SlutWalk collective member Red Schulte described it as a "tug of war" with officers of the Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) when more than 700 participants of SlutWalk Chicago 2016 set out to reclaim the streets of the Magnificent Mile Aug. 20.
At stake was each SlutWalkers' right to turn those streets into an inclusive space that echoed with an impassioned "demand an end to rape culture, victim blaming, slut shaming and whorephobia."
Pitted against them was the CPD's determination to restrict the marchers to the Magnificent Mile's sidewalks.
With no prior knowledge of the route the SlutWalk was going to take, the CPD were often seen scrambling to herd participants using officers on bicycles and Segways as a human barricade.
However, the resolve of each member of the now five-year-old annual protestfueled by anger at the systematic degradation and criminalization of the female body and a profound cry for the freedom, dignity and sanctuary of that body from attack whether through humiliation, violence or society's confinementwas often enough to turn the war to the marcher's favor.
Those moments were heralded by a resounding cheer when the bicycles fell back and the SlutWalkers claimed even a single block's worth of pavement as "our streets."
Whenever the CPD would not back down, the SlutWalk became a mass sit-in as participants took a break and instead blocked the northbound lane of the Michigan Avenue bridge and the intersection of Michigan and Ohio while becoming a consolidated megaphone that repeated the story of women like Alisha Walker who was convicted in January of second degree murder by a Cook County Jury and sentenced to 15 years in the death of a high school teacheran act which Walker asserted was one of self-defense.
The SlutWalk would then resume its path north on Michigan Avenue until another intersection brought another stand-off with the CPD.
To bystanders, it was difficult to tell who was in control.
The SlutWalkers never once seemed to waiver. It was not so much that the CPD were able to force them to the sidewalks, but that the marchers felt like they were better served as venues to deliver messages to Magnificent Mile shoppers such as "teach your sons not to rape."
The day began with a noon rally at Millennium Park's Chicago Bean.
As the SlutWalkers gathered, it was employees of the park's private security firm who set themselves up as the event's primary antagonists.
They demanded that those women who had removed their tops immediately cover-up again, despite the fact that the marchers were protected from illegality by creatively designed pasties.
"We accept each other," a SlutWalk collective member declared. "There are people here in T-shirts and jeans, there are people here who choose to be top-free and we are not ashamed."
When members of the SlutWalk Collective tried to use a megaphone, Millennium Park Security ordered that it be switched off.
Ironically, when the CPD were called in and Schulte calmly explained the peaceful intention of the rally reminding them that each participant was well within her, his or their legal rights, Millennium Park Security was overruled despite their insistence that the area around The Bean was privately owned and subject to its own rules.
Those rules included a confusingly stated ordinance that members of the press have special permission to use a camera "that looks like it's for commercial and not personal use."
So, instead of using a megaphone, the SlutWalkers turned themselves into one.
The words "mic check" signaled a sentence-by-sentence repeat of the rally's messages with one hundred times the volume of any amplified sound system.
A small counter-protest had also gathered at The Bean.
Three men held up graphic and disturbing pictures of aborted, bloodied fetuses. They had also brought a megaphone through which they declared their opposition to abortion and various ultimatums that the SlutWalkers heed their Christian directives.
Millennium Park Security left them alone.
The SlutWalkers didn't and, instead, surrounded them with their bodies in order to combat violence with beauty and drown out religious intolerance with declarations of freedom.
Even the deafening sound of passing jets from the Chicago Air and Water Show could not prevail over the SlutWalkers rejection of "Language and mindsets that perpetuate rape culture, victim blaming, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia."
Schulte pointed out the "hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by this city making spectacles like the Air and Water Show happen when schools on the South and West sides are shut down."
"There is lead in the fucking water in Pilsen," Schulte said. "We are taking this commercial space for a reason. We have to take these public spaces back."
Those reasons were spelled out by speakers like Zilla a representative of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation.
"When it comes to violence perpetuated against female-identified people and trans folks, the police and state as we have seen it are really not on our side," Zilla said before citing the cases of Marissa Alexander and CeCe McDonaldboth of whom received long jail terms for acting in self-defense.
By contrast, Zilla named men such as Stanford University student Brock Turner who received a six month sentence for the sexual assault of a young woman and University of Colorado-Boulder student Austin Wilkerson who received two years of work release after raping a college freshman.
"College campuses across the country have been silencing, expelling, ignoring survivors or rape, sexual assault and targeted gender-based violence with Title IX," Schulte said. "They say [Title IX] is our only way to get justice. We call 'bullshit.' Justice is not a university covering its ass, slashing crucial resources on campus while at the same time over-paying wannabe cops who call themselves advocates in Title IX offices."
Schulte instead urged the SlutWalkers to imagine and build communities "Based on providing care. We must win a better world."
The SlutWalk then set off to do precisely that in a relentless will to "take the streets."
Their chants of "whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no" resounded along Michigan Avenue whether they were marching or sitting.
Despite such well-formed unity, there were moments when SlutWalk organizers had to quickly improvise.
When the CPD refused to allow the SlutWalkers to end the event at the Chicago Water Tower, the marchers continued north and instead gathered at the John Hancock Center to tell stories their deeply personal stories of survival.
One woman said that the SlutWalk was the only place she felt safe. As she broke into tears, she was immediately surrounded on all sides by her fellow marchers who hugged her tightly and assured her that, for as long as they were together and for as long as they had anything to say about it, she was.