There are times when it feels like audacity is endangered.
I come from a generation that is known, particularly in contrast to the supposedly rebellious and checked out Gen X before it, as being respectful of authority and highly tactical and ambitious. We’ve got five-year plans. We like to be right. We prefer to succeed rather than fail, make moves rather than take risks. Even our rebellions often come in the form of strategic plans.
Eve Ensler isn’t like that. Eve Ensler has the soul of a 13-year-old – naive, empathic at superhuman levels, melodramatic at times – and the vision of a wizened old woman who has spent too many years on earth, and has too few left, to bother with the delusions of calculation and safety. Which is why, it’s not so surprising that this uncommon character, one year ago today, announced that she wanted to spark the biggest global action against gender-based violence in history.
One Billion Rising is a call to action for 1 billion women and men throughout the world to strike and dance today in order to call attention to the horrifying statistic that one in three women, that’s one billion, will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. The campaign has been run all year by Eve Ensler’s now 15-year-old organisation, V-Day, which is most famous for activating people’s feminist imagination through Ensler’s groundbreaking play, The Vagina Monologues.
Ensler’s audacity is less surprising when one considers what V-Day has accomplished. Together with their dedicated local organisers, they have raised more than $85 million, funded over 13,000 community-based anti-violence programmes and educated millions. The organisation reports that 86 cents to the dollar goes directly into ending violence against women and girls, largely due to their model, which relies most heavily on impassioned local volunteers and keeps the organisation itself small and virtual. In 2012, alone, there were over 5,800 V-Day benefit events.
101 East – Battered and Bruised
One Billion Rising has ignited a network of colleges and communities worldwide using a multi-media campaign, including a series of stunning short films, an original song and accompanying instructional dance video by renowned choreographer Debbie Allen, and a web video series called “I Am Rising”.
The results have been profound. Activists in 203 countries from over 13,000 organisations around the globe will dance today. In Paris, the Women’s Coalition of the French Parliament will dance.In Bangladesh, millions plan to form a human dancing chain across the country.In Bosnia, women and men will dance along the riverside and public squares. The Mayor of Lima, Susana Villaran, has officially made today One Billion Rising Day.
An action this grand doesn’t come out of strategic planning sessions using the latest business bestseller. It doesn’t emerge from the myopic quibbling that sometimes goes on between balkanised bloggers. It doesn’t spring from the heads of wonks or management consultants. It comes from a woman who said vagina. So. Many. Times. It comes from an organisation that has been savvy enough to give away their most prized possession -Ensler’s plays and the zeitgeist within – in order to build a global anti-army. It comes from this increasingly rare fire – alternatively called chutzpah, audacity, daring, nerve.
An action like this also doesn’t spring from nowhere; this phenomenon is possible only because of the 15 years of organising that has come before it. Ensler doesn’t have any delusions about this either. She said:
“February 14, 2013, will change the world, not because it is a day of magic, although there are indeed mystical elements surrounding this campaign. It will change the world because the preparation for it and organising for it has already created an energetic wind or wave igniting existing efforts to end violence against women and create new ones.”
The day of foot-stomping, flash-mobbing and booty-shaking all across the world will not, in fact, end violence against women. It won’t stop men of the cloth from molesting children, the Taliban from shooting little girls who want an education, or boyfriends from raping their girlfriends. But what it does is help all of us tell a new story about what’s possible. It creates connections across demographic and organisational difference, a shared experience and set of memories, an undeniable visual and visceral demonstration of our collective outrage. It gives us somewhere to place our intolerance for what happened in New Delhi and Steubenville and so many places just like it that never made the headlines.
Above all else, it awakens our own dormant audacity. If Eve Ensler and V-Day can get one billion people to dance together, what else might be possible?
Courtney E Martin is a writer, speaker and social media strategist based in Brooklyn. She is the author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists and the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @courtwrites