Activists at the 2018 Detroit SlutWalk. Credit: Chantel Watkins
Throughout the spring and summer, Detroiters have protested daily for racial justice, following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Somewhere along the frontlines, amidst the chants and tear gas, Chantel Watkins — activist, poet and champion for social justice — has been marching.
Watkins, 29, has been working to further many social justice causes for nearly a decade. She’s worked on campaigns from intersectional feminism to prison reform over the years, and this weekend will lead the Detroit SlutWalk.
“The first protest I ever threw was when Troy Davis was executed [in Georgia] even after a witness came out and said that it wasn’t him and DNA proved it wasn’t him, but he was still executed,” said Watkins. “I was pissed off, I called my friends and said, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing but I know if we take signs out there on the corner we’ll be doing something.’”
That was in 2011. Since then, Watkins has organized and participated in a variety of protests, including Occupy Detroit and Black Lives Matter. Eventually she became involved with the Metro Detroit Political Action Network (MDPAN), an intersectional civil rights group and organizer of the Detroit SlutWalk, first held in 2012.
In 2018, Watkins, also known by her stage name Chani The Hippie, first performed her poetry at the Detroit SlutWalk. This year, Watkins is serving as the event’s chairperson.
“I had really gotten to know the leaders in our organization and they were like, ‘You’re powerful, you don’t care about fighting things that come your way,’” Watkins recalled.
Originating in Toronto in 2011 and a predecessor of the #MeToo movement, SlutWalks are an expression of feminine sexual energy and a rallying cry against rape culture. They have also become a resource and movement of support for survivors of sexual assault.
The Detroit SlutWalk is not only a protest against slut-shaming, but a march in solidarity with all communities affected by sexual assault. Organizers of Detroit SlutWalk have also created a petition calling for the state of Michigan to maximize sentencing for all violent sexual offenders.
But as an advocate for sexual assault victims, Watkins underscored the need for alternative support networks, particular in a climate when Black survivors and survivors of color might not trust law enforcement.
“The last thing I would recommend someone to do right now is go to the police,” Watkins said. “The Detroit Recovery Project or The Sasha Center can offer rape kit testing, they’re social workers, they’re trained professionals. They know how to help and are way more empathetic than the police right now.”
As for negativity and backlash? It’s the least of Watkins’ concerns, but she’s prepared for it.
“A lot of the backlash for Detroit SlutWalk was, ‘It makes me feel uncomfortable,’” she said. “But I don’t care. This is important and I will argue with anyone about it.”
The Detroit SlutWalk will be held Saturday, Sept. 12 at Palmer Park. The event is free and you can register on Eventbrite.
If you or someone you know is seeking information or support for sexual assault or domestic abuse, local organizations are available to help:
The SASHA Center: www.sashacenter.org
HAVEN of Oakland County: https://www.haven-oakland.org
Detroit Recovery Project: https://www.recovery4detroit.com
WC SAFE: http://wcsafe.org/