ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE is a global campaign to end violence against women and girls. On February 14, 2014, women, men and children across the globe will dance to welcome the world that is to come, one in which violence against women is no longer a routine feature of human life. Unprecedented in its global reach, it weaves together hundreds of thousand of local actions — moments of moving AS IF the everyday nature of gender violence were truly exceptional — into a tapestry of resistance that is stronger than the sum of its parts. When people rise in Bangladesh and in Detroit, in South Africa and Peru, in India and in Syria, it is harder to dismiss their demands as individual, or local, or even as the political preoccupation of only a few. This rising in tandem across the world brings a new reality to the adage that there is strength in numbers, especially when those numbers aren’t simply measured by the hundreds, hundreds of thousands, or even by the millions, but potentially by a billion. All politics may be local, but when aggregated into a global symphony of actions and demands, our sense the way life has been ceases to limit what we can see, feel and believe to be possible.
In over 179 countries (and counting), women, men and children are coming together not only to raise awareness about violence, but to reclaim spaces where women ought to be safe but are not. This year’s expansion to institutions that ought to be accountable for justice elevates awareness of the intersectional dimensions of violence and vulnerability. Risers around the world are paying attention not only to traditional forms of violence against women, but also to the ways that gender overlaps with and is defined by other dynamics that shape vulnerability to violence and its consequences. For example, some risers in the US and elsewhere will be raising awareness about the expansion of incarceration of women and girls — the fastest growing group of incarcerated individuals in America today. Although many studies have shown that most incarcerated women have experienced some form of gender-based trauma, the mainstream domestic violence movement and the anti- incarceration movement have not been as tightly linked as the intersections of trauma and incarceration would suggest. Feminist scholar-activists such as Beth Richie and Angela Davis and organizations such as INCITE have repeatedly illustrated these links, calling for greater awareness and activism at the site where systems of power converge. These and other intersections of vulnerability are sites where energies might be conjured up on February 14 to broaden and deepen our capacity to address violence against women in all its forms.
One Billion Rising For Justice brings mindful movement and the movement of minds together in the tradition of the revered histories of social justice activism. Mass mobilizations that turned the tide against oppression and inequality — from India’s fight against British colonialism, to the fight against racial segregation in the US, to the fight against apartheid in South Africa — were accented by these two key features. Bodies in motion, often at specific sites of oppression, worked collectively to deprive regimes of the one thing they most needed but could not command: the silent participation of the disempowered. In each movement, those who resisted did so in body as well as in mind, performing disparate actions that were linked by a recognizable understanding of a shared fate. There was no one central focal point in any of these movements — differences in the location, rhetoric and acts of resistance were the norm. But what made such disparate actions powerful was the way the activists narrated the story and fed their spirits, strengthening their will to elevate the struggle to a global venue, weakening oppressive regimes until they gave way. The global movement against gender violence and its conditions presents a similar possibility. It is uniform in that it highlights the local — the immediate, here-and-now locales of injustice, and becomes global in the aggregate, creating the platform for worldwide awareness and deliberate action.
Bodies moving spontaneously, but not randomly, are participating in a global conversation about violence. And in dancing at the sites that the Risers select, the risings tell us something about intersectional politics the world over. People — women — live intersectionally — sites where sexism overlaps with economic marginality, racism, environmental degradation, queerphobia, able-ism, xenophobia and the like. Risers show us what the face of intersectionality is by what they choose to resist. For example, in the US, when food service workers rise — mostly women who make less than $2.50 an hour, who often have to rely on food stamps to survive, who must endure abusive conditions typical of low-wage work in gender segregated professions — they tell us something about the intersections of gender and class. When women who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated rise up to dance inside and outside of prisons, they tell us something about how the intersections of gender, race and industrialization of punishment converge to rob them of their freedom, families, and futures. When Risers in the Philippines dance at the military installations that bring occupying forces into their land and their bodies, they tell us about the intersections of gender, militarism and post- colonialism. When Hong Kong’s domestic workers rise up this coming Sunday (their only day off) to shine a light on the exploitative working conditions that non-native women endure in one of the world’s richest metropolises, they show us something about the intersections of gender, nativism, and class. When dancers convene in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to bring attention to the conditions that have been allowed to silently metastasize in the wake of the 2010 earthquake and the particular vulnerabilities that are visited upon women there, they will remind us of the intersections of international neglect with racism, globalization, environmental degradation, and sexism.
These are just a few of the thousands of unique actions that make up the global mapping of how violence festers at the intersections of vulnerability. Dancing at these sites calls attention to these vulnerabilities, and transforms them into sites of resistance. It is coalitional politics on a global scale.
To build and sustain 1BR4J, it must be more than a single day of mass resistance. Movements of mind and body are linked throughout the year as local and national leaders, activists, and community members have come together in townhall sessions to share, learn, inspire and challenge one another. These “State of Female Justice” events create a space for Risers to engage in cross-sectoral conversations about the range of conditions that shape women’s vulnerability, while lifting up actions that promise to transform these realities into something different. In November, the series kicked off in New York with discussions about Hurricane Katrina, immigration, incarceration, restaurant workers and indigenous people’s land rights. Risers subsequently came together in Santa Fe, Manila, Delhi, Chennai Johannesburg, and London. Many are webcast to expand their reach even further, and the number is still rising. The State of Female Justice conversations continue on February 6th at UCLA Law School where reentry activist and community leader Susan Burton, V-Day and One Billion Rising founder Eve Ensler, labor and community activist Ashley Franklin, anti- foreclosure visionary Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, actor Olivia Wilde, and media host Laura Flanders will come together to discuss the myriad manifestations of institutional and structural violence endured by women in the U.S. As with the others, this town hall meeting will provide a magnificent snapshot of the matrix in which violence against women takes shape, and elevate ongoing activities that serve on many levels to resist this process.
As the energy and excitement continues to build, it becomes ever more clear that global movements are not, at the end of the day, top down affairs. No one can create, own, or direct a movement that spans 179+ countries and thousands of demonstrations. For an uprising of this magnitude to even be thinkable, the situation has to be ripe and the key stakeholders already in motion to connect the local into the global. To see the rising happening in daily videos, posters, and testimonials that Risers are posting from all over the world is to witness a spectacular moment in history that may have far reaching consequences. No one knows, of course, what the trajectory of 1BR4J will be; the story is being written as the rising unfolds. What is knowable here and now is that risers are moving in their own way, in concert with one billion more. Through this knowledge comes the strength and creativity to conjure a different set of possibilities, exposing how the false necessity of the now lives only in the habits of thought and action that are neither fixed nor impervious to human will.
Kimberle Williams Crenshaw is a Professor of Law at UCLA and the Faculty Director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School. She is the co-founder of the African American Policy Forum and a Board Member of V-Day.