We rose, but it won’t stop there

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.

People’s Power Rising Contingent – One Billion Rising SF Union Square

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.

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One thought on “We rose, but it won’t stop there

  1. Ivan says:

    Re: the critiques, I am re-posting here some parts of the FB discussion that I’ve had with some friends in the Left regarding the OBR campaign.

    Eve Ensler’s tradition is liberal feminism. We get that. How should the Left approach liberal feminists? Lash at them for their failure to grasp the so-called “more correct line?” How should leftists seize this crucial opportunity to go among women and do the necessary mass work? One Billion Rising has been an especially important venue for the militant women’s movement here in the Philippines (and elsewhere abroad where Gabriela’s presence is felt) to reach out to a broader number of women and make them aware how imperialism, capitalism, feudalism and patriarchy complicate women’s oppression and exploitation. Gabriela sisters were able to register their line and they were able to make people listen to them through the OBR platform. Feminism is a contested site, and I think we would have betrayed the masses of women had we just quit the battle and surrendered the terrain to the “enemy”.

    This is why we need to have a disciplined army of militant activists who will not shirk from going where the masses are and actually getting their hands “dirty,” so to speak. Now, if only mass work and organizing were that easy, where one could just make people listen to you and embrace your line without a blink. That’s why I totally admire the sisters-comrades from our women’s movement. They were able to swing the direction of the campaign to the “left.” We got to talk about workers’ struggle for wage increase, labour contractualization (with women workers as the number one victims), political killings and enforced disappearances, US military basing in the Philippines, demolition of urban poor communities, rising cost of basic and essential commodities which is an issue close to the hearts of working class mothers, etc. These wouldn’t have been discussed had we just let One Billion Rising campaign in the Philippines fall into the hands of some traditional-academic or social-democratic/liberal feminist group, and OBR would have been just another happy hippy event bereft of any serious attempts at challenging macro-social structures that oppress and exploit women. At one point, Eve Ensler even got to talk about the presence of US imperialism in the country and the political repression carried out by the puppet Philippine government against the militant people’s movement and that the struggles against US imperialism and capitalism form part and parcel of the Filipinas’ struggle for emancipation. The issue raised by critics how race, ethnicity, and class [the social ground of the messianic complex of Western, privileged, middle class feminists] betray the gaps and silences in Ensler’s feminist discourse, I agree, is valid. This is why I think any identitarian social movement (feminist, LGBTQ, national liberation) needs to be always self-critical, always self-reflexive: recognizing that this “universal” narrative of oppression that we share is always tentative, and by no means erases the actual antagonisms and contradictions that exist within our discursively constructed and precarious political community.

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