Sometimes Toronto still seems light-years ahead of other queer cities. People in other cities will look at you blankly if you toss off “IWD” as an acronym. International Women’s Day is a little like arts grants and free healthcare, it’s something Toronto people are a little smug about, acting like, “Doesn’t everybody have this?”
But sometimes, lately, it feels that old-school community-based fierceness is a little burnt out. It’s working a full-time social work job while it buys a housein the east end with its girlfriend and at night it just wants to watch some cable. It could use a makeover. It could use some MAC, some glitter, some sideburns and a new packer.
When I moved to Toronto from New York I’d never seen anything like IWD. On that Saturday in 1997, I tottered in my Kathleen Cleaver knee-high platform boots, tight vintage slip and perfect jeans through 55 blocks of marching. My feet were really sore, but I looked great. This was two years into the era of Premier Mike Harris, so people were marching against the closure of Women’s College Hospital. People were still angry at the cuts. People still talked about “the cuts” instead of growing up under them. IWD was all about the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and First Nations/world majority women’s organizing, and just looking around Convocation Hall at all the fierce ladies was thrilling.
I went for the next few years. Then, when my fibromyalgia was really bad for a couple of winters, I stopped going. Like lots of activist events, when you stop showing up it’s hard to reconnect. When was it again? Where?
I heard it secondhand when Wendy Maxwell, aka Queen Nzinga — beloved community member and activist — was arrested at the IWD fair last year and deported. If for no other reason, this year’s IWD march falling on the one-year anniversary of Queen Nzinga’s deportation shows us that, hell yeah, IWD is still relevant — the same way feminism is.
There’s so much lovely about old-school women’s community organizing — the lack of corporate sponsorship, the realness and the (at least theoretical) openness to anyone who shows up. Of course, I can barely remember the last big ole’ activist meeting I dragged my ass out to and there are reasons for that. Consensus gives me hives.
But maybe that’s not my bad. Maybe just as times change, so can our ways of organizing. Like, let’s not even think of getting Rogers to underwrite anything, but maybe next year some folks with a lot of energy could organize a week of fierce, new school actions and parties all over the city. Poetry slams, hip-hop nights, orgies, graffiti runs, skill-shares and a big old unpermitted march. Maybe we could shut down the Celebrity Inn, blockade Jenny Craig, storm that antichoice clinic that’s down the hall from Cabbage-town Women’s Health and sit in at the Ministry Of Health until they agree to pay for sexual reassignment surgery. You know, something fun.
I’d like to see IWD officially transform from a capital “W” women’s event to one with a clear agenda about fighting for gender freedom for anybody who has been, is, or will be a girl. Trans people have been present at IWD since it started. It’s time to alter our community institution so that it reflects that presence and understanding.
Toronto’s feminism is all around us. It’s all the reasons I’m proud to rep TO whenever I go back to the States, all the reasons my friends down there get jealous. But it won’t stay fierce unless we keep making it so. History needs to keep being made. Let’s go for it when we take the streets next week. Rock the revolution you still need to have.