Hundreds of people took to the streets in downtown New Paltz as part of the Feb. 14 worldwide One Billion Rising event intended to raise awareness of the ever-increasing numbers of incidents of violence against women and girls (www.onebillionrising.org). Although the event — inspired by the writer/playwright Eve Ensler, author of the renowned Vagina Monologues — focused on a serious and deadly issue, the event was also meant to empower women and girls through music, dance and sisterhood. And dance they did! Children, mothers, grandmothers, husbands, fathers, grandfathers and people of all ages came together on the corner of Main Street and Plattekill Avenue, dancing, hugging and singing to “This Is a Woman’s World” and then the [Bob Marley] classic “Get Up, Stand Up,” which blasted over a loudspeaker on the sunny Valentine’s Day rally for women’s rights.
One of the organizers, New Paltz resident Mary Goggin, said that she was so “moved by this turnout. It’s fantastic!” Her friend and cohort in helping to organize the New Paltz One Billion Rising event, Johanna Longbotham, addressed the crowd, saying, “This is such an amazing community to be a part of. I look out and see all of these fabulous people and feel honored and blessed.”
She added that those taking part in the One Billion Rising event in New Paltz were part of something much bigger. “There are millions of people in India, South Africa, all over the world rising up with us. It’s so inspiring and so great to see so many young children here. A lot of the violence happens during silence, so it’s tremendously gratifying to see people’s hearts open and their voices singing today!”
After getting pumped up by a woman’s drum circle led by Fre Atlast of Rosendale and the Rosendale Brass Band and Social Club, who fired up their horns with a rendition of Katie Perry’s “Firework,” a group of approximately 100 people did a flash mob dance to the theme song of the One Billion Rising event, “Break the Chain.” They were led by Corinna Caracci from SUNY New Paltz, who had helped them practice the dance throughout the previous weeks.
People cheered and danced and swirled. While the music and the camaraderie were powerful, the meaning behind the rally — violence against women and girls — happens every hour, every day, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, age or ethnicity. There was a woman holding a sign with a picture of a beautiful young girl that read, “We Rise in Memory of Alexis!” The woman holding that sign was Barbara Craft-Reiss, whose goddaughter from Newburgh was recently beaten to death by her boyfriend. “She was adopted when she was three weeks old, and has been a part of my family since that day. I can’t believe she’s not here anymore,” she said. Alexis had been only 20 years old. “I’m here because I have to be the voice that she can’t. I have to do something to try and stop this violence.” She is now volunteering at a domestic violence center.
“I’m here because I came from a mother; I have a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter and a lot of women friends,” said Bob Hughes, citing the statistics that were recently released by the United Nations estimating that one in every three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. “We need more awareness and greater regulations. These statistics are horrifying. Women are beaten, raped and killed every day.”
“It’s not about sex; it’s about violence and power,” said Ann Flynn, who was there because she is “a mother, a grandmother and a woman who wants to make this community, this world safer for all women and children.” She was joined by village trustee Sally Rhoads, who said that she was there because she “wants to ensure the rights and safety of my granddaughters.”
Rhoads also added that in her estimation, “Women are better problem-solvers. We listen to each other; we talk to each other; we find ways of solving things together — and this is something that needs to be solved now!”
Goggin reiterated that this is “not a women’s issue; this is a civil rights issue, and the greatest civil rights issue we are facing.”
After the flash mob danced and the streets were reopened, the brass band and women drummers led the participants of the One Billion Rising event on a walk to the New Paltz Community Center, where they continued to dance, sing and promote awareness about violence against women and children.