'Demonstrating' a commitment to justice

by Jamie Kelly

Hannah Altman wanted to get involved.

The Philadelphia native, and Cornell junior, heard about an incident in January 2011 where a Toronto police officer said women should "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

By April, activists in Toronto had launched SlutWalk, a demonstration dedicated to the idea that when women are sexually assaulted it's the perpetrator and not the victim who is to blame. The movement spread from there, and by summer 2011 there were Slutwalks planned around the world, including Philadelphia.
Altman is a member of Cornell's Third Wave Resource Group, a student organization that serves as an on-campus resource for feminist activism. She knew the organizer of the Philadelphia event and offered to help. When Altman got back to Philadelphia for the summer, she started working to make the event happen.

The city wanted the walk to pay for a parade permit rather than a demonstration permit, she said, and the parade permit was much more expensive and harder to obtain. So Altman found herself in city hall, working with the American Civil Liberties Union to argue that Slutwalk deserved a demonstration permit. Eventually she and the walk prevailed, and on Aug. 6, between 600 and 700 people took part in the demonstration.

"I'd never done anything that large scale before," she said.

Running something that massive—including booking speakers and planning logistics to bring together people from diverse communities for a common cause—also developed Altman's organizational and communication skills and confidence.

It might have been the biggest project Altman had undertaken, but it wasn't the first. She helped with the Clothesline Project, designed to bring awareness to violence against women, on the Orange Carpet, and other activism on campus. She also directed a production of "The Vagina Monologues" in 2011 and is planning to do the same this year.