Baltimore protests sexism

BALTIMORE--On a gloomy and drizzly Saturday afternoon, 250 people gathered in the Inner Harbor neighborhood September 24 to demand respect for all women regardless of their job or attire.

The diverse crowd carried placards demanding an end to rape and sexual assault, with many dressed scantily to reinforce the point that short skirts and exposed flesh do not mean consent. Other placards demanded an end to street harassment and brought up links with local labor issues and women's right to abortion.

The rally and march were inspired by the SlutWalk movement, which began in Toronto in response to an officer's remarks that women could prevent rape by not dressing as "sluts." In Baltimore, the protest was organized by the anti-harassment group Hollaback Baltimore, the International Socialist Organization and United Workers.

Marchers wove their way through downtown and then passed by "the Block"--a collection of topless bars and cabarets within spitting distance of City Hall. The march brought a splash of dazzling colors and assertiveness to a block that, regardless of the weather or time of day, always has a deep vibe of alienation and creepiness.

By and large, tourists along the route were supportive, and some of the dancers and entertainers on the block shouted they would join protesters in future marches--a brief lightning flash of defiance.

The march ended with a rally in front of City Hall. Several speakers were from the United Workers, an organization through which low-wage service sector workers--many of them immigrant women of color--are organizing for better conditions and higher wages.

One of the worst conditions women face is sexual harassment and sexual assault on the job, frequently from managers and patrons. One woman spoke about a manager that asked employees for sex, and when he was refused, would cut the employees' hours.

Such links point to the future for the SlutWalk movement--working with labor and anti-racist organizations in the ongoing struggle against sexism and sexual assault.