by Tony Montenieri, V-Day Director of Operations
OBR technically began for me on February 14th 2012. Eve was flying from Australia to Los Angeles where after being on a plane for 14 hours she would get off the plane and head to CNN to announce the global action called One Billion Rising. This day was no different than a typical day for me as V-Day’s Director of Operations; eye’s straight ahead and no veering off course. My job is to anticipate, think ahead and finesse the details. Everything was in order and we were ready to begin. I am well aware and versed on the bigger picture of this monumental movement. However, throughout 2012 leading up to the big day I was going to learn while I excelled at the details of my job, my emotional comprehension of the bigger picture of our work at V-Day was yet to be discovered. A wall existed between the details and the nature of the work we do. OBR wouldn’t really begin for me until the following November.
RISING: We were blessed with amazing OBR coordinators all over the world and Eve was going on a global tour to fan the flames of One Billion Rising and help get the fire roaring. Over Thanksgiving I was lucky to join Eve and Cecile (our Managing Director) on a visit to Central and South America. Our coordinators were so unbelievable that a lot of the details I oversee were taken care of and this allowed me to begin to take in my surroundings. The blinders were off. Eve references this journey in many of her interviews and writings about the One Billion Rising experience. This journey began with driving through the sex trade area of Mexico City. My eyes glazed over as I saw young women who were anywhere from 12 – 17 years of age dressed in shiny lame outfits waiting for men to come and defile them. As I stared out of the window I tried to make eye contact with them. If I was able to catch their eye they either looked down or walked into a dark corner immediately. A feeling came over me I had never felt before. It was not really sure what to make of it. I now know it was a deep dark sadness that truly overcame me. I couldn’t get their faces out of my mind. This was only fueled when I found out the sex trade in Mexico City was a 6 to 7 billion-dollar industry.
We left Mexico and continued on to Guatemala, where we visited a woman’s justice center that had pink crosses displayed in a row with pictures of women and girls who had been murdered. Attached to each cross was an outfit they once wore and their horrific story. Once I was able to comprehend this installation my stomach rose to my mouth and I had to stand back. I couldn’t though, I felt magnetized to walk to each cross and read each story. Before I knew it we were in the car again and I was staring blankly out of the window trying to comprehend this.
We ended that leg of our tour in Lima, Peru where I stood next to Eve as a woman apologized to her for smelling like burnt wood. She had started the first shelter in Lima and that particular day the heater was out so she had been burning kindle to keep the shelter warm. All of this penetrated me deeper than I could ever imagine. It’s one thing to see someone who is in pain due to the ways of the world, but another thing to actually feel this pain and anger for them. I called my boyfriend one evening while on the road and casually asked what he was doing that night. He mentioned he was going out with some friends for drinks. I don’t know what came over me but I lost it. I had my “Fur is Back” moment (For reference see Eve Ensler’s piece Fur is Back in A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer)“ How can people go out for cocktails when the world is falling apart”. 10 years of pent up emotions of what I had seen and worked on but not felt were suddenly unleashed from inside of me. There I sat in the Inca Market in Miraflores, Lima with tears streaming down my face. It finally penetrated me. “This is it !” I thought, “ We have to rise. We can’t not”. I felt it in my soul for the first time.
DANCING: I went to India post Christmas to meet Eve. All I remember thinking on the 16 hour journey was “what will happen this time?” Our travels through India were unforgettable. This trip came on the heels of the horrific rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey. The country was ignited. We attended a plethora of different events. They ranged from town hall type meetings with communities, to productions of The Vagina Monologues in Hindi, to rallies on college campuses. The people came out en masse. Each event concluded the same way, with dance. I however, had never seen anything like this before. When I watched people dancing there was an energy that filled the room that was unspeakable. It was loud, celebratory, angry, hopeful, it ran the gamut. It was drawn up from the earth and out into the atmosphere. I watched people whom I assumed were so demure explode. I felt the rumbling of the earth. Dancing was a necessary ingredient for shifting the trajectory of violence against women and girls.
ONE BILLION RISING; One year later after I had managed Eve’s journey from Australia to Los Angeles, on 2.14.13, we are at the Hammerstein Ballroom. This is where V-Day began 15 years ago. We had a fantastic dance party with performances from bands, spoken word poets, super hot DJ’s and some incredible talent, Glenn Close, Rosario Dawson, Kathy Najimy and Kate Clinton. The crowd of three thousand danced and roared as we rose. The evening was electric and a total success!
Behind any successful performance is usually a producer’s nightmare. Nothing is set in stone until the act comes off stage and you don’t breathe relief until the curtain comes down. Things change, performance schedules have to be rearranged, talent is moved around, and people ask you questions while you are trying to produce the show at hand. The chaos behind a production can be so intense there sometimes is no way not to personalize it. Had this been 2.14.12 I might have asked myself as I was pouring myself into a taxi home, “ why the hell did I do that? Why would I take on so much stress and uncertainty?” I would have even thrown in an eye roll for effect. I did not do any of that because I’m not the same person.
With every move, decision, annoyance and palpitated heartbeat that night my yearlong journey had brought me to a different place in my being. The need to end violence against women and girls was is so great that we needed to rise. If we did not we would suffocate. Now I find the faces, names, images and stories alive inside me. The wall had come down and now there is no going back.