Meet The Women Organizing Toronto's IWD March

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Meet The Women Organizing Toronto’s IWD March

Women who have been organizing tomorrow's International Women's Day march since day one, others are brand new to activism.

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The organizing committee for the Toronto International Women’s Day march. March 11, rally begins at 11am.

The six women organizing tomorrow’s International Women’s Day in Toronto are looking forward to standing in solidarity with women marching around the world.  

This year’s theme is “Stop the Hate, Unite the Fight, Build the Resistance, Unity is Power.” 

The rally begins at 11 a.m. at the University of Toronto Medical Sciences Building Auditorium (1 King’s College Circle). The march starts at 1 p.m.

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Andrea Calver

Andrea’s been involved in International Women’s Day Committee for 10 years. Her expertise is working with speakers on their remarks, writing up press releases and handling the media on the big day.

Why do you march?

What drew me to the International Women’s Day rally and march was that it brought people together. It’s hard to make a difference just in your own group and you do need to join together with others to have a bigger voice. When you go to the march, it is literally everyone from a Rexdale youth group to a community health centre to a South Asian women’s group, to Amnesty International. That march pulls out this incredible diversity of issues. Every year, it makes me smile to watch this parade of people who are so passionate and willing to come out on a Saturday with signs and be a part of this event. 

What drives you to be involved?

This march feels special because it’s so community oriented. People make handmade signs with markers on Bristol board and bring them down and that is incredibly heartwarming because whatever people are passionate about, they put it on a sign and come down.

What’s a memorable experience in the past?

The International Women’s Day that means the most to me was 2006, the year that we had 1,000 hotel workers join the rally. It was a beautiful day, people were out in T-shirts. I remember it made all of those cooks and room attendants and hotel workers so powerful because they were part of such a large group. They felt a part of International Women’s Day, and IWD just benefited from having this huge group of people. I was part of bringing them all out. We’re talking about not just women, but men too, about why they need to come to IWD. They came because they could see that by linking together with other groups it made them stronger.

Why should people march?

I’m sure there are some people who say, “Well, if you don’t have one message, if you don’t have one soundbite, how can you have an effective message?” But I think it’s even better if you have a lot of people bringing their own issues and doing it all together.

What we have in common is we want respect for women, we want an end to poverty, and an end to oppression. That’s what we have in common. And the fact that people are choosing to deal with this in their community through a different way, well that’s a great thing. We need more people out there doing more things in their community that help real people solve real problems.

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Anna Liu

This is Anna’s first year involved in the committee. She’s also the international representative for the International Federation of Professional & Technological Engineers.

Why did you decide to become involved in the planning committee this year?

I was talking to a couple of women who are some of the organizers who have been involved in planning the annual rally and parade for years now, and the thought just came to my head to [volunteer]. It was in part curiosity but also because I’ve been attending the annual event for years now and I just thought well, it’s time for me to contribute, not just show up and march.

What’s your involvement in the planning process?

We meet once a week and we all assist in the planning of looking for speakers, making decisions on the march route, making decisions on audio visual equipment, and the discussion on what will the theme be this year, what are the issues that are most pertinent that most people are talking about. Really planning from beginning to the end.

We’re very lucky to have organizers who have been doing this for many years who have remained committed to making sure it happens every year and they bring a lot of experience and wisdom. It’s really incredible because I initially thought, who puts this event on every year? It’s this illustrious group of very capable women. 

What’s been the most memorable march for you?

Probably last year when I brought my daughter. She was six months old and I just felt that—and maybe that’s part of the motivation for why I decided to volunteer—it was just so special to have her march with me. Even though she probably had no idea what’s going on, I just felt like I’d like her to take part in this event every year so she understands that we don’t live in a world that has equality yet. We’re working towards [equality], we’re voicing our concerns, and we are agents for our own change. So if you want change you have to take part in it. I want to teach my daughter that.

Why should people march?

I think the women’s movement has always kept it’s eye on a long term strategy. IWD Toronto is no different. The annual rally and march taking place this weekend is our yearly reminder that the struggle continues and we all need to participate in the fight for women’s equality. We hope the march inspires people to keep on organizing at home, in their communities and at work.

The theme for this year’s march is actually “Stop the hate. Unite the fight. Build the resistance. Unity is power.” We wanted to find the words that encapsulates what’s going on in the world and what we need to do. I think this slogan definitely speaks to the hearts and minds of people who are looking for a better world where women of all backgrounds regardless of race, ability, economic status, and sexual orientation can live their lives free from oppression.

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Judy Vashti Persad

Judy has participated in the march planning committee since 1986. She’s been involved in community organizations that are anti-racist and pushes issues around race, immigrant women’s organizations, and LGBTQ issues.

How did you first get involved?

I was in grad school and I had moved to Toronto from Brampton. I was getting in contact with women’s organizations and activists because I’ve always wanted to work on women’s issues. Once I got into the city there was this excitement. My first connections were actually with a black women and women with colour press called Sister Vision and through there I got in touch with organizing IWD. 1986 was for me one of the most exciting years. I loved that year because it was my first time organizing the march in the city.

