You often hear that progressive causes are trapped in competing “issue silos,” so it’s worth celebrating when those silo walls crack and people come together, as they did February 14th for VDay, a global day of action against violence against women.
For the last couple of years, the anti-violence movement VDay has called on people to rise and dance on February 14, Valentine’s Day. This year, the One Billion Rising campaign was dedicated to rising for justice.
In the lead up, I was invited to host a series of public events, talking about what justice, in fact, might look like. To our panels, we invited leaders from a range of movements. Among others, we heard from indigenous rights activist Sylvia McAdam, who said justice would look like respect for native women, and their land and water. Richmond CA, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said that justice would be people holding corporations to account. Anti-incarceration activist Susan Burton said justice would look like fewer people locked up and more living free from assault and addiction. Community organizer Ashley Franklinsaid her just world would include safe and affordable public transport. Actress Olivia Wilde imagined more movies with more kinds of smart women, leading. You get the idea.
In terms of outcomes, on February 14, a whole lot of people rose and danced everywhere you can think of, at prisons and parliaments and toxic dumps. You can see the pictures from around the globe at OneBillionRising.org
I was particularly moved to hear that some of our panelists had linked up: Susan Burton held a rising at a women’s jail in South Los Angeles and Ashley Franklin and her colleagues came. In Richmond, Mayor McLaughlin marched with Sylvia MacAdam’s group, Idle No More, to a local refinery to demand respect from Chevron. Maybe Olivia’s got an idea for her next movie.
It made me think about connection. Our movements lose momentum when we fail to grasp the intersectional nature of oppression, says my friend the brilliant law professor Kimberle Crenshaw. To which I’d only add that we make progress when we connect, not our causes, but the conditions of our lives.
It reminds me of EM Forster’s book, Howards End in which the female heroine, Margaret Schlegel, takes issue with her businessman husband’s chilly, calculating way of thinking. She is “fighting for women against men,” she thinks at the start, but mostly she’s just arguing for imagination enough to feel affection for others.
“Only connect,” says Schlegel in Forster’s novel; “live in fragments no longer.”
She’s not talking about making lists of bullet points but connecting as people. To see how our lives are related through pathways of power and place, and economics, environment and experience we first have to give one another a close look.
What happens next? VDay’s founder Eve Ensler says one word came up more than any other as people considered justice: Love. Justice apparently looks like caring. In order to care, we have to meet. And pay close attention. And maybe dance.
The F Word is a regular commentary from Laura Flanders of GRITtv. You can subscribe onSoundCloud or ITunes. Watch clips of the entire State of Female Justice Panel series, on GRITtv.org and sign up there to join our mailing list.