It seems fitting that today I got to stand in one of the central plazas in Washington, DC, just blocks from the White House, with hundreds of other women and men for One Billion Rising. It was a global gathering of women (and those who love women) to rise against gender-based violence but also, according to the creators, to “dance and celebrate in defiance of its oppressive impact.” Defying the tragedy that exists for millions of women by moving bodies and voices in support of change.
The event was part protest, part party, and even though it was just a few hundred people who stepped away from their desks at lunchtime, it was a statement of strength and solidarity. So powerful because women gathered today in nearly 200 countries, in their cities and towns and even in prisons. Halfway around the planet from where I was, thousands of women took to the streets in India, a country where more women and girls are subject to violence, abuse, exploitation and enslavement than anywhere else.
Tomorrow I will board a flight to India to join Off the Mat, Into the World’s Bare Witness Tour, focusing our attention and intention on challenging the now global and multi-billion dollar industry that traffics and enslaves women and girls for sexual exploitation, arguably one of the most horrific forms of violence that exists in our world today.
From our admittedly narrow vantage point in the nation’s capital, where the talk is often about minute details of policy and legislation, it can be hard to see the power of a group of people dancing in the street to send a message. But globally and through history, these are the types of small acts that have brought about big change. In my own experience, working with Off the Mat and with non-profits around the world, in Haiti, India and the US, I have begun to understand better the impact we can have coming together in community, on the street, in a capital or in our own neighborhood. This is ritual as activism, conveying a powerful message and drawing attention and awareness to that message in a way that simply standing up and talking about a cause will never be able to do.
There was a moment when a women’s a cappella group was ready to begin singing on the stage and we heard blaring sirens close by and moving slowly, which in DC usually means a motorcade and even could have been the president, given our location. One of the singers suggested that we pause and let the sirens pass, but the crowd rumbled to life, sending up their voices so that the passing elected official could hear our message loud and clear.
And in that moment, our voices merged with those of women in India who have been beaten by their husbands, viciously attacked by strangers as they walk down the street or sold by their own family members for less than what I spend on groceries each week. I am humbled by the opportunity and the responsibility to experience both the profound tragedy of violence that exists in Delhi and Kolkata, in Washington, DC, and in every community on the planet, but to also stand in a place that represents the great potential of this revolution to evoke meaningful change.
ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME.
ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITY
ONE BILLION WOMEN DANCING IS A REVOLUTION
~ One Billion Rising