Despite having to deal with the aftermath of last Thursday’s massive snowfall, the 2014 One Billion Rising for Justice event held on campus at SUNY New Paltz on Friday, Feb. 14 drew at least the same turnout they had for last year’s “Rising,” said organizer Johanna Longbotham. Some 200 women, men, girls and boys, most dressed in red or wearing the signature red tee-shirts of the campaign, came out on the chilly Valentine’s Day afternoon to participate in the local effort of the global movement to end violence against women.
It was all part of the human rights campaign begun last year by Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues and founder of “V-Day,” a movement she started 16 years ago to raise awareness about the pervasive violence in the world against women and girls. Last year, Ensler amped up the movement by creating the first One Billion Rising campaign, asking women everywhere to gather together on “V-Day,” Feb. 14, to dance to the anthem “Break the Chain” in solidarity against gender-based abuse. An estimated one billion women worldwide did so, including the locally-based Hudson Valley Rising.
The name of the movement comes from statistics published by the United Nations several years ago that estimate one in three women worldwide will be sexually abused or beaten at some point in her life, figures that equate to approximately one billion women and girls.
Since our culture doesn’t generally encourage women who are abused to speak openly about it, Ensler organized the One Billion Rising effort to open the floodgates, as it were, and empower its victims and those who love them to speak out.
The cold weather last Friday brought this year’s Rising in New Paltz indoors to the multipurpose room on the SUNY campus. Longbotham said that Elizabeth Culmone, a SUNY New Paltz alumna and a senior assistant district attorney assigned to the Special Victims bureau in Ulster County, spoke to the group about the prevalence of violence against women and children in Ulster County. The rousing talk was followed by the rehearsed flash mob dance to a recorded version of “Break the Chain,” where Longbotham estimates about three-quarters of those who danced were SUNY students who had learned the dance in the weeks prior from Corinna Coracci, director of residence life at SUNY New Paltz and one of the local organizers. The rest of the participants were from the community, Longbotham said, and included more men and boys than at last year’s event, some of whom even participated in the dance.
Following the dance, the group watched the video made by Ensler for last year’s event and the New Paltz-based Hudson Valley Playback Theatre did a presentation where they mirrored back the essence of what they’d observed from watching the group performing the dance.
A related event — the screening of Natalie Merchant’s Shelter, a documentary about domestic violence filmed last year — was planned for earlier that morning at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston but had to be cancelled due to hazardous road conditions earlier in the day. The event will be rescheduled, according to the Old Dutch Church’s Facebook page.
In a conversation with Hudson Valley Rising’s Mary Goggin several weeks ago, she explained that the movement uses dance as the solidifying experience because of Ensler’s work in the Congo with abused women, who danced as a form of healing and bonding. Ensler was motivated by “the life-affirming power of movement” she witnessed there, Goggin said, and used that “celebration of the body, spirit and soul” as the basis for her global call for women to “rise up” and dance together. “And the really interesting thing,” Goggin said, “is that while we’re dancing for this very serious cause, it’s actually a really joyful event.”