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    In the weeks leading up to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, hundreds of individuals took to Washington, D.C. to protest and visit the offices of senators like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. BUST caught up with one of them, longtime activist and creative Mari Gustafson, to chat about her experiences getting arrested twice during the D.C. protests—and how we can keep fighting.

    “I’d been on national calls with the Center for Popular Democracy and the Women’s March to find out which days they really wanted people to travel to D.C. to make the most impact,” Gustafson tells BUST. “The first day I went down [from New York] was the Monday before Christine Blasey Ford spoke, just to amplify her message. On the Thursday that she spoke, we decided not to protest, because we wanted the lead in the news to be her testimony.”

    That Monday, protestors tried to bird-dog senators, a strategy that includes persistently asking pointed questions about how a senator will vote. Anyone is also allowed into the offices where, as Gustafson explains, you can read a statement and share your opinions for as long as you want to. The senators aren’t necessarily there, but will sometimes appear if you’re lucky—and either way, you have an opportunity to speak to their staff.

    Gustafson and her fellow protestors arrived at the offices with a plan. “We wanted men to be arrested with us in solidarity—we started with men recounting their Me Too stories, and for one of them, it was the first time he’d ever told it. We focused on the men just as a call to action for them to start speaking in unison with their sisters,” she says. “We desperately need male allies to speak with us, and we wanted that arrest to show that men were with us.”

    Though Kavanaugh’s ultimate confirmation onto the Supreme Court was a blow to women everywhere, Gustafson was quick to clarify that sexual assault and rape culture can affect—and spare—people of all genders. “There are women out there who are the good Republican women,” she tells BUST. “Those women have no idea why we’re so upset. Kellyanne Conway has no idea why I’m so upset, and why I didn’t call the cops when I was sexually assaulted twenty years ago; she doesn’t understand why there is no evidence.” 

    Gustafson and around 120 other people were arrested that first day, and brought to a place called the Shed, where they waited several hours to be released. When Gustafson returned to D.C., though, she was one of nearly 300 who were detained. “The second arrest was the Thursday before the vote,” she says. “We really wanted to see if we could influence people before the vote, and wanted to go to the steps of the Capitol, but the police blocked off our access, so at the last second we decided to go to the Senate offices and we got arrested there. When they arrest that volume of people, they don’t even take you to the Shed—they take you to the park. You just sit in the park for three hours. The experience was really surreal.”

    43182515 10216318222366777 3128743049316794368 n 1744ePhoto via Mari Gustafson

    Gustafson has been through all of this before, though. An advocate with direct action group Gays Against Guns (GAG) New York, she devotes much of her time to fighting for justice and safety, and spent time in jail last year for protesting with GAG after the Las Vegas shooting. 

    “I was raised in western Colorado, which has extreme gun culture. I’ve had a gun pointed at me by a family member; I’ve had to hide in a place of work because a gunman was trying to get in. I’ve lost four friends,” Gustafson says. It was after the 2016 Pulse shooting in Orlando that she first heard about GAG, and immediately got involved. With her background in art and fashion, Gustafson was able to help the group create spray-painted t-shirts, which they ultimately brought to Pride. 

    “It was all this spray-painted craziness that we had created together, and then there was a procession of 49 people, all holding signs to represent those who had died, led by a gigantic disco ball on a pole,” she says. “Everyone was dressed in all white, and that image made it to the front of The New York Times the very next day. I thought, okay, if I can help make history, then I should keep this up. America needs to fucking see this shit. So I felt like I actually did something, that I did contribute, that something good came out of my creativity.”

    If you’re looking to get involved—no matter whether or not you’re willing and able to get arrested—Gustafson is full of advice. “The most important work is on the local level. And you know, the Democratic Party, are they my favorite party? They’re not. But they’re certainly going to help you out a lot more than the Republican Party,” she shares. “Just try to find like-minded people, and definitely follow the Women’s March. It’s a trustworthy organization, and I think that they’ve done a lot. There are Women’s March chapters all over the country, and if there isn’t one in your small town, you can maybe travel to the capital of your state. You can write letters to your congresspeople, you can go out and knock on doors.”

