Monday, 11 June 2018

Processions 2018 and being a Soroptimist

What started as International Women's Day 2018 in Tunbridge Wells with a quickly scrawled placard and a little reenactment costume snowballed into joining with 30,000 women and girls in London for Processions 2018. Processions 2018 This event was taking place in 4 cities across Great Britain at the same time- London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.

When I first booked an entry I was not sure if anyone would come with me but as usual the  Soroptimists at Si Tunbridge Wells: Soroptimist International Tunbridge Wells were up for it. So armed with a new banner which is the more permanent fabric design we boarded the train from Tunbridge Wells armed with Ask me why I am a Soroptimist badges and our postcards and there the conversation started and it continued all day.
People were curious- where were we going and what was a Soroptimist? From a little boy who wanted to discuss the meaning of the colours green, white and purple, to the ladies from Australia and Sevenoaks on the number 9 bus from Charing Cross to Hyde Park, who didn't know us or each other, but they did by the end of our journey- we left them with postcards and a wave.We emerged from the bus momentarily pausing to take in our surrounds greeting other women who were dressed in similar colours as if we have known them for ever. From the young girls from Manchester who had left home at 7 am to travel to London to Ruth who was on her own from Norfolk but soon became one of our group. We all momentarily disappeared into a group of vibrant women all milling around the Dorchester Hotel seeking shade under the dappled trees on a Park Lane cleared of cars.

More and more women arrived, with banners and outfits and smiles and we streamed toward pantechnicons to collect our scarves of green, white and violet, chatting all the time, handing out postcards and sharing stories. It was jubilant, expressive, emotional, hot and freeing. We are so lucky to be able to vote, to celebrate that fact and to be actively encouraged by all the organisations who helped make the day so successful. We have come a long way since women (over 30) were first able to vote in 1918 but still have a long way to go and yet here we were being able to shout about it all in major cities, cleared of traffic to make our voices heard.

Being a Soroptimist is about sisterhood, and yesterday felt very positive. We had found our tribe for that day and met some fellow clubs along the way, Soroptimist International Folkestone, St Albans and Sevenoaks. We also talked to nurses, midwives, parliamentarians, feminist publishers, children, girl guides, seamstresses, WI Groups, journalists, jewellery designers, women on Mum's Net and the list goes on.

We saw amazing banners:

Everyone wanted to see

be seen

and heard, others came to support

We all had our quiet moments for reflection

At the end of the non finish line many paid  respects at the monuments to Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett.

Even on the train home, when our costumes and banners were dishevelled the day continued as other participants joined us on the train and we heard their stories of community involvement and research.

Why they had come to spend the day with strangers to celebrate the rights of women all started so long ago by one of the first feminists ,Mary Wollstonecraft with her Vindications of the Rights of Woman.

The train dropped us at Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells and continued to Hastings with women talking and making connections.

A great day and as I took my shoes off and rubbed my tired feet I reflected on one image I had seen, a tiny pebble, picked from some beach by an anonymous person and placed in London with the words suffragette painted on. We are all alone, until we find our tribe. On this day with my Soroptimist sisters we were a group who became a larger collective and together we made a noise and celebrated our rights and dreams for the future. When I became a Soroptimist I had no idea what would happen but so far it has been an amazing journey.
                                                            In friendship.

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