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Bliss writes: "One billion women are raped, beaten or sexually abused during their lifetimes. This huge global gathering gives artistic expression to anger and grief to transform them into unifying, uplifting, and healing public events in order to 'Break the Chain' of violence against women and girls."

One billion women to rise up against violence against women. (photo: One Billion Rising)
One billion women to rise up against violence against women. (photo: One Billion Rising)

One Billion Rising to Confront Violence Against Women

By Shepherd Bliss, Reader Supported News

07 February 13


Reader Supported News | Perspective


roups of dancers in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as elsewhere around the planet, have been rehearsing and engaging in public Flash Mobs. They show up, unannounced, start the music on a portable system, and begin dancing. They are building toward a February 14th, Valentine's Day, One Billion Rising action, scheduled for over 190 countries.

"Eve Ensler, the author of the play 'The Vagina Monologues,'" explained Valerie Richman of Petaluma, "Read a United Nations' statistic that one-of-three women would be the victim of violence. So she got the idea of a billion women and those who love them standing up to strike, rise, and dance to end violence. A song was written, 'Breaking the Chain,' along with choreography by Debbie Allen."

One billion women are raped, beaten or sexually abused during their lifetimes. This huge global gathering gives artistic expression to anger and grief to transform them into unifying, uplifting, and healing public events in order to "Break the Chain" of violence against women and girls.

"Strike | Dance | Rise!" is a planetary invitation. It will climax on the 15th anniversary of the annual V-Day that Ensler and others have organized in many different languages around the globe. "The 'V' in V-Day stands for Valentine's Day, Victory Over Violence, and Vaginas," explained Petaluma organizer Trisha Almond.

"Dancing is an expression of the power we don't always feel we have," explained Diana Ellis of Petaluma. She supports, "A vision of how men and women can work together in simple artistic ways to fight violence against the one billion. The problem of solving sexual violence can feel hopeless. But a billion minus one, minus one, minus one ... eventually equals zero."

"I believe that men's voices, feelings, experiences, suggestions and actions must be included in the dialogue about stopping violence against women," added Richman. "It is a HUMAN issue!"

Around 400 dancers converged on downtown San Francisco on January 26th. "One Billion is a dancing revolution against the world-wide violence against women and girls on a daily basis," reported Suzette Burrous, a midwife who participated in that event. "I joined this movement because I strongly support the work of Having performed in the 'The Vagina Monologues' seven times in the past, I was excited to be part of another global movement to protect and enhance the lives of women of the world."

La Tierra community's warm barn in the Sebastopol countryside in Sonoma County heated up on January 24th. It became a hot site for an exciting dance rehearsal. Sebastopol's lead dancer, AnnMarie Ginella - a widow in her 50's with four sons - clad in a colorful One Billion Rising shirt against a black background, had expected four people to attend the rehearsal. Over a dozen came, including three men and an animated five-year-old girl with her mother and grandparents, who evoked smiles as the child watched carefully and learned the steps. By the February 3rd public rehearsal in Sebastopol's plaza, some 35 dancers joined and were witnessed by many at the small town's weekly farmers' market.

Dominican University in San Rafael will be the site of Marin County's February 14th action. Sister Patricia Dougherty, OP, Ph.D., chair of Dominican's history department, sent out an invitation to faculty and staff to join the social justice effort. It will begin, appropriately enough, with a dance-prayer performed by international women in the morning, directed by dance teacher Taira Restar.

"Noise at Noon" will climax the day with a march protesting violence against women and girls. It will go from the campus to downtown San Rafael. Participants are invited to: "Bring posters, noise-makers, and high energy to protest local and global violence toward women and girls." An afternoon teach-in described as "Breaking the Chain," the name of the song to which participants dance, will conclude the day.

A group of six Petaluma dancers spoke to a communication class at Dominican and engaged in a Flash Mob outside the library on February 1st, including a mother/daughter team. "The Flash Mobs we've been in have been fun," noted Ronda Black. "You go in and dance without permission. When we went to a mall, a security guard came up and asked 'Who is your leader?' We responded that we don't have a leader."

"Violence is like climate change," added Connie Madden. "People do not want to look at it. We need to shine a light on the violence and change what we do. Instead of the growing cultural clashes around the world, we need to find ways to come together as one human race, rather than warring tribes."

"In Berlin, over 5,000 people were involved in a Flash Mob," noted Richman. She also explained that the group is male-positive and includes men, noting that many men are also victims of violence. After the Petaluma group - mature women mainly in their 40's to 60's - demonstrated the dance, the college students jumped up to join them and learn the steps in 12 movements.

"On my knees I pray. I'm not afraid any more. I will walk through that door," are the words that open the dance. Then the dancers erupt in skillfully coordinated, crisp movements.

"We are mothers. We are teachers. We are beautiful creatures," are other affirming words that are spoken and danced to. "I raise my hands to the sky. I'm no longer afraid," are more proud words that stimulate the dancing, as is, "You don't own me."

"This is my body. My body is holy. In the middle of this madness, I know there is a better world. Break the rules. It's time to break the chain," are other words to which the dancers move.

"We can talk and talk and talk," noted male dancer Dean LaCoe in the Sebastopol barn. "When you add music and dance, it goes to your heart." Rehearsals help build community among its participants, and are strengthening an international movement.

The Santa Rosa action is being organized, "Together with our Spanish-speaking community," writes Julie Rachanna Chasen. "Undocumented Spanish-speaking women who experience violence and oppression are in a doubly difficult situation in our country, as they face deportation and being separated from their children if they report to the police. We will subsequently dance to 'Romper Las Cadenas' as well as 'Break the Chains.'"

"I am rising because I know, deep in my bones, that the systematic degradation and violation of women that is happening all over the world is linked to every other form of exploitation and oppression," added Chasen. "It's about power over, be it power over the earth, power over immigrants, gays, power over anyone and anything that seems vulnerable, including other countries, as in war. As women and girls all over the world rise up in song and dance, with self-respect and love in our hearts, we will be part of a shift in consciousness on our planet that will lead us toward a more caring world."

Watching the dynamic women and their male allies dance, at times I thought about my mother, Alice Miller Bliss. Her life was difficult, raising five children and dealing with a military husband who could be violent. This reporter was not the only person in the barn whose memories were evoked by the dancing. Tears could be seen on some dancers' faces, perhaps feeling a pain, or perhaps the joy of direct action to deal with pain.

Negative memories of violence can be replaced by positive ones of togetherness, unity, and even love, as the dozen people rehearsing first in the barn and then in public began to coordinate their movements. They replaced some of their pain with the joy of being together in a vital connection against violence and for healing. When they left La Tierra's barn - by then with its doors pushed open to the cold winter - they were highly animated by their time together creating an uplifting art form combining spoken words, music, and movement.

Feeder events are happening in Petaluma, including an art show extending from February 1st to March 3rd. Its call for art requested that which "... is a positive expression of women; their resiliency, their sensuality; an expression of what the V-Day movement means to them; why they are RISING; or artwork relating to women's empowerment and prevention of violence against women and girls."

If February 14th draws anywhere near as many people as its ambitious goal, it would be the largest art event in history, including the already beautiful posters and videos available on numerous online resources. Rather than be, "A shot heard 'round the world," it would break silences and be a shout heard around the world, hard to ignore.

For More Information: for video. for Bay Area Flash Mob details. for material on the global movement to end violence against women and children.

Shepherd Bliss teaches college part-time, has run the organic Kokopelli Farm for the last 20 years, and has contributed to two dozen books. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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