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From the Listening Ear:
Take Back the Night is an international tradition, which cities around the world have participated in since 1973. The first Take Back the Night in the United States was a national protest march down San Francisco’s pornography strip. Throughout the years, Take Back the Night has expanded its focus to include ending all forms of violence against women and transforming a culture that endorses the oppression of women. The main focus of this program is to demand an end to rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, incest and sexual harassment. The highlight of Take Back the Night is the march, when women walk through the night and reclaim the streets.
The act of marching and demanding safe streets is a very powerful experience. One of the participants in an early New York Take Back the Night March stated, “The March was a way of demonstrating our commitment to stopping the tide of violence against women, whether by rapist or batters or image makers in the mass media…Chanting slogans such as ‘No More Profit Off Women’s Bodies,’ we filled the street entirely, blocking off traffic and completely occupying the Broadway strip for three blocks. For an hour, and for the first time ever, Broadway belonged not to the barkers, pimps, or pornographers, but instead to the songs, voices, rage and vision of thousands of women.” (Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography, edited by Laura Lederer, 1980.)
The first "Reclaim the Night" march was held in Belgium in 1976 by the women attending the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women.  They marched together holding candles to protest the ways in which violence permeates the lives of women worldwide. Other marches were held in Rome in 1976 as a reaction to recently released rape statistics, in West Germany in 1977 demanding "the right to move freely in their communities at day and night without harassment and sexual assault," and in 11 towns in England later in 1977 in response to the "Ripper Murders" in Leeds.
The first known "Take Back the Night" march in the United States was organized in San Francisco, California on November 4, 1978, by Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media and marched through the red-light district of San Francisco in protest of rape and pornography, which they identified with the sexualized subordination of women. Susan Brownmiller, a radical feminist journalist who participated in the San Francisco march, recalls,
Saturday evening [November 4, 1977] culminated in a candlelit "Take Back the Night" march (the first of its kind) through the porn district, kicked off by an exhortation by Andrea Dworkin. ... Her call to action accomplished, three thousand demonstrators took to the streets, snaking past Broadway's neon peeps, "adult" book stores, and garish massage parlors while Holly Near sang from an amplified truck and local artists weaved through the line bobbing surreal effigies of madonnas and whores.