Terrifically Two: Hollaback! Baltimore Reflects on its War Against Street Harassment

Terrifically Two: Hollaback! Baltimore Reflects on its War Against Street Harassment

Hollaback! Baltimore site directors: Shawna Potter and Melanie Keller. Photo By: Casey McKeel
Hollaback! Baltimore site directors: Shawna Potter and Melanie Keller. Photo By: Casey McKeel

On February 8th, 2013, Hollaback! Baltimore celebrated its two year anniversary here in Charm City with a grand birthday bash at The Windup Space. It rang in true party style with dancing, live and dj'd music, door prizes, art performaces, magic, and cake (vegan and nonvegan was deliciousy in store!). The popular bar and performance venue was packed with folks from an admirable array of backgrounds. This fact heralds the importance of the work that Hollaback! has been doing, as well as its significant impact within these past two years. However, it would be impossible to overlook that the overwhelming majority of the attendees were female-bodied [1] and/or  LGBTQ [2]. On the dancefloor, eating slices of donated "birthday" cake from the locally heralded Charm City Cakes, chatting/laughing, watching magic tricks and performances, and snapping their pics in the staged photobooth, partied the very population that Hollaback! exists to empower. 

Hollaback! is now an international, "movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world." It works to," better understand street harassment, to ignite public conversations, and to develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces."

In previous Indyreader coverage, (Fighting Street Harassment via One Anime Character at a Time: Hollaback! Baltimore Takes it to OtakonCorey Reidy) Hollaback! was detailed accordingly: 

Street harassment is a public mode of sexual harassment. Hollaback!’s website states:

"We define public sexual harassment and assault as any sexual harassment or assault that occurs in a public space when one or more individuals (male or female) accost another individual–based on the victim’s gender–as they go about their daily life."

Street harassment is the harasser’s practice of domination over their victim/survivor... In street harassment, when one catcalls, honks, makes indecent comments, etc., it is a means to take away personhood, oppress, and regulate. It is a gateway that easily makes other forms of gender-based violence acceptable. It is a pervasive and often silent epidemic. Most women and LGBTQ folks accept street harassment as routine part of their existence, with very little recourse.

Hollaback! has been aiming to change this ubiquitous form of gender-based violence since its origination in 2005. (It became a full nonprofit in May 2010.) Originating in NYC, the project came to Baltimore in January 2011. Hollaback! has since spread to 50 cities and 17 countries. Providing an online blog-style platform, Hollaback! believes that “movements start with people telling their stories – and they succeed with people taking action.”

People are encouraged to share their stories of street harassment on the Hollaback! website. This grants women/LGBTQ community the opportunity to acknowledge this commonly hidden abuse, take their autonomy back from the harasser, and to find solidarity rather than solitude. . .. It also, along with forming branches of this movement, works to “flip the power” dynamic -- a term Hollaback! has united around to illustrate the empowerment they strive for in such often disempowering situations. 

Outspoken feminist and frontwoman for the popular hardcore band War on Women, Shawna Potter, has been the Director of Hollaback! Baltimore since January 2011.She has been working to grow the movement through organizing a variety of actions, educations, and engagements -- including, but not limited to, organizing Baltimore’s Slutwalk 2011. Hollaback! Baltimore recently received the Global Fair Award from Worldwide Visionaries in order to strengthen its capacity and further its work. Potter states that the movement has merely begun.

Two years in the making, Hollaback! Baltimore has striven determinedly and successfully in building further feminist movement foundations and most importantly in combatting its main goal of educating on and ultimately ending street harrassment. As the future unfolds, the small organization has big goals. This past week Hollaback! met with the Baltimore City Department of Public Health to discuss the importance of street harassment as a matter of public health, as well as how this DIY project along with city-wide infrastructure, can and should collaborate. Hollaback! is often found strategizing and discussing the importance of both the web-based movement and on-the-street activism.

On Wednesday, after Hollaback!'s meeting with the Dept. of Public Health, Corey Reidy (of Indyreader/Board Member of Hollaback! Baltimore) caught up with Hollaback! Baltimore site leaders, Shawna Potter and Melanie Keller, for a discussion on what Hollaback! is and the importance of its work, what it has been doing in these past two years, and what it plans to do in the foreseeable future. Please enjoy the audio from this conversation on one sector of modern feminism that intersects on the larger stage of social justice movement-making.

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1 Female-bodied refers to someone born into the traditionally at-birth antanomically declared "female" body.

2 LGBTQ is the standard acronym to umbrella the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Trans-Queer community. 

Photo of Corey Reidy

Corey Reidy has been an Indyreader collective member since the start of 2009. And.. she adores it with all her heart. When Reidy isn't editing, writing, interviewing, or other Indyreader-centric organizing, she works to do other forms of radical activism -- including, but not limited to, organizing/being a board member of Hollaback! Baltimore. If she's not organizing, Reidy is most likely reading, biking, or practicing/studying yoga (of which she adores and will 100% go to bat to defend and promote).