    The most important part, though, is reaching people—something Gustafson knows how to do. “Maybe someone will see me in the media and say, ‘she’s like me.’ I want people to identify with me, and maybe that will get to that woman in Kansas, that woman in Colorado, that woman elsewhere in the country,” she says. “Not everybody has to get arrested. I don’t even encourage that. But there’s always some way, even if it’s just talking to your neighbor about politics and why you feel the way you do. Every little bit helps.”

    Top photo via Mari Gustafson

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    A group of around 20 FEMEN activists gathered topless outside Paris’s Musee d’Orsay after a woman was banned from entering the museum for showing cleavage. Protesters immediately showed up at the scene chanting breasts “are not obscene”, determined to confront the sexist discrimination that took place. 

     The student, alias Jeanne, who was turned down by the museum’s security personnel came forward in an open letter on social media, saying she felt discriminated against on behalf of the museums “sexist dynamics.” And in an interview with the Daily Star, Jeanne described the dress she was wearing, saying, “I wore it all summer. I feel good wearing it and it’s pretty… I am not just my breasts, I am not just a body.”

    According to Mirror, Musee d’Orsay issued a press release saying they “deeply regret this incident.” As well as apologized to Jeanne on behalf of the receptionist’s inappropriate behavior.

     

    Top Image: Screenshot from video

     

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    Over the past few weeks, Belarus has witnessed an unprecedented amount of resistance as citizens protestpolice brutality and the controversial election of dictator President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled for the past 26 years. At the forefront of these rallies are thousands of women who have organized themselves into a leaderless movement that is sweeping across the country: and they’re calling themselves “the Women in White.”

    In the violent upheaval following the recent election, in which Lukashenko was named the winner in a vote that the EU and US condemned as neither free nor fair, Belarus authorities have reported that the protests have yielded approximately 6,700 arrests and at least two deaths. To defend themselves against this violence and bear a message of peace, the Women in White have made their peaceful intentions clear by flooding the streets of Minsk by the thousandsin white T-shirts, handing out white ribbons and flowers.

     

    Belarus’ dictatorship has been notoriously hostile towards women for decades. This year, in regards to the election, Lukashenko said “Our constitution is not for women..Our society has not matured enough to vote for a woman. This is because by constitution the president handles a lot of power.”

    Belarusian women are certainly proving the opposite. When several presidential candidates were forced to flee or were arrested in the run-up to the election, Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, wife to one of the candidates, took up the cause. With two other women, she began a campaign for free and fair elections.

    The Women in White have thrown their support behind the trio. Even the factory workers of Lukashenko’s pet project, Minsk Tractor Works, chanted “Sveta” at a recent protest. The demonstrators have also launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #she4belarus, urging others to join the fight.

    “The three of us were able to show that we had taken responsibility for what is happening and for the future of Belarus.” Maria Kolesnikova, a member of this trailblazing trio, said in an interview in central Minsk this past week. “The West won’t help, Russia won’t help, we can only help ourselves. Our female faces became a signal for all women – and for the men too – that every person should take responsibility.”

    Header image via Artem Podrez on Pexels

     

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    On September 13th tens of thousands marched in Minsk on the eve of Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin. This protest is one of many that has occurred in the last month where the women-lead Belarusian protest group called The Women in Whitetakes a leadership role. 

    These women-led protests continue to flood the streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities in opposition to the unfair election of Lukashenko and continued police brutality. The United Nations has reported that an estimated 6,000 people have been subjected to detention because of these protests, and in some cases, torture by Belarusian security agents.

     According to rferl.org, an independent European news source, heavily armored vehicles accompanied by troops were seen parked along some central streets in Minsk; The Interior Ministry claimed they were a violence prevention measure. However, riot police were seen in Minsk knocking peaceful demonstrators to the ground and dragging them away into police vans. The Interior Ministry reported that more than 400 people had been detained by nightfall.

     To further push the clear and uncensored sexism of the Belarusian government, the Interior Ministry commented, “It’s a shame to watch: screams, screeching… Such behavior is unfeminine.”

    Despite these laughable and unfortunate comments, the most prominent oppositional figures to this government continue to be women, including exiled Presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Maria Kolesnikova, and Veronika Tsepkalo.

    There is still hope among the protestors that are often echoed in international media. The Atlantic reported on the protests, affirming, “The moment demonstrates a trend in global mass movements: Protests that feature women are typically larger, less violent, and more versatile than those that do not. Most important, they are also more likely to succeed.”

     

    Header image by Artem Podrez via pexels

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