Eve Ensler Rising: One of America's Most Amazing Activists Is About to Pull Off Her Biggest Event Yet
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For the fifteenth anniversary of V-Day, Ensler is calling for an escalation. She wants 1 billion women (and those who love them) to “rise, strike or dance” on February 14, 2013. Participants can do whatever sort of action works for them. The point is for so many people to act together, and to be seen to act together, that attitudes change, Ensler told me in October.
“Fifteen years ago, we started V-Day to end violence against women. Fifteen years on, we’ve had a lot of achievements, but the violence is still going on…. People can say the word ‘vagina.’ They talk about violence against women, but they don’t realize how central it is to our lives. We can either keep picking up the scattered body parts of women all over the world, or we can escalate.” Bring a billion people to take action all at once, and Eve believes One Billion Rising (OBR) will make more than a statement. It will show the existence of a movement. “The earth will move, and attitudes will shift,” she says.
When it first came up, V-Day board member Carole Black was sure she’d misheard. “Don’t you mean a million?” she asked at a meeting. The 1 billion figure comes from a United Nations estimate that one out of three women on earth will be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Eve did the calculations.
A billion. “OK” said Black, the former president and CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services. She signed on, and so did groups in 142 countries—in the first two weeks after the announcement on February 14. Today, supporters include the AFL-CIO, National Nurses United, the United Steelworkers of America, Amnesty International, NOW, Planned Parenthood and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Members of the European Parliament performed the play. The women’s rights minister in France has signed on. So have women’s groups throughout Asia and leaders from seventeen countries in Africa. In the Philippines, the largest union, Kilusang Mayo Uno, has joined the cause, as has UNITE, the largest union in Britain.
Asked how she explains it, Black says, “Eve’s the real deal. She’s the realest, most committed person I’ve ever met. She makes you believe with the strength of her belief.”
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Eve’s beliefs are rooted in trauma and theater. In her 2007 book, Insecure at Last (a meditation on deadly American illusions about safety in the wake of the attacks of 9/11), she describes being raped and brutally beaten by her father, a food company CEO, from age 5 to 10. Growing up in hell (in suburban Scarsdale, New York), Eve was able to step outside herself through writing. “It gave me a place I could go,” she told Pat Mitchell in a televised interview last year.
Her love of theater came in college. A class led to productions, including a college production of The Bacchae, in which Eve remembers playing Agave. In Euripides’ play, Agave kills her own son in an ecstatic, Dionysian frenzy. “I entered the stage with a head on a stick and blood dripping down my arm,” says Eve. “I was sliding in the blood…. It was a marriage instantly.”
There’s a trace of the Dionysian in Ensler. She believes in the power of collective experience, the power of direct action, the power of people having an experience together, in the streets or in the theater. The collective joy of the sort Barbara Ehrenreich writes about in Dancing in the Streets; the sort that enlivened pre-capitalist life but is banished today mostly to pop concerts or, occasionally, political protests.