It's the morning of Friday, Sept. 2, and convicted sex offender Brock Turner is being released from jail, after serving only half of his six-month sentence.
Groups of protesters are driving toward the Santa Clara County jail, determined to meet Turner and protest on location. Most soon learn they are too late - Turner was freed shortly after 6 a.m., under the cover of darkness. (High-profile prisoners are often released during early morning hours for their own protection and to avoid too large a media frenzy.)
Even without Turner's presence, the protests continue throughout Friday. Those present include Elyse Cizek, Remy Holwick, Elise Hillinger, Gabby Oglesby, and Lily Piper Faye, who are part of a feminist Internet group called GRLCVLT and founders of Fvck Rape Culture, an organization that holds anti-rape fundraising events. Together they've partnered with Stanford law professor Michele Dauber to amplify her efforts to unseat Judge Aaron Persky, the man responsible for sentencing in Turner's trial.
Cosmopolitan.com spoke with Cizek, a poet and public speaker from Los Angeles, and Holwick, a model and photographer from Brooklyn, about the protest and their activism moving forward.
Why was it important for you to protest Turner's release?
Holwick: Because this is a women's issue. Rape affects every woman.
Cizek: I arrived to represent myself as a survivor whose voice was silenced by fear of the process of trying to bring my attacker to justice. I wanted to use my voice to make room for other women to feel safe sharing their stories, so that it can be made clear that we are the ones who deserve better treatment as victims who have been violated not only by our attackers but by the system intended to bring them to justice.
Tell us about the day. What happened?
Cizek: We had hoped to be there before [Turner] was released, but we all woke up at 7 a.m. to the video of him speed-walking to his SUV … It was clear to us that, once again, the justice system preferred to protect the criminal over the victim.
[Still] we arrived early, around 8:30 a.m., outside the [Santa Clara] courthouse and county jail, and immediately introduced ourselves to the other women there. There was a lot of love and immediate connection. The crowd was made up of women of all ages, diverse in race, age, and sexual orientation, and there were a few men in attendance as well. There were several students from Stanford and UC Berkeley who had made signs and shared them with us, a handful of women representing NOW [the National Organization for Women] who had brought signs with them as well.
The protest was not organized or dominated by one specific group, though we were following the guidance of Michele Dauber's team. There was no music or singing, though we were all chanting intermittently, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Aaron Persky has got to GO!" It wasn't hard for all of us to join together and our direction was very clearly united.
Holwick: There were wonderful topless women who had slogans of consent across their chests in paint. [And] the speakers were incredibly powerful and included state senators as well as rape victims from college campuses.
Cizek: Many of us were brought to tears while the survivors were speaking. I felt safe and supported and incredibly empowered as part of a team of women whose voices and stories deserved to be told. We were all there for the same reason, and we all wanted to share our experiences with each other. There were a lot of hugs and thank-yous being shared.
How would you describe the mood?
Holwick: This wasn't an angry mob. It was uplifted! We all wanted real change. I think we were all hopeful about ending the tenure of Judge Persky. Everyone was very empowered and hopeful.
Were there counter-protestors or Brock Turner supporters?
Cizek: I personally did not see him, but was one troll in attendance with a Dry Erase board. His intentions were unclear and he was made to feel very unwelcome by those aware of his presence. There was [also] a small group positioned on the opposite side of the street with signs saying something about capitalism, but I am not entirely sure how long they stayed or what exactly they were getting at. They stayed separate from us.
What was the law enforcement presence like?
Cizek: The police presence was small, a few officers standing by just in case. They were friendly and greeted us warmly.
Will protests be continuing in future? What's next for you both?
Cizek: Fvck Rape Culture will be holding several more events - the next event is a concert with Remy set for Oct. 13 in Los Angeles. Recall efforts for Aaron Persky will first include letter writing and petitioning to get him on the recall ballot this November, followed by more campaigning.
I am working on a personal project about my experience as a survivor. I intend to speak publicly about this as much as possible, using my social media presence as a platform as well as my art and writing. I will be shooting video and calling on other survivors to create art that supports their message. And I will be joining Michelle Dauber and GRLCVLT in whatever their next steps will be from here.
Holwick: I'm working on next steps with Jill Soloway's organization, Topple. I'm also working on a Fvck Rape Culture shopping event and a line of merchandise to benefit the recall with lingerie store Brooklyn Fox. I won't stop fighting until rape culture is a thing of the past. Brock Turner is done with jail but we're not done with him. Fuck rape culture!
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