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2nd December 2023

Reclaim the Night: New route, same old problems

The yearly Reclaim the Night march was empowering, but one speech in particular fell flat, and left me feeling disillusioned about Reclaim’s productivity
Reclaim the Night: New route, same old problems
Photo: Shikhar Talwar @ Mancunion

The yearly Reclaim the Night march took place on November 29, with a new and improved route which, for the first time, weaved right through Manchester city centre. Having gone to the 2022 march and left feeling slightly pessimistic by the whole event, I had hoped that this year’s improvements might reignite my optimism.

Yet, it turned out that I felt a similar fleeting sense of community, followed by resentment at the lack of longevity in Reclaim’s message. 

This year’s speeches were held in the Great Northern Amphitheatre, a welcome change from last year where the contested Qatar World Cup could be heard in the background coming from the SU bar. Reclaim’s 2022 heartfelt speeches on women’s protests in Iran were interrupted by loud cheers as the football played on, leaving me and my friends rather disgruntled by the whole experience. It had been a cruel irony that young women and marginalised genders couldn’t be heard over the sound of drunken football hollers.

Having a wide, circular amphitheatre (with seating!) was a much better fit, even if it was -1 degrees. Previous years have ended at the SU building, meaning participants have had to stand to listen to speeches after an hour or so of walking. I welcome this change as the amphitheatre is a much more accessible option for people like me who suffer from disabilities or long-term illnesses, and might need to sit and rest after all the marching. Seating options should definitely continue in the forthcoming years. In fact, to fulfil the event’s aims of being inclusive, they should become a priority. 

Whilst I admit I am often pessimistic about the productivity of marches – which is not to be confused with my support of protests pushing a clear demand – the sense of community which marches exhibit is unmatched. Being surrounded by individuals who were willing to spend their evenings protesting in the freezing cold was empowering. This was especially the case when passers-by cheered us on as we made our way up Oxford Road, or when shop workers came out to show support. 

Now it wouldn’t be like me not to complain about something, and the speeches give me ample ammunition to do so. I commend anyone brave enough to stand in front of that many people and speak about a difficult topic; something which I would definitely not be courageous enough to do. But, the lack of true depth in the subject and frankly out-of-place Greater Manchester Deputy Mayor’s speech was hard to stomach. 

The speeches given by society leaders and the Students’ Union Wellbeing and Liberation officer were primarily focused on making a more inclusive space by creating spaces for women and marginalised genders at ‘feminist’ marches – with Reclaim having been often defined as an exclusively ‘feminist’ space – and the need for diverse voices. The crowd and I were in firm agreement with these principles, with loud cheering of “fuck the patriarchy” interspersing the speeches at certain points.

But, whilst the sentiment was there, nothing said was particularly original or new. To me, it felt lacklustre and like they were playing it safe. Whilst the sentiments expressed don’t have to be controversial, they should be using their time on stage to make an impact with the crowd. This year’s speeches didn’t invigorate people nor particularly encourage any further action after the evening was over. 

Whilst I felt slightly let down by the students’ words, the speech given by Kate Green (Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester) left me genuinely disillusioned. Directly after two speakers addressed the narrow definition of ‘women’ in modern feminist spaces, Deputy Mayor Green came on stage and gave a PR-heavy speech which seemed to hark back to a second-wave feminist approach of the need for safety for ‘biological women,’ and ignorance of general fem-identifying people. Emphasising the word ‘women’ throughout was received with awkward glances between audience members and a distinctive lack of supportive cheering. The tonal dissonance was resounding, and frankly made Green’s words stand out like a sore thumb.

I understand that she can’t be quite as outspoken or contentious as a student, who has no political office to represent, but her words seemed heavily scripted and very much like someone from her team had rewritten it a multitude of times. Her monologue quickly diverted to the mayoral office’s political ambitions and half-hearted transport safety incentives. Whilst she didn’t start off overwhelmingly strong, by the end her speech sounded more like she was addressing a room of MPs with a policy brief. I wasn’t expecting anything particularly impressive – of course a politician will use any platform for political gain – but it felt overly disingenuous to use her time on stage as a time to emphasise her own achievements, instead of a time to express support for diverse voices. 

I think that the ongoing issue with Reclaim the Night is the lack of longevity in the initiative. A friend of mine (Aisha, a 2nd year English student) told me how much more productive it could be if it “became a society or a collective or some kind of organisation outside of [a] week of events” which I couldn’t agree with more. Whilst it is always productive to come together in solidarity and important to raise awareness about important issues in the streets, you go home feeling like you haven’t achieved anything in the long term. 

I don’t take issue with ‘raising awareness’ but I do think that residents of Manchester are cognizant of the issues facing women today. Members of the public who ‘know’ already know, and those who don’t can’t learn much from a bunch of university students shouting on a random Wednesday evening. If raising awareness over a long-term period is the main aim of Reclaim, then a push towards Greater Manchester community or on-campus campaigns to educate individuals about issues faced by female-identifying and students of marginalised genders would be better. Lobbying for better government policies to protect marginalised genders would be more useful as a long-term strategy.

Whilst slightly less exciting, these approaches (combined with the yearly march) would result in some positive changes for the future. We should endeavour to ‘Reclaim’ our streets every day; not just once a year.

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