Ritual and protest during the 8M actions in London (2022) by the feminist Latinx community
It was London, but the streets felt like a demonstration in Latin America.
The 8M as the international and official date to celebrate women’s day drove me to pursue the ritual of taking the street to commemorate the women’s fight led by the Latin feminist community in London. I view ritual and protest as forces of social change (Rothenbuhler, 1998:50) which are an outcome of crisis contexts. Besides, these contexts become the proper locus to create ritualised acts. In the case of the study, I look at the repetition of ritualised actions performed in the public space, which re-enact practices from homelands in the new host land. Examples of these practices are singing feminist harangues in Spanish and Portuguese and performing ‘A rapist in you path’ during the demonstration.
Although the 8M is a western commemoration of the Women’s strike, it has become part of the Latin feminist movement -including trans-feminists and indigenous peoples, as they embraced the date to express an assortment of demands, such as the legalisation of abortion, violence against women, femicide, gender labour equality, and rejection of conservative regimes. In South America, even though each country is struggling with particular scenarios of political crisis, in the last eight years common achievements are shared among the feminist groups to recognise their fight. The following became part of contemporary Latin feminist history: the street performance ‘a rapist in your path’ (Chile, 2019), the legalisation of the abortion (Argentina, 2018) and the ‘ni una menos’ movement (Argentina, 2015). Besides, each one has provided symbols to the cause, such as the green scarves for legalisation of abortion.
Latin feminist theorist Veronica Gago defines the women’s strike as a ‘saga’ because ‘it is not an isolated event; it is structured as a process’ (Gago, 2021:21). The actions have a past and continuity, thus resulting from previous endeavours and go into the future. A relevant example of a saga in feminist latin protest is the case of street performances in Chile. In 1978, the Association of Families of the Detained-Disappeared (AFDD) created the ‘La cueca sola’, a revolutionary dance to condemn the massively disappeared bodies during the dictatorial government of Augusto Pinochet.Forty years later, the street performance ‘a rapist in your path’ by La Tesis became viral. The performance was not only repeated on the streets, it spread on social media channels such as Facebook and YouTube. In 2019, it became a transnational action beyond language and physical barriers as it was adopted by feminist collectives worldwide. The action appeals to audiences as a sharp denunciation of violence, demonstrating collectiveness within a visually impressive composition of bodies on the streets.
The Liminal space
‘Now it felt very Latin, very Latin American. Certainly, I haven’t been to other marches in other parts of Latin America, but it felt like Chile. If I go to a march, banners and shouts, noise and party, and carnival’ (Naia, 2022)
The multicultural city of London became a unique scenario for the 8M as the Latinx bloc challenged the status quo of the city through a vivid and peaceful invasion of voices and bodies. Firstly, the Latinx bloc embedded the streets with joy; even though the women claimed against the patriarchal system and femicide, their way of doing it was catchy, loud and playful. This kind of practice reveals ‘the power of performance and performative objects as an effective mechanism both for the transmission of the collectives that participate in the protests, and for their impact on the sectors they intend to attract the attention of’ (Domínguez, 2022:38). The music and dance became contagious, facilitating the presence of a collective body, as members or non-members of the Latinx bloc empathised to be part of the exact cause. In this experience, the live music performed by the Batucada percussion ensemble was essential to invite the bodies to dance, creating a climax during the protest. Secondly, the demonstration created an extraordinary time-body space, addressing a secular belief that the protest transforms the status quo. The ritual begins a suspension form of the established social order, which allows particular symbolic actions. In the case of the study, the use of mother languages enacted an inversion in the structure. Spanish and Portuguese became the ‘official languages’ as the Latin feminist community massively moved through the centre of London shouting and giving speeches. Furthermore, the Spanish was not only heard; but present visually on banners (cardboard or banderoles, usually made by hand) as a medium to deliver the messages.
In an immigrant’s everyday life, English is the official language, as it is mandatory to express in all levels of social life. However, on this day, voices rising in Spanish were strong. Walking through the London city’s centre streets, listening to Spanish out loud, and also Portuguese, was a unique experience. By closing the eyes and just listening to the soundscape, it feels like it was happening in South America, instead of in London. Moreover, this soundscape reminded us that emotions take us through our mother language, voices of liberation challenging a system, in which they are foreigners. The women took Orange street, haranguing in Spanish: ‘Aborto legal, en el hospital’ or ‘Se cuidan, se cuidan los machistas, América Latina será toda feminista’. The value of speaking in the mother language express that ‘there is only one way to convey an emotion. And this can only be done in one’s language’ (Naia, 2022).
By reaching the official point of encounter of the march on Leicester Square, two public speeches were given, first one in English and the second one by Brazilian feminists, who expressed their opposition to president Jair Bolsonaro. Again classic harangues became protagonists on the streets, voices singing out loud: ‘Fora Bolsonaro! Bolsonaro Fora!’ and singing a protest song in portuguese. Follow by spanish: ‘Ni una más, ni una más, ni una asesinada más’, ‘Ni una menos, vivas nos queremos’. This electrifying moment reached its maximum when the Batucada percussionist ensemble started playing, as in a carnival, women shout and dance collectively.
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