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Repurposing V-Day

news vdayThis Feb. 14, a global uprising and local event take aim at violence against women

One in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, according to the United Nations, and one in three women will be physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner.

This means that there are around one billion women affected by gender-based violence in the world, and that there should be one billion people taking a stand against it, says Santa Cruz resident Kate Roberts. This was the inspiration behind One Billion Rising, a gathering that will take place in 182 countries across the globe on Feb. 14. Founder Eve Ensler, who is best known for penning the 1994 flagship feminist work “The Vagina Monologues,” planned One Billion Rising to celebrate the 15th anniversary of V-Day, an anti-violence against women event held on Valentine’s Day each year.

“We hear about [violence against women] all the time, and you don’t have to look very far, sadly, to see the effects,” says Roberts, who organized the Santa Cruz outpost of One Billion Rising after hearing Ensler interviewed on the radio last fall. 

Although One Billion Rising was conceived long before the recent high-profile rapes in India or Steubenville, Ohio, or the U.S. Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, these current events have sparked activism, awareness and dialogue that Roberts says will be expressed through the upcoming event.

“This is a good avenue for those who are angry to channel this energy into thinking about what we can do going forward [and] turning it into positive actions,” she says. 

The family-friendly Santa Cruz event will begin at Pacific Avenue’s Memorial Plaza at 5 p.m., when participants will hold a candlelight vigil for victims of violence and walk to the Museum of Art & History (MAH). The a cappella stylings of the local all-female group Yala Lati will kick off festivities at the MAH, followed by brief speeches including one from Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant, who will proclaim Feb. 14, 2013 as Violence Against Women Awareness Day.   

“And then we dance,” says Roberts. Dance is at the heart of all One Billion Rising gatherings happening across the globe, although it may seem like a misplaced activity for an event about such a grim topic.

“People say, ‘this is such a terrible subject and you’re going to dance?’” says Roberts. “It seems incongruent in some sense. But the idea is that we are going to rise up and basically focus that energy and frustration and anger that all of this stuff is going on and turn it into something positive.”

The theatrical, energetic element of public dance is an Ensler trademark.

“Dancing is a way of celebrating the resiliency of the spirit,” explains Roberts.

The MAH atrium will first be hit by a flash mob (people can learn the dance at onebillionrising.org), and then freeform dancing fun. The event will wrap up by 7 p.m., in time for attendees to celebrate other Valentine’s Day plans—after all, the “V” in Ensler’s “V-Day” stands for victory, vagina, and Valentine. That this annual rally about crimes against women lands on the popular holiday for love and romance is no accident.

“The idea of love and compassion for our fellow human beings and the complete contrast of all of the violence against women on this day is very powerful,” says Roberts.

Although the event is free, any donations that are collected will be divvied up among the Survivors Healing Center, Walnut Avenue Women’s Center, Women’s Crisis Support – Defensa de Mujeres, and local nonprofit Rising International. Each of these partner organizations will have tables at the MAH with information about volunteer and donation opportunities. 

Attendees will have the chance to have their portrait taken at the event with a sign explaining why they have joined the rising. As for Roberts, she says her reason is that, “I want women to know that they aren’t alone. That they have options, and that there is help for them.” 

Santa Cruz’s One Billion Rising takes place Thursday, Feb. 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Museum of Art & History, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. Entry is free, but donations will be accepted. Visit onebillionrising.org to learn more.

PHOTO by Kate Roberts.

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