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One week after the first ever Hollaback! International Site Leader’s retreat, I am adjusting back to the slower pace of the rolling farmlands and Appalachian foothills of Southeast Ohio. Awake at dawn to hungry farm animals crying for their breakfast, my mindless chores allow me time to reflect on my days in NYC. I had been there once before when I was in my early twenties. We came to see a show and had a terrible time, afraid to use the subway, trying to drive along streets teaming with angry cabbies, getting shooed off of every place we tried to sit and rest our tired feet from trying to walk across a city that seemed to never end. This time would be different. This time would be all business. I was braced for a packed schedule and my first ever subway ride. All I had heard about the subway were stories of everything from harassment to public masturbation. But I was coming to New York to take part in the first international gathering of badass feminists from around the world working together to end street harassment worldwide! We got this, right? Much to my surprise, however, New York was much kinder than I had remembered it. I was happily surprised by the way my guide on this, my first ever subway ride ever, would make eye contact and chat with so many total strangers. I had thought the subway was a place where you were supposed to avoid eye contact and keep to yourself, but I was glad that my guide had set a much different tone. We rode the train for about an hour and a half every day. During that time, I asked strangers for help in reading my map and was given polite and helpful responses. I was asked for directions and had to admit that I didn’t know anything but let folks borrow my map. I picked up a toy dropped by a small child and playfully handed it back without freaking out their parents. New York was starting to seem not so very different from my own home town. But there were still subtle reminders of the work that still needed to be done. On night coming home a bit later than usual, I was sitting with my two friends from Northern Ireland, three ladies, tired but still brightly discussing the exciting day we had just had. The rest of the train was dotted with solitary men sitting here or there, some nodding off, some looking around quietly. Three stylish high school girls got on the together, and despite plenty of room elsewhere in the train, they chose to sit directly across from us. Perhaps they could sense the feminist revolution percolating through our brains and wanted to be near, but perhaps it’s simpler than that. Perhaps that’s just where they felt safest. Then the next night, I got a migraine and had to leave the group early to head to bed. My first solo ride came about in my weakest moment. The train looked similar to the night before. Mostly solitary men dotting the train. I leaned my head on the window and rested my eyes. Then three women got on together and surrounded me. They were speaking Spanish and laughing together. Without words, they understood that I wasn’t feeling well, and without words, I understood that they had my back. I’m almost crying as write this at how good it feels to be so supported and cared for by so many awesome women! I’m not afraid of the subway anymore, and I rededicate myself to whatever it takes to create a world where everyone can feel safe moving through public spaces.
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