Lily spoke first, reading a statement students from her school had written. The rest of us had descended from the stage and joined the masses standing on the lawn. If it were summer we would have sat, but the grass was damp.
After the students' statement, Lily told about the citizens task force being organized to help catch the criminals and praised the groups that were doing something, including ourselves. As Lily invoked an atmosphere of outrage and revenge, we stood at attention, the mighty Willamette to our left and modest, Portland-style skyscrapers to our right.
"Why aren't you speaking?" Myrine asked Deborah.
"I didn't want to steal the show. I won't be speaking until the big publicity stunt on the weekend."
"And we will not rest until the murderers are captured!" Lily concluded melodramatically. At least she hadn't said anything about the book of life and closing chapters.
Dusk was coming on and the rain clouds were advancing by the time Lyssa began to speak. Waterfront Park was full to overflowing, an army of tens of thousands, ninety per cent of them women, when Lyssa declared war.
"Lily has given you the specific story," Lyssa intoned, "the story of an individual girl and a personal tragedy. But as we veterans of the sixties once learned, the personal is political. Rachel's story is not only about one young girl whose life was taken far too soon, it is about all of us, all of us who are afraid to go out at night, who are afraid to enter a parking garage alone, even afraid to accept a ride home.
"A story of rape is a story that affects all women, because it is a crime which is committed almost exclusively against women. It is a secret crime, a vastly underreported crime, a crime in which the victim more often knows her attacker than not. But in those cases, the public rarely believes the woman. Even today, despite all the progress we have made in legislation, most people, women as well as men, are still quick to blame the victim unless she has been beaten, or her attacker is obviously a monster. But most rapes are not committed by monsters. Most rapes are committed by fairly average men with a higher than average insensitivity and an inability to take no for an answer. Rachel Vincent's fate was a great tragedy, but littler tragedies are taking place every day, we can't even begin to imagine how often, and they are being ignored by society. Those victims get away with their lives, but only at the price of a loss of trust and an increase in fear. It is a collective female nightmare come true.
"To combat the fear and the nightmare, we have decided to show society how we feel, to demonstrate against sexual violence towards women. However strange it may seem, we are not without precedent. Women have taken to the streets before to protest male violence, to protest rape and murder just as we are. Women have taken to the streets--and men have called it an overreaction. Women have taken to the streets--and men have told them to calm down and behave with a little proper female decorum. But we are no longer decorous. We have decided to earn our reputation as shrews and witches. It's time we defended ourselves. We will take to the streets and we will fight back!"
A few lonely drops of rain fell on the crowd, making no distinction between those who were listening and those who weren't. Less endrenched souls here and there (probably not native Oregonians) began opening umbrellas, but the clouds failed to make good their threat just yet and the sprinkling soon stopped.
"So let us take to the streets and take Portlandia!" Lyssa cried and the crowd cheered, even those who hadn't been listening. The pep-talk finished, the women surged towards Front Avenue. And we marched.
As Lyssa descended from the stage, the crowds parted to let her lead the way. We took to the streets with an overwhelming feeling of solidarity, with signs protesting everything from brutal pornography to the bombing of abortion clinics and the symbolic significance of dish-washing. Many women had obviously taken the opportunity the demonstration offered to air grievances other than just the threat of male violence. In addition to the two most common slogans, there were signs sporting sayings like "No more token women--We want our fair share!"; "Equal wages for more work!"; "My body belongs to me!" and "If you won't take 'no' for an answer, you'll never get 'yes' again!" Images of Portlandia accompanied many of the written demands.
As we took to the streets, it was getting dark, a time of day when many women feared to go out. But the streets were full; we armed ourselves with the safety of numbers and took back the night, at least for once.