Brandy Cummings winces a little as she explains it’s her first time at Take Back the Night, that it took something so horrific to happen to her family to prompt her attendance.
“It’s kind of sad, when I think about it, actually,” Cummings said, looking around at the crowd of 100-plus people gathered at the Ooknakane Friendship Centre Thursday night. “I think we need people to see it matters and that people care.
“I feel for all the people, those women who were raped, for having to go through that. No one should have to go through that.”
No one should have to go through what her family experienced this summer, either, she says. She got a phonecall in August saying her mother, Lynn Kalmring, was dead and her common-law husband, Keith Gregory Weins, had been arrested in her death.
“When you have a loss as big as mine, there’s just no words,” she said quietly. “But being here, I see there’s other people who feel it too. I’m amazed at all the signs. I feel like I’m not alone.”
Cumming said she struggles with anger that ebbs and flows, and how her family has lost its sense of security during both night and day.
“It’s like living a nightmare,” she said, trying to shake it off by looking at the crowd. “I think she would be really happy with all of this. If there is such a thing, she’s watching and she’s walking with us.”
Four organizations headed up the ninth-annual Take Back the Night rally Thursday to take back South Okanagan streets: Penticton and Area Women’s Centre, the Okanagan College Student Union and Women’s Centre, Ooknakane Friendship Centre and Okanagan Nation Transition-Emergency House.
Reasha Wolfe, the centre’s advocacy outreach worker, thanked the crowd of new and familiar faces for coming, noting the night was devoted to all the women attacked this summer — be it on the streets or in their own home.
“Our community is passionate about safety on our streets,” she said.
Ooknakane elder Grace Grayeyes offered a prayer before the walk, highlighting the strength of women who assemble in numbers.
“I would like to thank the Creator for giving us the time to remember our women,” she said, adding all present should “remember those who aren’t here.”
The group carried signs and candles as they walked from the friendship centre on Main Street down Duncan Avenue to Okanagan College, where participants were met with belly dancing entertainment and speakers.
This was Jessica Okayama’s first Take Back the Night in Penticton, having taken part in similar marches in Calgary for five years.
“I decided to come especially after this summer with all the attacks on women in town,” she said, pointing to her three-month-old son, Phineas, on her lap as a reason to seek change. “I’m fearful to walk at night in our community.”
Raging Grannies’ Cass Robinson detailed the history of the women’s protest organization and called on the new generation of women to raise a little hell in the fight for change.
“We need more Raging Grannies who will stand up and make fools of themselves,” she said. “It doesn’t take balls to be strong, folks.”
Women’s centre legal advocate David Desautels described how he often drives his daughter and granddaughter to school or work to ensure their safety, and detailed how his wife cannot take the same trails or shortcuts alone as he can — despite contributing equally in taxes to build them.
“An escort or a ride home is not always possible. The overall tolerance in society for violence against women is too high. It’s too easy to shrug it off and say, ‘That’s the way it is.’ I think we can do better,” he said.
Okanagan College Students Union representatives Russ Saunders and Meagan Bagley discussed the prevalence of victim blaming — suggesting women were at fault for being attacked by being out late or wearing provocative clothing — and how the practice has to stop.
“Maybe assigning blame to the victim makes us feel safer, but we need to explain the violence itself,” Bagley said.