by Cecile Lipworth, V-Day Managing Director
Not many people have the privilege of working in a home office with a view of the world. But I am one of the lucky few. For the last 12 years, I have worked at V-Day and had the opportunity to have met thousands of women from every corner of the world, from Reykjavík to Manila, from San Francisco to Sarajevo. I have developed deep friendships with some, mentored and bonded with others and learnt some of my biggest life lessons from all of them.
When I began at V-Day, the biggest obstacle that faced V-Day organizers who produced benefits of The Vagina Monologues, was saying the word ‘vagina.’ As our Worldwide Community and College Campaigns began to take shape and benefit productions of the play began to grow into the thousands, women found their voices as leaders and activists ensuring that the word was put on theater marquees, spoken on radio interviews and published in their local newspapers. We called it ‘accidental activism’ because for many it started off as just wanting to produce or perform the iconic play, but then they found that they came into their power while defending their right to do so. Leaders were born, the word vagina became part of every day lexicon, taboos were broken and communities began seeing changes.
One Billion Rising, was the victory dance for these leaders and the thousands of others who had come before them. As I looked out from my window that day, and also went out my door to produce my own RISING in my town, and saw the thousands of people gathered before me, and in town squares, on beaches, on top of mountains, in front of renowned landmarks and marching down streets, all dancing, I saw that our years of making sure people said the word vagina had finally paid off.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico where I live, a brilliant group of women and men who had volunteered to help me produce our own Rising, gathered early in the morning at our State’s Capitol Building where the Legislature was in session. A ‘VaginaVan’ was parked out front. Inspired by a talk I had given in the Fall in which I said ‘if you can’t say the word vagina you can’t protect it,’ two male artists who curate a mobile art gallery painted the word with 250,000 dots to represent the amount of women in New Mexico who are violated annually. The VaginaVan set the tone for the day! In a state that is conservative and secretive about the level of abuse, saying the word ‘vagina’ enabled hundreds of people that day to release centuries old stories of familial incidences. It gave young girls, older women and men, the courage to tell their stories and heal during our community testimonial session inside the Capitol. State Representatives and Senators joined us taking the issue into the House and Senate by sponsoring Memorials in honor of One Billion Rising. That day spurred on by One Billion Rising almost every organization in the state working on the issue of violence against women and girls was at the Capitol lobbying, holding press conferences and attending sessions inside the House and Senate to ensure the issue was front and center. But at noon, when more than 1,200 people gathered to dance “Break the Chain,” (four times!) we knew that it was no longer just about saying the word ‘vagina,’ but about deep change, community building and a collective, united energy that has not yet been forgotten a month after the event.
I saw the power that day, locally and internationally, of friendship and camaraderie, of networking and deep connections made over the course of our careers. When we launched the campaign and we started to reach out to people we knew around the world, we had the great fortune to tap into those friendships and working relationships we had forged over many years. And they in turn, reached out to their colleagues, friends, families and networks to join us. New relationships were formed and friendships created and the thing I saw take place, in my own town, was that women’s groups who usually did not collaborate on anything, suddenly were all united as women in sisterhood to end violence against women and girls.
The most profound thing I have learnt, from the early days of saying the word vagina, to seeing one billion people rise, is that standing shoulder to shoulder in revolution with other people, we truly all are one. It did not matter what country we came from, it did not matter what color our skin was, it did not matter what religion we believed in, it did not matter what sexual orientation we chose to identify with – what I witnessed was a truly global humanhood of men and woman who wanted, actually craved on a deep cellular level, to create a new way of being. One billion people rose up with one voice, one united human cry that we had had enough. One Billion Rising created a global connection in which EVERYONE saw our collective power as well as our global yearning to end violence against women and girls.
When I looked out my window I also saw myself reflected in it. As part of a group of dedicated staff, consultants and volunteers who keep the heart of the movement beating, it’s often imperative to pump hard and fast to ensure the body keeps moving. Sometimes we are pumping too hard and too fast to recognize the effect we are having. One Billion Rising finally enabled me to see that I helped to keep the blood flowing, the movement alive, the vision intact, the pieces moving. I was proud to be an important and vital part of the whole body of people that had accomplished this momentous occasion.
The view out my window of my home office is a magnificent one. It is a view of amazing, courageous, powerful, fierce, kind and compassionate people who are creating a new landscape, one that I hope to look out on forever!