this to be transformative and not demonizing. We also learned that the youth may be great allies as well. Young boys got it way quicker than the grown men did.
VM: What are your goals for this campaign a year from now?
Anthonine: We’ve developed an online toolkit of resources for women and male allies. In a year, I would really love to have had some interactive and multimedia actions come out of our work this summer. I have really enjoyed dialoguing with men about this and really clarifying the problem for them. It’s not simple and it’s not black and white for a regular dude who wants to engage with a woman he sees.
VM: Now no one does community work to get rich (laughs), so tell us what motivates you both?
Marly: I do community work because I want to be a part of the change I want to see. (Holla at Gandhi!) Complaining is soo boring.
Anthonine: It’s important because people get so bogged down in this idea that the control government and politics have on our lives is static and power relationships are permanent, but they’re not. We have the power to change them, it just takes a lot of work and time to make change happen.
VM: What’s your favorite thing about Central Brooklyn?
Marly: My favorite thing about Central Brooklyn is the richness, complexities, and vibrancy of the Black culture.
Anthonine: Definitely the people. The sense of community. I love that so many people in the neighborhood know each other, are raising their kids together and are invested in it the space.
VM: Thank you ladies!
Want to get involved with the work Anthonine and Marly are doing, along with BMC’s Executive Director, Mark Winston Griffith? Well learn how you can “get down” here!