Last Friday, I was one of the 60 or so students dressed in black and standing outside the UL at 2pm, staring solemnly ahead instead of smiling for the photo, and thinking about the campaign’s motivations and aims.
The reaction to such campaigns is understandably mixed. The international campaign in which actresses took activists as their ‘date’ has been described by some as being performative or hypocritical as some celebrities pledge their support and then continue to work alongside known harassers in the industry, while others may see smaller campaigns such as the Cambridge one as ineffectual, or detrimental to larger-scale efforts like the Breaking the Silence campaign. It requires very little effort from participants, which is a good thing in terms of amassing support on a wider scale – but if the price of participating is so low, how much longterm support or commitment can we really infer from those who turned up? Why join in with a campaign like this, if that is the case? Does it really achieve anything, or is it just a way of making yourself and the university look good?
I would argue there is absolutely a point to #TimesUpCambridge and all similar campaigns, despite the criticism. Perhaps, yes, there are those who participate simply as a performative gesture, an activity to make them look good for a cause which is popular at the time, but the point in these campaigns goes far beyond the motivations of one individual: they are a collective demonstration of solidarity and above all, awareness. The crowd of people becomes more powerful with every person who aligns themselves with it, no matter their motivation. The more times the same message is said, whether by the same campaign or by different ones, the more exposure the topic will get, and the more normalised it will become to talk about these difficulties and to speak up against the perpetrators.
The campaign on its own, however, is not enough. It is not enough to wear black for one day to show your solidarity, click ‘like’ on a Facebook page, donate some money, and think the work is done. The real work behind #TimesUp and other similar movements is the everyday grind which must take place behind the publicity moments. It is about changing mindsets worldwide and acting mindfully around those you associate with – something which requires a lot more commitment, and a lot more patience.
In Cambridge specifically, it is about cutting known perpetrators of assault out of friendship groups, supporting victims rather than blaming them, and creating safe spaces for survivors to access the tools they need. These tools need to be accessed without the kinds of bureaucracy and endless question-asking we are accustomed to finding in institutions such as a University, and they need to be given freely, without judgement.