Fans with Our Music My Body signs at the Pitchfork Music Festival Credit: Isabel S. Dieppa of Bust Magazine

Fans at Lollapalooza 2018 were greeted by a towering digital sign that displayed, in between set times and beer ads, the message “You make Lolla great! Look out for each other!” It was a public service announcement from Our Music My Body, a local sexual violence prevention campaign launched in April 2016. It encouraged ticket holders to “let our staff know if you feel harassed or threatened in any way.”

Our Music My Body (OMMB) is a growing presence at local music festivals and concert venues—as its Twitter bio says, “We work to promote fun and consensual music experiences all over Chicago.” It’s a joint campaign between two Chicago-based nonprofits: Resilience, a sexual assault survivor advocacy organization, and Between Friends, a domestic violence prevention agency.

OMMB codirector Maggie Arthur is a prevention educator at Resilience, and the other codirector, Matt Walsh, is a prevention education specialist at Between Friends. They both felt that consent wasn’t being adequately discussed in the live-music setting, despite frequent reports of sexual harassment and violence at shows. “We always hear that music is this utopian place—you’re supposed to be having all the fun—but no one is ever talking or promoting boundaries or safety,” Walsh says. “We realized that the resources we had as music fans and as advocates could really be blended into creating this wonderful thing.”

OMMB codirectors Matt Walsh and Maggie ArthurCredit: Liz Pompe

Since its inception, OMMB has worked at 67 events using a total of 72 volunteers. The campaign launched about a year and a half before the national media began foregrounding the public conversations sparked by the #MeToo movement, founded in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke—conversations about sexual abuse and harassment, domestic violence, and consent. “All we did was shine a light on something we knew was already happening. The #MeToo movement just put extra batteries in our flashlight,” Arthur says. She and Walsh credit Burke and the movement for the sea change in societal attitudes that made their work possible. “It went from us saying ‘Please please please let us come in and help and talk to people and support survivors in your space’ to venues being much more receptive and in fact reaching out to us for support before we found them,” she adds.

OMMB works with venue owners and festival organizers to create or revamp anti-harassment policies and train staff on how to enact them. The codirectors recognize that each venue requires its own policy, dependent on a litany of factors: genres of music booked, age of attendees, size of the space, likelihood and type of recreational drug usage, et cetera. For example, Arthur suggests, a mosh pit is usually more acceptable to fans at a punk show than those at an EDM festival. OMMB takes these factors into consideration to create systems centered on the needs of survivors. They want policies to include respect for the particulars of each situation, specific courses of action spelled out for the staff implementing them, and accountability for fans and staff alike—rather than a generic “zero tolerance” approach that provides few to no concrete instructions for staff to follow. “We want festivals to see our policy as one step of this full project,” says Walsh.

The OMMB campaign makes itself most visible by tabling on-site at shows. Volunteers hand out premade and customizable buttons with pro-consent slogans (donated by Busy Beaver Button Co.) and cards with phone numbers for support hotlines and other advocacy groups—last year alone, the organization gave away more than 6,000 buttons and 8,000 cards. “We are not D.A.R.E. We’re not there to tell you, ‘You guys are being creeps, you’re harmful, you need to listen up and change your behavior,'” Arthur says. “We do this lighthearted, almost passive way of engaging with people and starting a conversation about consent.” OMMB can reach people in need who may not have another way to learn about their options, whether they’re experiencing violence at a show or in any other parts of their lives.

Those interested in becoming volunteers for OMMB must begin by submitting an online application, then attend a four-hour training session that covers the basics of sexual violence, domestic violence, and bystander intervention. Next they put in a “shadow shift,” tabling with an established volunteer as a trial run. Some OMMB volunteers have had advocacy training independent of the campaign and can provide any fans who approach them with additional support. Walsh believes that the chance to make a difference while enjoying live music drives the enthusiasm of the OMMB volunteers. “They get to talk to people that are just as passionate about their favorite bands and [about] consent. I think it builds this really cool community,” he says. “It’s been cool watching our volunteers become friends.” Our Music My Body hosts its next volunteer training session at the Resilience office in the Loop (180 N. Michigan, suite 600) on Saturday, January 26, from 11:30 AM till 3:30 PM.

Walsh and Arthur are optimistic about the future. They cite local reactions to the Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, including protests of the singer and the surfacing of abuse allegations against other artists, as evidence of positive change in Chicago’s music scene. “There are these shifts that are happening,” says Walsh. “People are not dealing with anyone’s bullshit.”

The codirectors of OMMB hope the group can integrate even better with the festivals where it works—for instance by sharing walkie-talkie frequencies with security and medical personnel. Walsh and Arthur also hope to become a resource for advocates doing this work in their own cities—the OMMB campaign has traveled to Desert Daze in California and the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware, but it can’t be everywhere. Arthur remembers waiting devotedly for Warped Tour to arrive each summer, and she hopes to harness the powerful feelings that fans like her have for live music to spread positive messages of consent. “My dream for Our Music My Body,” she says, “is to help in a major culture shift around how we see sexual violence and harm and supporting survivors.”  v