With the women’s march coming up this weekend in Calgary, I thought it worth taking a minute to share about another type of march I recently learned about.
On a recent visit to Buenos Aires, I became fascinated by the story of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. In the late 1970s and early 80s, Argentina was governed by a military dictatorship, which had a habit of arresting, torturing, and killing people who disagreed with the dictatorship. (Reminding me, as I said in a blog post after Christmas, that some people face much higher risks in disagreement than I have ever had to deal with.)
Sometimes, the government found it easiest to drop people out of planes into the river – a less messy way of doing murder, I guess. More than 30,000 people were “disappeared”; victims were often in their late teens or 20s. As a way of protesting – and begging for their children to be returned – mothers of some of these people began walking the plaza in front of the president’s building, holding photos of missing sons and daughters. Protests and gatherings of more than two people were illegal at the time, so the women walked in circles around the plaza and did not speak much to each other (i.e., not quite gathering or staging a protest). Partly as a result of their actions, international attention began to be directed more closely toward Argentina and its government.
Even after the military government fell and democratic elections resumed, the mothers never stopped. They continue to walk the plaza each week, wearing the white scarves that have become a standard way of identifying them. They’re still showing up to the plaza partly because they continue to search for their grandchildren (some of the detainees were pregnant or had small children at the time of arrest; these kids were often given to families of the dictatorship). In addition to wanting reunification with their grandchildren, some of the mothers have also become go-to sources for comment on current events and politics. The day I saw the women, there was an older lady with a lot to say: reporters, visitors, and members of the public crowded around her to listen and ask questions. Other madres stood respectfully beside her.
All of this seems fairly remarkable to me, but there’s one more thing that stands out: none of the women had been politically-involved before their children went missing. But when they came together and became active, they had an effect. I can’t help but wonder what might have been different if they or others had come together before people started falling out of planes into a river. Perhaps not coincidentally, I was told Argentinians these days are fairly quick to speak up when they feel the government is behaving inappropriately or unjustly.
A week after visiting Buenos Aires, I was in another part of Argentina and ended up having dinner with a guy from France. Partly because of what we’d seen in Argentina, and partly because of the current situation in France, we spoke at length about the willingness (or lack thereof) that exists in various countries when it comes to speaking out. We eventually agreed that perhaps the French are too quick to protest, and perhaps Canadians are too slow.
There are lots of reasons to participate in a women’s march – including, of course, for this year’s theme of ending violence against women. And it doesn’t have to be an act of protest, if that’s not your thing. Much like the madres in Buenos Aires today, it could be for reasons of solidarity or remembrance. So, while some people will equate the upcoming march to an event that began after the inauguration of a lying, ill-considered narcissist in the U.S., there are many other reasons to be involved – or at least supportive – of a gathering closer to home.
Maybe we don’t need to wait for the worst before exercising our voices about issues we care about, or exercising our ears in listening to one another.