This Valentine's Day, women and men around the world will dance, march, gather, and use their voices to speak out against injustices that affect women and girls. It's called One Billion Rising for Justice, and it's the brainchild of Eve Ensler, Tony award-winning playwright ("The Vagina Monologues") and founder of V-Day, an organization that seeks to end violence against women and girls everywhere.
On February 14, thousands of events will take place in hundreds of countries and on six continents, where participants will gather to fight specific issues happening in their communities. In Atlanta, for example, One Billing Rising for Justice will speak out against sex trafficking. Attendees are invited to submit videos of their experiences to the One Billing Rising website. The flexibility within the organization's vision for the movement was a leading factor in its success in obtaining an estimated one billion "risers" in 2013, when women - and men - danced in coordinated flash mobs for many reasons:
Justice can take many forms. It can be an apology or reparations. Taking legal action. It can be about making the truth visible. It can be prosecuting, or pushing to create change, or implementing policies and laws that ensure the protection of women's rights. It can be calling for an end to all forms of inequality, discrimination, misogyny and patriarchy. It can be naming or shaming perpetrators - whether they be individuals, groups, corporations or the state. Demanding accountability. It can be rising for justice be it personal, social, economic, cultural, environmental or political. It can be a revolutionary call to restore dignity and respect for all women. It can be about transformation.
"I was obsessed with the statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, which is equal to over one billion women," Ensler says of the original idea for One Billion Rising after 15 years of doing The Vagina Monologues. "In Congo, where I did a lot of work in solidarity with the women there, we were dancing one day. Women in the Congo dance in a way that calls up every spirit and energy force in the world! They have a way of transforming pain to power when they dance. And then I just thought, 'Wow. What if one billion women and all the men and women who loved them danced on the planet?' It was an organic movement. Once we put out the call (for One Billion Rising), it was an open invitation. Everyone took this campaign into their communities in a self-directed, autonomous way."
In January, Ensler accepted the 2014 Coretta Scott King A.N.G.E.L. Award ('Advancing Nonviolence through Generations of Exceptional Leadership'), on behalf of One Billion Rising in Atlanta at The King Center's Salute to Greatness. Members of the family of Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also recognized Muhammad Ali at the event. The A.N.G.E.L. award is given each year to an initiative that exemplifies exceptional leadership in the areas of peace, social justice and nonviolent social change.
Lifelong social justice activist Ensler says accepting the award was a full-circle moment. "For me, it was a profound experience being in that room, because Dr King's words and actions inspired me so much. To be honored alongside Ali, because of who he was in the 1960s and his fight for civil rights and against Vietnam, was amazing." Ensler, a cancer survivor, says Ali motivated her to be brave while she was battling the disease a few years ago. "When I was sick with cancer, my sister got me a huge picture of the moment he knocked out George Foreman at Kinshasa," she says. "He's in the exhaustion of the struggle. I had that picture up for the whole of my cancer treatment. I would just look at him every day and say, 'I am Ali and the cancer is [my opponent].'"
Ensler says that ending violence against women and girls will take the same determination, fight and resolve.
"Wee can't end violence against women without ending economic injustices and violence or without ending environmental violence or without ending racial violence. They're all connected."