How have you seen it transform since then?

My goal became transforming the women’s movement so that every woman could feel that they are a part of it, and that it represents them. So that the march wasn’t representing just one group of women, or a certain sector, but really speaking to the experience of all women, no matter what part of the city they live in, no matter race, sexual orientation, or disabilities. It was integrating all these issues and that became my interest.

IWD transformed the politics in the women’s movement, but then the women’s movement transformed the politics in other movements. 

What have you found works to promote this inclusivity?

I think it takes work and time and going out and talking with people. Not just putting a flyer out or just sending an email invitation out. Actually taking the time to reach out. When you invite someone to be a part of something, they have to benefit from it and their issues have to be put forward as much as ours. It’s part of coalition building when you find that common ground, or you find that perspective that incorporates everyone’s views and you link the issues together so that people feel that they’re a part of what’s being put forward. I think that one of the amazing things that the women’s movement and IWD has done is found a way to link struggles and put that politic forward.

How do you think the Women’s March on Washington will affect this year’s march?

I think IWD has a vibe that continues every year, and it’s building. Last year or the year before we had about 5,000. Nothing compared to 60,000, but I think that was a moment in time, and with everything that’s going on south of the border, a historic moment. So I think that march showed that people are concerned, that there is people who don’t like the hate that is being put out there.

I think people want to fight back, and they’re saying this is not the kind of Canada we want, definitely not the kind of city we want, and we’re going to be out in the streets to fight against it.

It’s not just the women’s movement, it’s workers, it’s people who are part of the queer community, it’s First Nations women. We’re going to have Indigenous sisters speak out on the missing and murdered Indigenous women. It’s making sure the issues are connected and that resistance is on the street. So I’m hoping it’ll continue.

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Carolyn Egan

Carolyn was at the very first women’s march held in Toronto in 1978. She is the president of Steelworkers Toronto, Local 8300, and is involved in the reproductive justice movement.

Can you tell me about that first march?

It was interesting because all over the papers they were saying, “Is feminism gone? Is the women’s movement dead?” And we really felt there was a need to say that wasn’t the case, that there were a tremendous amount of struggles that we still have to deal with, and a lot of issues that still had to be fought for. So we got together, a coalition made up of women from a whole lot of different groups, and we booked Convocation Hall, which holds a couple thousand people. And we called it at 11 p.m. It was 11 o’clock and there was barely anyone in the hall at the point. We said, “Oh my goodness, what’s going to happen?” But then one of the marshals came running in and said, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” And it just filled to the rafters.

What were some of the issues then?

The key issues at the time were the deportation of Jamaican mothers, issues around the working women’s rights, a whole range of things. For us it was really highlighting the key issues that were facing ordinary women because we really believed in the idea that no one can be liberated unless all were liberated. That was the really the sense that we had then, and it kept going from year to year with different issues, but we always try to highlight ordinary women.

We didn’t put the political leaders up to talk. We didn’t put the well-known women up on the stage. We wanted ordinary women speaking to their own stories and their own issues, and I think that’s what always made it very powerful.

Why do you think marching is still so important?

I think if you look at the world around you can see that there is an awful lot of misdirected anger. Certain politicians are trying to focus on hate. They’re trying to divide us from one another. Whether it’s people fighting for better rental housing or people fighting to stop the privatization of our services; people fighting for a decent wage at a workplace, fighting against carding, or fighting against attacks to the Muslim community. We need to build solidarity.

What excites you the most about the march?

When you see young women joining our committee, and coming out to the march and to the rally. The fight for women’s liberation is far from dead. It’s very, very different than it was in the past, but it is very real still. 

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Thivviya Vairamuthu

This is Thivviya’s first year on the organizing committee. She’s a classical Indian dancer, and just finished her masters in anthropology.

What inspired you to be involved in this year’s march?

My roommate was involved in the organizing committee four years ago, and as a favour to her I performed at the event … But this year I wanted to come back and be part of the organizing committee, and I’m even performing again this time, too.

What’s it like performing at the march?

It’s very different from what I’m used to. Usually there’s an audience and I have a set repertoire. When I performed in 2013, I just remember flashes and banners in the audience. I guess the crowd is different. 

Tell me about your experience with the committee.

The group is a really amazing group. There are people like Carolyn and Judy that have been there forever and know so much. And then there’s younger people who are a part of so many different organizations. I’m not usually on top of whats going on in the world because it’s a little disheartening, so I try to avoid thinking about these things. Just coming out to the meetings, I’m just more aware of what’s happening all around us, and just how much people can do to help.

I’m usually very shy, so going to these meetings kind of helped me get over that a bit. You have to speak up to voice your opinion about the decisions being made, but it’s a great venue for that, especially for people that are not that politically active or that confident speaking. You can come and share your ideas and it’s always accepted and respected. Everybody has the chance to speak, whether you’ve been there for almost 40 years like Carolyn, or if this is your first year. I always felt like people took me seriously. And it’s nice to make a difference. 

For more information on tomorrow’s march visit http://iwdtoronto.ca/.

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