By Georgia Williams
Jemmy Bluestein began spreading the word about One Billion Rising (OBR) when he heard Eve Ensler, noted author of The Vagina Monologues, speak on KFCF radio about a year ago. The UN statistic that one in three women will be raped or battered in her lifetime provided the impetus for Ensler’s creation of OBR’s events in 204 countries around the globe, including three in Fresno, on V-Day, Feb. 14, 2013.
In thinking about the cause of violence against women, Bluestein says, “Unfortunately, our legacy is a culture of death and rape. Our history, our economic system, it’s all based on war for profit and on oppression and war against women.”
He goes on to say that historically, as cities encroached on forests, “a fear of nature was introduced and propagated, and the goddess was replaced by the authoritarian patriarchal gods. The sexual and creative powers of women were subjugated and suppressed.”
In today’s world, he says, “Sexuality is reserved only for commercial purposes, to sell goods through titillation without ever giving satisfaction. In this way, we remain spiritually lost and desperate, alienated, fearful victims of endless material and commercial substitutes for our lost self-respect and basic understanding of life, nature and love.”
Vanessa Aranda says, “I’m rising to give a voice to the woman whose voice was taken from her. I’m rising to help guide the woman to the voice she’s lost. I’m rising to stop the violence, to stop the rapes, to stop the discrimination and to stop the deaths of my fellow mujeres.”
She goes on to say, “As a WOC (woman of color), I understand how difficult it can be to find a place in the fight against patriarchy. I ask that feminists everywhere realize this.”
Sandra Ríos Balderrama says, “Just before the presidential election four months ago, it felt like open season on women. Misogyny was unleashed in this country with no restraint on verbal, spiritual violence, especially from those that govern our country. Those days converged with the story of the medical student on the bus in India that was raped.”
She goes on to say that when she read about OBR, “it felt like ‘home.’ Here was the voice, the encouragement, the solidarity I needed to get me up and away from the computer and ‘in public’ with others.”
The violence upon women, she says, is “horrific, tragic, and no longer acceptable. To be able to move my body in dance form, with others around the world, and not be called a whore or inviting rape, instead, to express ‘No More!’ and ‘Yes to Women!’ is an opportunity to speak in a global language, a feeling language, a resounding language. Where there is a musical beat, there is the beat of the universal drum: our hearts.”
Amber Lynette Olmo says, “One billion women all over the world are going to publicly demand an end to this atrocity [of violence against women]. I am one of them. I’m done with the oppression on our minds and bodies. I have been for a long time now. I’m not afraid anymore. It stops here.”
Lilia Gonzales Chavez, considering the correlation between art and violence, says, “Historically, the arts have been the conduit for sharing important public information. Visual, literary and performing arts are a universal tool for the exchange of information. Because violence against women is a universal problem, I believe that by using the arts we can reach out to all segments of the community and powerfully inform them of the need to eliminate this horrific behavior.”
Daniel Burg says he joined OBR because he is “convinced that the world is a better place when we connect with each other. Art is a great way to find common ground and dancing can break barriers our words sometimes create.”
Kyla Mitchell believes that OBR offers a place to heal. “Violence,” she says, “has affected us all, men included. Think of all the pain and violence that has been carried down for generations, to a point where it’s engrained in so many and never questioned; think of all the great voices we haven’t heard because they’ve been suppressed, the women murdered and lost forever, the girls today that are changing who they are to not be seen as vulnerable. I believe energy is conserved, and that we need to transform all of this energy into something positive.”
Andrea DeZubiria was intrigued by the idea that “dancing in the high energy and playful way that ‘Break the Chain’ offers can be a way for people in our town and all over the world to come together, enjoy themselves while expressing anger, defiance and hope regarding the terrible harm and injustice that has so often been inflicted on women.”
She goes on to say, “Stories like the recent high-profile incidence of rape in India, of the young men joking about the rape of an unconscious girl on YouTube, of [Senate candidate Todd] Aiken and his ignorant remarks about the body shutting down during rape preventing pregnancy—things like that can make me feel hopeless and frustrated. Then you hear about a billion women in hundreds of countries planning to act up in fun and fierce ways all on the same day—and you don’t feel so alone.”
Katrina Steward, a sexual assault survivor, found her way through dance: “You know what, through it all, I danced. No training, I danced. No experience, I danced. I danced when churches told me no, I danced when people said I would not amount to anything. I danced.”
Ellie Bluestein says, “Since I was pregnant with my first child I have felt a strong connection with women, especially mothers, all over the world. That was my motivation for joining WILPF 60 years ago. I could never send my child to kill another mother’s child.
“I still feel this close affinity for women all over the world, who face the same brutality and violence no matter where they live. I have seen it in every country where I have lived and made contact with women—Finland, France, China, Japan. It is past time for women to speak out and dance out and rise up, all together! I am so excited to be part of it.”
Simone Whalen-Rhodes says, “One thing that I found important about OBR was that the dance was working together, not being competitive.”
The women and men quoted here united with hundreds more on V-Day in Fresno, when they danced to “Break the Chain,” choreographed by famed choreographer Debbie Allen.
Kyla Mitchell, a WILPF member, was the primary organizer of the Fresno events, uniting a diverse group of people through personal contact, dance rehearsals, e-mail, Facebook and a sign-making party hosted by Beverly Fitzpatrick and Mike Bridges.
Local qigong and tai chi instructor Andrea DeZubiria facilitated several dance rehearsals in the weeks prior to V-Day. Pastor Chris Breedlove of College Community Congregational Church offered the church’s social hall for these rehearsals. Dancers went on to dance on Fulton Mall, Fresno City College and Fresno State. Jemmy Bluestein, with his band Lonesome Jem and the Lunatics, provided music for the event on Fulton Mall.
Lilia Gonzales Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council; Daniel Burg, public relations chair of the Cultural Arts Rotary of Fresno; Vanessa Aranda, advocate for WOC; Sandra Ríos Balderrama, a photographer and poet; Katrina Stewart, Miss Black Arkansas–USA 2005–2006 and owner of Miss K’s Dance Bungalow in Fresno; and approximately 40 more dancers converged on a warm, sunny afternoon on Fulton Mall to dance to “Break the Chain.”
The Raging Grannies, led by Ellie Bluestein, introduced the Fulton Mall event, singing, among other songs, “We’re Rising Up!”
Simone Whalen-Rhodes took videos of the Fulton Mall dance.
Amber Lynette Olmo organized Fresno City College’s successful dance.
Following the V-Day events in Fresno, OBR participants look to the future.
Mitchell suggests that everyone needs to fight for women’s rights, in every possible way: “Sign petitions, send positive thoughts, donate to programs that educate girls, join a group in your community, do whatever you can! We can change the world with positivity and love.”
Jemmy Bluestein says, “We might ask ‘What can we do?’ The answer is ‘Something!’ It starts with awakening, and then we have to decide what we want to see, then we envision and create it. All over the world, we do this together.”
Balderrama says she would like to see the movement in Fresno continue and grow. She’d like to see “continued communication and a growing awareness of issues/events that impact women (regardless of ethnicity, class, gender) in this city and maybe the Valley. Maybe at times, we need to be called on, to show up somewhere…to help spread the word.”
If you would like to show up, to help spread the word, to be a voice in the movement to stop violence against women, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact this writer. For further information about One Billion Rising, visit onebillionrising.org.
Georgia Williams is a creative writer, a sometimes poet, and a peace and social justice advocate. Contact her at email@example.com.