Shrinking board membership on the Vancouver Dyke March and Festival Society (VDM) has raised concerns that the annual march may be in trouble, but at least two of the current directors say the event is alive and well.
In 2005, the Society boasted eight board members, up from five in 2004, the organization’s inaugural year. Since then, board numbers have declined, leaving a core group of the same four directors to spearhead the march and festival for the last two years.
“The people that are involved this year are the same ones who put it on last year,” confirms co-founder Michelle Walker.
“I think it’s only natural that people would want to move on after five years, so I mean, we’re always looking for new people, but there’s absolutely no chance that [the event] wouldn’t happen this year,” she says.
As of Feb 27, the BC registry of societies has six directors on file for the VDM, but Walker and fellow director Sam Levy both confirm that only four directors have been running the Society.
Asked about the reasons former directors gave for leaving the VDM, Walker says many were only interested in a short-term commitment.
“There’s no scandalous reason why they [left], some for personal reasons, some for work reasons. It requires a lot of commitment and they were only able to give what they were able to give,” Walker explains. “A lot of them were volunteers for years before that. If it’s they’re no longer interested, it’s they’re no longer interested.”
Asked if the Society was having difficulty attracting new board members, Levy says “to a degree” but points out that the challenge of recruiting new blood is not unique to the VDM.
“I don’t believe we have any challenges specifically because we are the organization that we are, being a dyke march. I think the challenges are just inherent in getting people involved and getting people who want to commit their time and energy,” says Levy who has been with the Society for almost three years. “It’s undeniable there’s a sense of apathy with folks within many communities — not unique to our own — about running these kinds of things.”
Levy says she’s unable to put her finger on what the crux of the problem is.
“I don’t know if it’s indicative of our times or our generation, the environment, the economy. We often hear from people that they enjoy the event, they value the event, they like the fact that it’s around,” she says but notes there doesn’t seem to be an interest in converting enthusiasm for the event into practical assistance in putting it on.
“People — and this is a very general statement — people are very easy to complain that there’s not enough going on in their community, or they miss events that used to happen 10 years ago, but nobody seems to want to pick it up and create an event.”
“Who knows why it is,” says Walker, when asked why people aren’t stepping up to join the board. The Vancouver Pride Society is also “always hurting” for volunteers, she notes.
“If you look at the community, who’s doing it? It’s the same dozen or so people that are doing it,” Walker says. “So is there apathy related to the dyke march? I think it’s apathy related to the lack of involvement in general in the community. If things don’t happen, then people need to step up.”
Former Pride director Aviva Lazar, who was involved in organizing dyke marches in the 1990s, says she’s only too aware of the difficulties in getting people to participate more in the work as opposed to the fun aspects of community events.
“There was usually less than seven of us doing it all because I think a lot of women are apathetic. They want to go to these things but they don’t want to organize. That’s obviously generalizing but that was a lot of [the problem].”
But Lazar also remembers the 1990s marches being more about visibility and “making a statement.” And while she still sees the march’s current incarnation as empowering for dykes, specifically the younger ones, she questions its necessity.
“The march itself is a little lacklustre. I’m not sure why. It’s just a march. People don’t really want to come and watch people walking down the street,” says Lazar.
“Nowadays, queers around here, we’ve got all our rights. It’s not such a statement anymore, and it’s not a parade so it’s not that much fun to watch,” she notes.
Levy says she hasn’t heard or felt that the march is dwindling or becoming lacklustre.
“Being in the park when all the people come in from the march, the energy in Grandview changes dramatically from when those people walk in, because walking down the street and being six, eight, 10 people abreast surrounded by people who are like you, who celebrate you, who support you, that dynamic is overpowering to some degree. I find it interesting that some people might feel it’s lacklustre or dwindling. I think it adds something to the entire experience,” Levy contends.
For some queer women of colour, however, the march is an “okay event” to attend but not something in which they feel they have an investment.
“It’s not something that feels like it’s my community and therefore I wouldn’t think of missing it. It’s, ‘Well, it’s this weekend, and I don’t really have anything planned, so sure, I’ll go and have an okay time,'” says community activist Nat Jategaonkar. “But it’s not something that I really look forward to, or consider in any kind of long-term planning because I don’t have that sense of ownership or engagement with that process or that event.”
One way to build that sense of ownership could be to have board positions that represent different sectors, Jategaonkar suggests.
“I wonder if there has been any effort to say at least one board position for the dyke march will be from this group or will represent this. It’s a very concrete way and it’s a very strategic way to make sure that different players in the community are engaged in the process.”
Levy says it’s something that the board has discussed, in addition to seeking board members on superdyke.com, the dyke march website and in Xtra West, but notes that the call-out was unsuccessful.
Fatima Jaffer says it’s “very, very easy” for the VDM to contact specific, known groups like Monsoon, a network of Asian lesbian and bisexual women, but says as far she knows no approach has ever been made.
“I think we should be working together across different segments of the dyke community to build a really powerful dyke march that’s a great experience for everyone,” Jaffer emphasizes. “I think it’s such wasted opportunity not to be doing that, to talk to different groups of women.”
Levy admits that the Society has not made approaches to individual groups in the past but says a targeted outreach may be the way to go.
“We did put out word last year by various methods, trying to find new board members, [but] we’re still at the same core number we were last year. One of the things we’ll be talking and thinking about as a collective group is how can we become more visible in our quest for more board members, to find those people who are willing and interested.”