One Billion Rising: The Local Effort
By Donna Kelly
The statistics are daunting.
According to organizers of One Billion Rising, an international movement dedicated to increasing global awareness of abuse to women, one out of three women will experience violence in her lifetime. The reality is this: Violence impacts more than 1 billion women on this planet.
It’s enough to cause an uprising.
Between February 3 and 14, several local organizations will join hands with others around the world to provide information and increase awareness during what has been described by many as a call to action for women survivors of violence to break their silence and share their stories peaceably through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, and testimonials – and for others, men and women, to support them.
Activities will be held in several different public locations, including Polk State College, Winter Haven Public Library, and Central Park in downtown.
Ironically, a man organized the Winter Haven-based committee. When author Chuck Warren first heard about the One Billion Rising movement, he attended events held by a group in Orlando. Then he set about bringing the message to his hometown.
“I was very concerned about how women are treated around the world,” says Warren. He rattles off a list of transgressions against women and girls, including a lack of schooling, body cutting and mutilation, and inferior status.
“When you hold women back, you hold everyone down. This (movement) will call attention to all these issues,” he says.
In the United States, Warren explains, women often face sex trafficking and domestic violence, as well as lower paychecks than men.
The inaugural worldwide One Billion Rising rally was held on February 14, 2013 in more than 190 countries. It was started by playwright Eve Ensler, perhaps best known for her play, “The Vagina Monologues.”
The local 12-day schedule of events will include a themed art exhibition and reception, music and dance, a self-defense class, a presentation by Winter Haven Police Department, displays of resource materials, and a book review. The series of events will culminate in a multi-faceted program featuring guest speaker Rita Smith in Central Park.
A graduate of Polk State College, Rita Smith is the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a position she’s held since 1992. Based in Denver, Colorado, Smith has appeared on local and national radio and television news shows. She also co-authored a legal manual for attorneys working with domestic violence victims in Colorado.
Jane Waters Thomas, executive director of Arts Ensemble Education Foundation and Healing Arts Center and founder of Boxing for Life, will lead the self-defense class. One important aspect of the various events, she says, is showing women where they can go for information and help in Polk County.
“The important thing to me is these abused women are in the middle of a bad situation because they don’t know how to get out of it. Hopefully this will have women thinking about an exit plan,” Waters Thomas explained.
But she hopes the friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers of abused women will attend the One Billion Rising events.
“We’re looking for the people who know who those women are and can get them the information they need,” Waters Thomas added.
The schedule of events is designed to be multi-faceted.
“It will be emotional, educational,” says Warren, who will review the book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as part of the programming. “We’re trying to make it a comprehensive event.”
Self expression through the visual and performing arts is an important facet of the series. For event organizer Tommie Bill, like others involved in the global movement, it is personal.
“My mother was abused by my dad. There was no place for her to go, for her to turn,” says Bill. “For me, the dance is for her, freeing her spirit.”
The dancing, she says, is not really about dance per se, but is a way to protest violence against women.
“I’m making my voice heard through dance for those who can’t speak for themselves,” Bill says. “We are not only breaking the chain of fear — victims relieving themselves of the situation they’re in — but for me it is also breaking the chain of perception, of breaking the chain of cultural acceptance of this abuse.”
The art exhibition, which runs from February 3 through 20 in the Fine Arts building at Polk State College in Winter Haven, also gives a voice to women, says art professor Holly Scoggins, who is coordinating the show.
“Most artists have gotten very personal with this, exploring past trauma, individual experience, and self-portraiture,” she says. “The artwork depicts a variety of messages and topics relating to violence against women. With this exhibition we wanted to see artwork that exposed the stories of violence and the victories in overcoming violence.”
In addition to raising awareness, all contributions from artist entry fees and artwork sales will directly benefit women in need through the Women’s Resource Center (see page 18) and the Peace River Center.
“Women’s stories have been buried, denied, erased, altered, and minimized by patriarchal systems that allow impunity to reign. Justice begins when we speak, release, and acknowledge the truth in solidarity and community,” says Scoggins.
“One Billion Rising is an invitation to break free from confinement, obligation, shame, guilt, grief, pain, humiliation, rage, and bondage. This exhibition is an opportunity for the community to learn, engage, question, assist, and inform themselves about violence against women,” Scoggins adds.
Local OBR events for February 2014:
Feb. 3 thru 20: One Billion Rising Art Exhibition:
Themed art featuring local and national artists at the art gallery in the Fine Arts Building on the Polk State College Winter Haven campus, 999 Ave. H N.E. A reception will be held at the gallery on February 7, 2014 from 5:30-7:30 pm.
Feb. 10: Information and Expression:
A flash mob will take place at noon. The public is invited to participate, visit with resource persons and partake of information handouts at Polk State College.
Feb. 11: Winter Haven Police Department Presentation:
Winter Haven Police Chief Gary Hester will speak about law enforcement’s role in addressing domestic and sexual abuse 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Winter Haven Public Library. Resource persons and information handouts will be available.
Feb. 12: Book Review:
Author Chuck Warren will review “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Winter Haven Public Library. Resource persons and informational handouts will be available.
Feb. 13: Self Defense Class:
Jane Waters Thomas, founder of Boxing for Life, will present Self Defense 101, a demonstration of protection and escape techniques 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. The class will include a discussion of Exit Plan Strategies by various speakers. Resource persons and information handouts will be available.
Feb. 14: Guest Speaker and Grand Finale:
Rita Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence will speak. Smith has spoken on the Today Show, Good Morning America, NPR, Oprah Winfrey and numerous other programs. She was invited to the White House to participate in the signing of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. A Flash mob will perform and resource persons and information handouts will be available. The grand finale runs from 5 to 6:15 p.m. in downtown Winter Haven’s Central Park.