The Shoe Memorial was initiated by a small grass-roots group of women survivors who grew tired of organizing and attending anti-violence events where the participants were already involved in anti-violence work. It was decided that something was needed to take our message to the public if they would not come to us. A PBS special, that showed Women’s Shoes on some stairs in New York’s Central Park, was the inspiration of what turned out to be the annual Dec. 6 Vancouver Shoe Memorial.
As leader/organizer of the long disbanded group I took the idea of women’s shoes and built the 1st and subsequent Vancouver Memorials. The objective was to remember by name all the women who had died by violence (not their murderers as is so often named by the media and remembered by the public), provide information to anyone who was interested, do it on one day, and as cheaply as possible (as we had no money). In order to remain true to our focus of remembering women who had not survived, the Memorial is non-confrontational and non-blaming. The message is: women are dying and it needs to stop.
To remember those who have died by violence it was decided to print their names and the dates of their death on a memorial wall, which people could go to and read. Over the years we have found a number of individuals looking for family and friends names on our “Boards”; all of who have commented that this is a wonderful way to remember them. One woman, who’s mother was remembered was so moved that she started her own Dec. 6 Shoe Memorial in Kamloops, B.C.
Any date would do as long as it holds some significance to the purpose. I chose Dec. 6, which is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action for women who have died by violence and which usually generates media attention. Months earlier the word goes out asking for women’s shoes, new and used. We want the woman (donor) to think about the violence that goes on each time she looks into her closet. And donating shoes has proved an excellent way to do “something” against the violence. Every year the reach of our request for shoes and our message has widen; from being included as an event for Dec. 6 for BC Girl Guides, teachers using it as a school project, nurses union to individuals committed to the cause of ending the violence. Many of the shoes are in very good shape and so we began “protecting them from the rain” in plastic bags. The best shoes are then given to organizations that helped women, to pass out to their clients.
The Vancouver Public Art Gallery Stairs were chosen as the place to bring the memorial to the public in good weather or bad (it only snowed once). The Art Gallery considers the memorial to be an excellent example of “a People’s Art Installation” and has supported the event. The location provides excellent foot traffic as commuters arrive and leave from work and the stairs an excellent stage for the shoes. The Parksville Art Gallery is pleased to part of a Vancouver Island Shoe Memorial.
A brief “memorial service” service with speakers was arranged to give focus to the event. A candlelight vigil was held in the evening of the first year but due to rain and wind this was eliminated after that. Our audience wanted to leave immediately after work.
The media suggested that our Service be moved to the lunch hour. This proved to be an excellent suggestion. The event was meant for what we call the “unconverted” and those who wanted to remember, and not for those already stridently working in the field.
The 1st event proved such a success that it continues in Vancouver for the 9th year 2011. It works on many levels-
During our 1st Shoe Memorial, a dad was overheard explaining to his very young daughter what the memorial was about and how the violence had to end to make a better world for her, as he held her hand. It was a success beyond our greatest hopes. Each year we provide written information to over 1000 pedestrians who take it away to read. Last year we handed information or talked to over 800 men about what they could do to help end the violence. The Dec. 6 Shoe Memorial has spread to at least 2 other communities as an annual event and as one community organizer states, it works “why are not others doing the same?
This year a Shoe Memorial was held on the steps of Parliament in Ottawa, organized by Aboriginal Law Students. It was not held on Dec. 6 like the Vancouver Memorial but we have been told it was very successful.
There are countless stories the volunteers can tell of conversations they have had with pedestrians, such as one of our first where a casual drug dealer, displaced by the memorial asked what are you doing? We explained and that year he became one of our more ardent volunteers handing out information to passersby, to his friends, and to his customers. He did not want “this” to happen to his sister.
We proudly boast that a picture of our 2004 event was published in the United Nations Population Funds report on Gender Equity as an example of an anti-violence event.
It is simple, cheap, and easy to organize and it works so why aren’t you doing one.
We are honouring the memory of the women and their families by attaching name cards to each pair of donated shoes which represents a woman or girl who have been killed in violence or are missing. The names of the victims should never be forgotten. more
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