Dancing For Spirit, Strength and Change

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Hundreds of Santa Cruzans spent their Valentine’s Day celebrating not just their love for their significant others, but to dance and bring awareness to the acts of violence committed against women.

One Billion Rising For Justice is a global call for female survivors of violence and their supporters to gather in community places to feel safe.

The “billion” part of the name refers to the 1993 U.N. statistic that 1 in 3 women will be sexually violated or assaulted in some way at least once in their lifetime. In 2013, the U.N. stated 35 percent of women worldwide experienced either intimate partner violence, non-partner violence or both.

Valentine’s Day 2013 began what organizers planned to be a yearly event, with one billion activists in 207 countries demanding an end to violence against women and girls. Seven hundred Santa Cruzans attended the event at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History last year. With 100 more participants, this year’s event took place in the Kaiser Permanente Arena.

“For our local Santa Cruz event, we hope to provide an event that engages and inspires our local community to be more aware of and engaged in the issue of violence against women,” said volunteer organizer Kate Roberts. “Globally, it’s a call to women and those who love them to join together to rise and dance in a collective show of strength.”

“Vagina Monologues” author and activist Eve Ensler was the inspiration for last year’s One Billion Rising event. In her article “Over It,” she denounced rape and sexism through statements such as “I am over Facebook taking weeks to take down rape pages” and “I am over how long it seems to take anyone to ever respond to rape.”

The One Billion Rising Santa Cruz Core Team — the organizing group of nonprofits and others responsible for bringing the One Billion Rising event to Santa Cruz — has been planning this year’s event since last fall. The Core Team includes representatives from the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center, Monarch Services, Survivor’s Healing Center, UCSC SHOP, Rising International and Santa Cruz’s Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children.

The event began with a candlelight walk as organizers and attendees marched from the courthouse to the Kaiser Arena in recognition of women who have been violated. After reaching the arena, all the attendees gathered to hear the coordinators and organizers speak against violence and misogyny. Keynote speakers included Mayor Lynn Robinson, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Ariadne Symons and UCSC College programs coordinator Chris Yang.

Judge Symons emphasized that everyone, no matter what age or gender, is obligated to take a stand against any form of injustice, and that an act of injustice to one will victimize all others.

“If you see an act of domestic violence, don’t walk away — speak up. If you hear a sound of domestic violence, speak up. If you know a victim of domestic violence, speak up,” Symons said. “It is our business, not a private family matter. It is a community matter.”

The speakers at the event also addressed what men should do to further prevent these gender-based acts of domestic violences. Chris Yang delivered a speech directed at men regarding this issue, saying this generation lives in a culture of ubiquitous violations against women. He said numerous forms of violation happen almost all the time — on social networking or through other entertainment sites, as well as when men just speak in casual conversation.

“I feel that men have been left out of the conversation of addressing the issue of sexual assault and violence against the women of the world,” Yang said. “Men really need to be part of that conversation because statistically, men are mainly the ones perpetuating the culture of violence we all live in — men not even committing violence are still part of that culture and therefore have the obligation to speak up.”

After the series of speeches, the organizers and supporting members broke out into dance and were later joined by all the other spectators.

“The music and dancing provides an opportunity to celebrate the incredible resilience of the spirit and is inspired by women turning terrible circumstances into reasons for strength and mobilization for change,” said co-coordinator Caitlin Stinneford.

Psychologist Bruce Abt was among the spectators dancing in support of women. Moved by Yang’s speech on what men could do to prevent violence against women, he said he would make his efforts by mentoring young boys in the community.

“It’s sad when I think about all the women who have been injured and hurt,” Abt said. “As a community member, I started out working with domestic violence 40 years ago and though there have been some changes, there’s still a lot of work to do. A lot of it has to do with the community, especially the males, to become more aware of the issues.”

Inspiring all members to become agents of change, the event pushed for broader efforts and a larger awareness of domestic violence throughout the world.

“It’s critical to show real people are being violated,” Yang said. “Though we all are told that one in three billion women are being violated, it isn’t until we actually see people stand up against the issue when we really realize how big of a number that is.”