Why aren’t we marching?

by Karen Topakian

Last night I attended a sneak preview of Pink Ribbons, Inc. A Canadian produced documentary about the pink ribbon phenomenon that dominates the breast cancer community. Go see it when it comes to your town.

The film highlighted the history of the pink ribbon, the organizations that promote it and the many voices that oppose its usage. Including national breast cancer leader and activist Barbara Brenner, former director of Breast Cancer Action.

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure spreads the pink ribbon far and wide. They slap it on carcinogenic products (Ford automobiles) as well as dangerous ones (handguns). [Brenner says, it’s not clear if Komen partners with the pink gun people or the pink gun people just send them money.]

This film highlighted the usurpation of people’s commitment to stop breast cancer. Women and men walk, jump, run and cycle to raise money for breast cancer awareness. But they don’t march. They don’t demand.

Nancy Brinker, the CEO and founder of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, dreams of the day when people with breast cancer can take a pill to manage it the way people with AIDS can take AZT. Wow, really. My dream would be to stop the transmission of AIDS and prevent breast cancer in the first place. But I digress.

I’m glad she raised the comparison to AIDS because there is a lesson here. It’s obvious that the pink ribbon movement started at the corporate level not at the grassroots. Here’s how I can tell.

One of the reasons that AIDS activists were successful in changing the paradigm around illness, disease, treatment and prevention was because they were ACTIVISTS.

We didn’t walk (though people do walk and run for AIDs organizations). We practiced civil disobedience. We got in people’s faces. We marched. We lay down in the streets. We disrupted conferences. Religious services. Cultural events. Political events.

Many women and men are breast cancer activists. But imagine for a moment if the millions of women and men who walk, ride, jump, cycle for breast cancer slightly changed their mode of transportation and MARCHED.

To corporate headquarters. Who pollute our air and water. Who put known carcinogens in our health and beauty products. Who use endocrine disruptors in products that we manufacture and use.

How different would the world look?

Imagine if armies of women marched on shareholder meetings of known polluters.

Imagine if legions of women didn’t scale the hills of SF annually but marched to the EPA demanding better regulations and enforcement. Marched to Congress demanding better laws. Marched to the NIH demanding more research on the environmental causes.

The civil rights movement didn’t walk. They marched. To the seats of power.

The anti-nuke and anti-war movement didn’t walk. They marched. They lay down. They disrupted business as usual for days.

The LGBT movement didn’t walk. They marched. Drag queens and all.

Why aren’t we marching?