On Saturday, July 25, Womxn of North Hudson organized a demonstration from West New York to Union City, chanting “WE ARE VANESSA’S ARMY!” along the way.
Womxn of NoHu is a movement started by local North Hudson womxn with the mission of creating safe communities that support and empower womxn, and inspire others to ignite change in their neighborhoods.
“We spread awareness and solutions on sexual harassment, domestic violence, and all other patriarchal systems that oppress womxn in our communities,” said the Founder of Womxn of NoHu Lilliana Martinez in a statement.
“We envision communities that enforce policies and real-time community solutions that protect people from street harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe safer streets and protected homes equate to productive residents and thriving communities.”
The protest kicked off with a rally on the steps of the West New York Public Library with dozens of supporters of Vanessa Guillen, including many uniformed officers.
Vanessa Guillen, 20, was a U.S. Army soldier killed on April 22 inside Fort Hood, Texas. Her dismembered remains were later recovered. Another soldier at the base, Aaron Robinson, was accused of her murder. Robinson killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound before charges were announced.
Demanding justice and change
Speeches by Martinez, protest organizer Jocelyn Rojas, and U.S. Army Veteran and Congressional Investigation Testifier Lucy Chinea Del Gaudio were directed toward West New York City Hall.
Their demands were loud and clear: launch a congressional investigation into the death of Vanessa Guillen, ban military recruitment in public, low-income schools, and provide proper sex education to youth with an emphasis on sexual consent.
The military specifically targets economically vulnerable high school students, according to the Womxn of NoHu, where poverty is seen as an opportunity to glamorize the benefits of a military career.
“The military takes advantage and denies safety for their soldiers, especially womxn – only offering a deadly way out, and lack of protection to surviving veterans,” Martinez said. “We want to protect our youth from exploitation, abuse, and fatal workplaces in the military.”
Based on New Jersey’s Sex Ed Report Card, New Jersey received a grade of C, which highlighted that sexual-consent issues were not covered sufficiently. New Jersey already has an updated curriculum, but it won’t go into effect until 2022.
Womxn of NoHu urges Mayor Nicholas Sacco of North Bergen, Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez of West New York, Mayor Brian Stack of Union City, Mayor Richard Turner of Weehawken, and Boards of Education in these municipalities to implement the curriculum immediately.
The group also urged local congressional representative, Albio Sires, who has supported the Guillen investigation, to urge Rep. Donald Payne and Rep. Bill Pascrell to sign on, so that Vanessa Guillen and her family can get justice.
Womxn of Nohu tried to keep the march as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible. It offered a hydration alternative to plastic water bottles, which included three heavy-duty, reusable water coolers, two of which were donated by Memorial High School.
Anyone without a reusable water bottle was given a paper cup to minimize waste. With the high of 88 degrees, the team worked to keep everyone hydrated with breaks throughout the protest.
Marching across NoHu
The crowd grew passionate as Lucy Chinea Del Gaudio prompted the protesters to repeat the names of five womxn who, like Guillen, enlisted and were murdered while serving their country.
As the group marched along Bergenline, passersby stopped to listen to the powerful chants. Chant leaders Paloma Vizcaino and Hailey Benson engaged the community by inter-splicing messages in both Spanish and English between chants.
“Oye Militario – Sale de mi barrio!” the protesters chanted as they marched. The phrase roughly translates to “Hey military, leave my neighborhood!”
As the collective made its way from West New York through Union City, it was led by bike marshals and local police.
At the 49th Street Light Rail Station, it moved to the sidewalk for performances. A revolutionary Chilean Dance called “Un violador en tu camino” was led by Particia Danielle Cobos.
Cheers rang out as the protesters belted “el patriarcado es un juez, que nos juzga por nacer, y nuestro castigo es la violencia que ya ves,” which roughly translates to “The patriarchy is a judge, who judges us for being born, and our punishment is the violence you already see.”
At Washington Park protesters took time to sit, eat, and reflect before the final rally.
Leaders of the march spoke again, including Martinez, Vizcaino, and Benson, who asked the audience to meditate on what they are grateful for and what changes they’d like to see in their communities.
The demonstration ended with a moment of silence for Guillen and all those killed or assaulted by members of the U.S. Military.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Dan Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.