On Thursday, February 14, 2013, I rose and danced. Alongside sisters and brothers, elders and children, across cultural and generational communities, the People’s Power Rising contingent brought together communities of color under the banner of “end violence against women.” More importantly, our banner of violence against women worked to broaden the definition of “violence” to include structural and institutional violence stemming from the economic crisis, a broken US immigration system and neoliberal retreats in social services, housing and healthcare.
I can remember joining a street protest as a young person and feeling the electricity of collective action. But Thursday was a bit different. Dancing and marching, and then dancing again, in the streets holding our important calls against militarization, police brutality and deportations (to name a few) brought joy to my heart. It was, at once, militant and fun. My Gabriela USA sisters to my left, MUA (Mujeres Unidas y Activas) to my right, CPA (Chinese Progressive Association) comrades behind me; it was electrifying.
As we merged with the One Billion Rising organized by city committees and officials, I felt proud of our contingent pouring into the main event. Our march from Union Square (where we did our first dance flash mob) into the UN Plaza/Civic Center in San Francisco was thrilling as we chanted, “When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” But the flash mob and march was just a moment in the process building up to Feb. 14’s One Billion Rising. Our months of preparation looked like: ground working and unifying on the multiple definitions of “violence against women”, workshops discussing a wider definition for violence against women (topics like VAWA’s reauthorization and lack of domestic workers’s rights), rehearsals bringing women, men and queer people together to move our bodies (and burn calories!), and a roundtable discussion on how to keep the momentum moving forward to build a progressive women’s coalition in San Francisco.
The dancing was electrifying, but the inspiration and motivation came from the grassroots movement building we undertook in preparing for One Billion Rising.
Of course there were low points. The One Billion Rising movement, a largely white, middle-class, feminist centered, movement focusing on liberating women from violence through dance is sort of idealist and over-optimistic in relying on one day of dance to “end” violence against women. (See why some feminists are NOT supporting One Billion Rising) And even in real-time, the racial and class lines were drawn as our People’s Power Rising contingent were pushed to the back behind media cameras as all of the focus went to a stage where only city officials and mostly mainstream groups were given mic time. When it was our contingent’s turn to dance, our young people, elders and community members were physically marginalized as people crowded the center of the One Billion Rising space, mistaking us as invaders and telling us to move. The geography of American feminism materialized in the space provided for people of color, working immigrant communities and youth. We had to re-assert a second segment so that all of our contingent members could go into the space and really dance. As we went in a second time, our contingent had to literally create space (shove and push politely) for folks to give us some room.
There’s still little room to acknowledge communities of color in mainstream feminist spaces like One Billion Rising. There’s still a lot of room left to break open the definition of violence against women to include US imperialism and globalization, in its global and local manifestations.
But the most important lesson, for me, is not that one action on one Valentine’s Day is gonna fix such an entrenched problem like violence against women. Although, I agree with the critiques that One Billion Rising displaces the focus away from root causes. I also understand that the process of ending violence against women will be long-term and it has to include ORGANIZING and EDUCATING across genders, cultures, communities and generations. That’s what is key. One Billion Rising is one moment in ending violence against women. One moment towards a militant International Working Women’s Day, March 8th in San Francisco. One moment in building a strong coalition of organizations whose members and leaders are women who feel the brunt of the economic crisis.
Yes, One Billion Rising was fun. And Eve Ensler may have gotten more pats on the back than actual grassroots organizers got. But who cares? Eve Ensler isn’t gonna create change in our communities. We are. So we’re gonna pat our own backs.
We’re gonna continue to rise. March 8th is only less than a month away, and I know that we will continue to rise to the problems of today.