First Mourn Then Organize: 21 years since the Montreal Massacre

From Transforming Power:

Submitted by Judy Rebick on Mon, 12/06/2010 – 9:45am

Last year I spent December 6 in Montreal to attend a conference on the 20th Anniversary of what in Quebec they call Polytechique.  Below are my reflections following the conference and picking up on some of the extraordinary discussion that took place there.  We fought hard for December 6 to be marked every year as a day of action against violence against women and it continues to be even by women and men who were not yet born on that terrible day.   This year, like every year for the last 21st I will be at a vigil. Today in Toronto at 6 pm at Philosopher’s Walk, to remember the young women massacred  that day and the hundreds of women slaughtered since then.  There are vigils in every city in Canada and on most campuses. Please join us.

Like almost every woman and many men I know,  December 6 1989 was a day I will never forget. I heard it on the radio in my car.   I guess I was driving home from work. It was that time of day. At first the news was confusing, a gunman shooting at University of Montreal. In Canada? Couldn’t be. But very soon it became clear that it was women he was shooting, women at an Engineering School. I could hardly breathe with the instant knowledge that a man was targeting women in a school where the vast majority were male. Shock first, then grief and then a chilling recognition.

It was one of those profound public moments that impact each and every one of us in our very souls.   Stevie Cameron expressed it best for me in the Globe and Mail the next day.

“Now our daughters have been shocked to the core, as we all have, by the violence in Montréal. They hear the women were separated from the men and meticulously slaughtered by a man who blamed feminists for his troubles. . . . Fourteen of our bright and shining daughters won places in engineering schools, doing things we,their mothers, only dreamed of. That we lost them has broken our hearts; what is worse is that we are not surprised”

We were not surprised. Each of us recognized that rage. Feminists had been talking about it for decades. Violence against women was epidemic but it wasn’t until December 6, 1989 that the veil covering misogyny was lifted through an act of such fury and hatred it could not be explained any other way. That terrible act of violence allowed many of us to remember or to admit to ourselves or speak to others about the violence we had suffered at the hands of men.

We argued at the time that it is was not the act of a madman but an extreme form of the violence women face every day at the hands of men. But it was more than an extreme act of violence against women. “You are feminists,” he said before he commenced the slaughter, “I hate feminists.” Natalie Provost trying to save the lives of her classmates answered “We are not feminists.”

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