Ah, the day of love. Valentine's Day is supposed to be all about flowers, candy and romance. Right?
Well, perhaps. But a day dedicated to romantic love also presents a good opportunity to focus the world's attention on what happens when "love" goes wrong. Violence against women remains, unfortunately, one of humanity's biggest problems and shames.
Worldwide, one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime One in three; that is one billion women.
One Billion Rising is an initiative started to bring more awareness and attention to this atrocity, motivating people to rise up against it in this single-day global action. Around the world on Valentine's Day, people will be gathering to walk out, rise up, dance and demand an end to violence against women. One Billion Rising will move the earth, activating women and men across every country so that the world can see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.
In Austin, several events will take place — the main one is on the front steps of the Capitol, beginning at 10 a.m. Much like a flashmob dance, participants will be dancing to break the chain of violence. Participants are encouraged to learn the dance moves through a Youtube video, and there are also several Austin-area venues that are offering classes to learn the moves, including the YMCA and Life Time Fitness.
Larissa Davila, co-coordinator of the Austin OBR event at the Capitol, says the action day will be beautiful and energizing. "We need to make a statement for the people that suffer in silence, for the people that refuse to believe there is a lot of support for them and for the girls that are still on time to take dignified decisions. They are not alone in the world."
Davila adds that people should get involved because, quite simply, they need to be. "We need to get involved because it is our duty as human beings."
The OBR events are an initiative of V-Day, which was created to perform benefit productions of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. For the past 14 years, local V-Day volunteers and college students have produced annual benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues and other artistic events to raise awareness and funds for anti-violence groups within their own communities.
"I don't get tired," Ensler says. "Because every time a woman doesn't die or doesn't get beaten or raped or honor-killed or acid burned, it's a huge victory." Over 5000 V-Day benefit events, produced by volunteer activists, take place each year in over 145 countries and in more than 50 languages, educating millions of people about the reality of violence against women and girls. Through grassroots efforts, V-Day has raised over $90 million for local anti-violence organizations.
Carrie Tilton-Jones of the Austin chapter for the National Organization for Women produced The Vagina Monologues at UT in 2004, and says that at the end of each show members of the audience were asked to stand if they were survivors of violence, or knew someone who was.
"At every performance, three-quarters of the audience stood," Tilton-Jones recalls. "I remember those moments so intensely. It was incredible to break the silence and see that none of us was alone. We found out later that it was one of those moments, seeing hundreds of people standing and feeling like they were standing with her, that gave one survivor who attended the courage to go to court and face her abuser. That was eight years ago, and I still cry when I think about that. It's one of the things I'm proudest of in my life."
Tilton-Jones adds that at the same time, it was enraging to see how many people were affected by violence. "One of the amazing things about V-Day and One Billion Rising is that they give us great ways to turn that sorrow and anger into action. So many of us are rising because of what's happened to us and the people we love."
At the Austin event, representatives from organizations such as SafePlace, Texas Council on Family Violence, APD Victims' Services, Latina Policy Coalition and the National Center on Domestic Violence will share the stage with performers from V-Day Austin and V-Day Austin en Español, the groups in town who regularly present The Vagina Monologues in English and in Spanish.
Several dance/movement companies will also perform in 5- to 10-minute time slots. Roy Lozano's Ballet Folklorico, Sun Dragon Martial Arts, Esquina Tango, Austin Dance India, the Manor HS Dance Team, Workout! with Erica Nix and Round Rock Ballet Folklorico are all confirmed to perform. The popular and soulful turntable artist known as DJ Mahealani will be providing music for the event.
Tilton-Jones has already made her sign for the rally. "It says, 'For my mother, for myself, both survivors of sexual violence. For my nieces, so they won't ever be.' I can't change what happened to me or my mother, but on V-Day, I can rise with women and allies all over the world and say, enough and never again."