The Irony of Silence

Today there were a lot of students wearing purple shirts on the the Rhodes Campus. As one of Rhodes University’s colors one might have mistaken the collective action as an exclamation of collegiate pride had it not been for the equally as prevalent pieces of duct tape covering student mouths. For all those who had little clue what was going on today at Rhodes the duct tape, if not the plague of purple, probably prompted some second looks. The shirts read: Sexual Violence=Silence or Stop Violence Against Women, the Power of Change is in Our Hands.

As I am normally one fueled by collective social action, either through participation or photographic documentation, I felt a bit odd in my protest of association. The Rhodes Silent Protest today was the first time I can remember not joining a collective movement that stood in solidarity for a just cause. It is not that rape is growing on me as a cultural practice, or that I am personally and individually removed from any form of sexual violence and its horrifying effects. I wasn’t wearing purple today for the simple reason that I could not find or construct any semblance of a suitable justification for the collective action.

When was the last time you remember seeing or participating in public protest that made some lasting change? After participating in more protests that I wish to count on my two hands and probably feet I can only remember one. It was a student protest in Durban over the privatization of the residence halls. After rubber bullet fire and student resilience the residence halls remained school owned. But one success in even a handful of cases isn’t too compelling. I don’t mean to diminish the small scale advances of personal empowerment and awareness raising, but I do wish to impart that protest generally aims and fails to achieve something bigger, like reducing rape, ending the Iraq war, or restructuring wall street.

My generation seems to be one that is brilliant at producing visual representation but questionable when it comes to physical implementation. Rape is not about purple shirts and duct tape, rape is about oppressive physical structures. While the purple shirts and silence might unite and empower us today at some point our unvalidated discursive endurance will lead only to disempowerment as we recognize the expired effect of our voices.

Individual empowerment does not shield us from rape. Street cleaners don’t get people to stop littering. We are worthy of solving our problems and not just their symptoms. Perhaps it is time to take the duct tape off and start talking to each other. Other civil action is possible. Lets not restrict ourselves to the dominant and failing model of duct taping our mouthes to speak to those that have duct taped their ears.

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