Written by: Emma Thomas & Claire Loneraghan
Standing for Women’s ‘Speaker’s Corner’ event was in Brighton yesterday – and what an amazing event it was. Women from Brighton and the surrounding area were joined by others from across the UK, as well as the US and Ireland. Noticeable from previous events was an increase in younger women attending as well as a substantial increase in male attendees.
The venue was Victoria Gardens, just off The Lanes and not far from Brighton Station. As we arrived, we noticed straight away the group of anti-feminist protesters. The policing was much better than at the Bristol event, but still this group was too close and there should have been a wider gap between the two groups.
Approaching the crowd
Kellie-Jay, the calm centre of the storm!
Past the protesters, women formed a big circle, with a mic in the centre. As always, women were invited to speak by Kellie-Jay Keen. It was difficult to hear what was being said from the edges of the circle because of the noise from the TAs; while Newport activist Jennifer Swayne was talking about bereavement and resistance, the crowd were shouting “F*ck you!” So much for #BeKind.
You can listen to the recordings here
So many inspirational women, speaking openly and passionately about issues affecting women today.
It was notably an event of contrasts. Women came to represent ourselves and speak about our experiences, of triumph and adversity, incarceration, illness and grief. On the other hand, many of the protesters seemed to be speaking “for” others. Were they gay or lesbian themselves, when they chanted “LGB with the T!” at lesbians and gay men attending the SFW event? How did they intend to glue these two groups together? It was impossible to discuss these issues with them – they had come to make noise and try to drown us out.
Who needs a nuanced conversation when you can bang a cake tin with a spoon for hours?
While women were discussing the big issues and making personal connections, the other side was an angry mob who chanted ‘Read a book!’ to academics and published authors including Heather Brunskell-Evans, Rachel Rooney, Sheila Jeffreys and Helen Joyce. They had no interest in the accumulated knowledge and experience that led us to this event.
Helen Joyce and Maya Forstater
We met up with lots of women from WRN, including women from our newly formed Northampton group.
And while women listened to each other and forged relationships, the activists chanted their mantras – “Trans men, amen” – and threw smoke bombs. But simple honesty and good humour are an excellent antidote for snake oil.
Kellie-Jay Keen took a lot of personal abuse from anti-women protesters, but the crowd drowned them out chanting that she was a ‘legend’ in response. Sadly, she felt she could not join us all for a drink afterwards as she did not want her presence to attract violent protesters.
The attendance of anarchist ‘antifa’ groups is always concerning, and the violence in Brighton involved three smoke bombs hurled at our group, as well as tomatoes. There were three arrests, though, and it was good to see the police taking a firm stand. The irony of these aggressive, intolerant, misogynistic and homophobic people menacing us while claiming to occupy the moral high ground is amazing.
If you want a peaceful existence, perhaps throwing smoke bombs and abuse at women isn’t the way to do it
The ‘antifa’ flag in evidence on the megaphone.
Although a bigger gap between the groups would have helped, the police mostly kept the antifa protesters back, and we were able to hold our event if not in peace, then at least in joy and sisterhood.
Clearly taking a lesson from Bristol, the police stopped the antifa-types from following us to the pub after the event, and we had what can only be described as a street party. Finally clear of the would-be-disruptors’ noise, we continued to talk, laugh, and enjoy some of the finest company to be found anywhere. The pub was tiny, so it was fortunate that the weather was perfect for making new friends, sharing drinks and enjoying the occasion.
More women are attending each meeting, and they are so rewarding. If you decide to come, let other women in the WRN know and we will be there to welcome you!