The rise of right wing populism has been growing in the Netherlands under the charismatic and rather racist figure Geert Wilders who is chair of the PVV political party. This year he has become a feminist. Or so he says. We disagree.
We wanted to show that by scapegoating refugees for violence against women, you cover up the fact that sexism is also a very European issue […]
On the 23rd of January, after a message from one of my professors, I joined a small group of fellow feminists on the train to Spijkenisse, a suburb of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. We were armed with a beautiful banner decorated with a sparkly intersectional feminist sign on it and a megaphone. We were headed to an event organised by Geert Wilders and the PVV where he would give out pepper sprays (which were actually spray paint cans) to white women who felt threatened by the recent influx of refugees, or as he calls them “muslim testosterone bombs”. Our aim was to provide the counter voice to this hate filled populism, so we were simply going to get as close to Wilders as possible, take out the banners and placards, and then read a speech welcoming refugees and calling out the racism of the PVV. We wanted to show that by scapegoating refugees for violence against women, you cover up the fact that sexism is also a very European issue, especially considering that most violence happens in the home and in marriage in the Netherlands. And secondly we wanted to oppose the narrative that Wilders, and really all the Dutch political parties perpetuate, that it is okay to close our borders and build “family prisons” for refugees, whose only crimes have been to leave a war torn country.
We didn’t get very far. After having read only two sentences, Annemijn, our lady with the megaphone, was pulled away by the police, who had been following us ever since we got out of the train at Spijkenisse (trying to stop us even walking across the market square). So with no megaphone and no copy of the speech left we started singing chants which welcomed refugees and denounced racism. We followed Wilders as far as we could surrounded by a crowd of his supporters yelling things such as “you are so ugly”, “you need to be raped” or my personal favourite “you are too ugly for Dutch dick”, which is just patently false as well as being hugely xenophobic and sexist. Unfortunately for us the police sided with Wilders and slowly but surely, against all our best efforts, they forced us to back away from the crowd and demanded identification from everyone. When we asked them why they were arresting us and not the men shouting rape threats, the police’s response was that they hadn’t heard any threats. I don’t speak Dutch and I heard those threats VERY clearly!
Well anyway, the next part probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but all ten of us were arrested. We were put into a police van made for seven people, with no real reason for arrest cited. But the drive was fun, we delved into one girls makeup bag and drew cat whiskers all over our faces, enjoying our last moments of company before we were left for 6 or 7 hours in tiny, very cold cells, with no access to our lawyer (which yes, that is illegal). I couldn’t really be sad sitting in the jail cell to be honest, this was my very first feminist action and I was buzzing from how lovely and how empowering it had been. We were all on the same page and it was the first action I have done where I have felt like there was no sense of machoism at all.
It was also both so empowering and surprising to see that just ten women standing up against racism and standing for feminism could start so much discussion and have such a large effect.
As the penultimate person to be freed from jail I came out and was met by shouts and hugs all round, as well as the news that we were in the national media, and had even opened the eight ‘o clock news. But the love didn’t end there, for days we received such kind messages of solidarity from many different people, donations towards our legal funds and some of the political parties (Groenlinks, D66 and Socialistische Partij) even raised questions in parliament about the legality of arrests. The minister of justice’s answers were wholly unsatisfactory. Nevertheless our fantastic lawyer, Willem Jebbink, will help us protest the arrests on the grounds that we did nothing against the law on that day. In fact we were using our democratic right to protest. As a result of the action we have become a sort of sisterhood of women who have been organising marches and speaking at events ever since, and we even plan to hold a conference all about intersectional feminism and activism this summer. For the first time I feel like I have people surrounding me who really care about feminism and will call out injustice wherever they are. That’s very exciting for me because there is quite a lot of sexism and machoism within many of the activist scenes I have so far encountered. It was also both so empowering and surprising to see that just ten women standing up against racism and standing for feminism could start so much discussion and have such a large effect. And we hope to carry on doing just that.