In the new year …. let’s RISE UP for justice in Haiti

Dans la nouvelle année… RELEVONS nous pour la justice en Haiti

Nan ane a nouvo …ANN Leve pou jistis ann Ayiti

The One Billion Rising for Justice campaign launched this weekend in Haiti and we haven’t stopped rising all day — the energy is taking off! Yesterday, OBR and its partners PotoFanm+Fi and ODELPA chested a celebratory launch cultural event at the Garden Studio space in Petion Ville in Port-au-Prince. We had a great turnout from local women’s groups, local partners, and a number of Haitian officials. Eve Ensler, Purva Panday Cullman and Tony Montenieri were special guests, and got a warm, rousing welcome from the Haitian feminists and participants.

After I introduced the Haiti campaign and some of its priority justice goals, we opened the event with a blessing of the space and a gathering of the assembled at an altar created on site to honor Haitian women leaders and ordinary women lost in the 2010 earthquake, and also victims of violence. Among those honored were the feminists behind several of the existing sexual violence and women’s organizations including Kay Fanm, SOFA, the Lig Pouvwa Fanm, and women in Haiti’s women’s ministry (MCFDF). Members of these groups were present at the event.

Flowers and messaged were contributed to the table altar, set up below a wall of pictures and names of women being honored and remembered, including quake victims Myriam Merlet, Anne-Marie Coriolan, Myrna Narcisse, Magalie Marcelin, Gina Porcena Meteus, and great leaders like Sonia Pierre, who established MUDHA, a Haitian-Dominican women’s organization. The list of women leaders lost was long – dozens. The list of those who died of violence was shorter, but a somber reminder of the cause. Jocie Philistin, Director of Advocacy at  the survivor-led organization KOFAVIV, talked about the sacrifice and vision these women had made to the sexual  violence movement, and as feminists, and declared the ground sacred while welcoming the spirit of the women lost in 2010 to be present and guide the campaign.

One highlight of the night was a young Girls Flash Mob dance, to the choreography of the 1 Billion Rising Campaign dance, presented by girls from KOFAVIV, the Center for the Arts, the YWCA and the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network. The girls had only had two rehearsals but rocked the space – showing how excited Haiti’s girls are to be rising, speaking out, and moving to demand justice. They got heavy applause from an appreciative audience.

Photo Credit Nadia Tordes

Photo Credit Nadia Tordes

Next up, Eve Ensler shared her recent visit to One Billion groups in India and elsewhere. Eve, passionate, inspiring, and clearly happy to be back on Haitian soil, spoke about the women being honored like her friend Myriam Merlet, and the hope V-Day and One Billion had for Haitian women to rise up, to transform the violence that has become so much more visible since the earthquake. She introduced the new Sundance film — also met with excitement by the assembled.

Another high point was the performance of three of the Vagina Monologues in Kreyol by Florence Jean Louis and four Haitian actresses of the Theatre de Exculsion, a fabulous group and performance that had the audience on their feet and laughing in pained recognition at the revelations being shared. That included young women in the audience who have declared their intention to bring the Monologues to other places, and into schools. Haitian-American Herve Coeur-Aimable took the stage to share several songs – his first public performance of the songs in Haiti – and did so after a spontaneous soulful song by longtime feminist leader Barbara Guillaume, who later shared her plans to be Mayor of Cite Soleil, one of Haiti’s tough popular neighborhoods. The concert was followed by a moving slide show of portraits of girls by Nadia Todres and images of daily life in Siloe taken by young girls being trained to use photography as creative therapy in the Center for the Arts (CFTA).

The Rise Up event included an Open Mike for participants to openly share their visions of justice and their dreams. One dynamic young woman, Wevly, a Siloe member of the Center for the Arts, took the microphone to implore audience members to listen to young girls, to pay attention to their needs, to recognize the intensity of the poverty, hardships and insecurity facing girls in Siloe and elsewhere in today’s Haiti. And to help – help by caring, by investing in girls like her, in their education, in their creativity, in their future. Her voice, and her demands for justice, provided a powerful cap to an evening of reflection, dance, music, film, photography and infectious celebration. Haiti is Rising! Fe Leve Jistis ann Ayiti! Lift Justice in Haiti!

All that was in the first three hours of the campaign. What’s followed after is  what Eve might agree is the Butterfly Effect – a shifting of energy, of invisible waves of motion and emotion – among the women and groups coming together to reignite the flame of justice in the sexual violence movement in Haiti, and to bring women’s and survivors’ voices to the front of that demand. Already, Feb. 14 flash mob and rising actions are springing up by the hour, focused on the OBR Haiti campaign Valentine’s Day theme of Bringing Love to Unloved Places: the courthouses, the streets, the home. Several girls and student groups have declared their intention to rise and dance that day. Others are eyeing the Mardi Gras Carnaval in early March, ready to parade in the streets of Gonaives under the banner of gender and justice for Haiti.

Day one, now two. It’s been a very exciting launch – and I’m jazzed by the spiraling energy so quickly unleashed. Haiti’s women and girls are Rising… Fast! They plan to shake the country with their dance for justice.

 Danse! Pale! Leve Jistis pour fanm and fi!