Eve Ensler Rising: One of America's Most Amazing Activists Is About to Pull Off Her Biggest Event Yet
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Eve is interested in changing complacency enough to end violence against women. On a crack-of-dawn train to Washington not long ago, she put it this way: “What I think I’m particularly good at is creating drama…. I’m good at creating the churning, the outrageous.”
I’m barely awake, but Eve’s blood is running hot. Her e-mail inbox brims with news of gruesome atrocities and barely believable acts of resistance, side by side. The previous night’s presidential debate has included not one use of the word “woman.” The scientifically illiterate views of Missouri Republican Todd Akin on rape are not discouraging him from campaigning, or national Republicans from discreetly supporting him for election to the Senate. From the Philippines comes a picture of several bishops in their religious attire, holding up a small sign: “We Are Rising.” A V-Day activist in Australia has sent a Facebook link to news of a tiny outback town that held a 30,000-strong march after a local woman was raped and killed. Subject head: “We Are Rising.” Eve rattles off the news until I beg her for a breather.
In Washington, Eve is the keynote speaker at a town hall convened by Amnesty International. Why Eve? I ask the organizers. Amnesty’s been a presence on college campuses decades longer than V-Day. Program director Cristina Finch answers, “Amnesty International has been working on the issue of women’s human rights for years, but Eve’s passion fires people up in a different way.”
Sure enough, almost as soon as she’s finished speaking, women of all ages form a line at the microphone that stretches almost to the back of the hall to tell her what their plans are for February 14, 2013, One Billion Rising. Those plans range from pot-luck suppers in rural Vermont to a dance party in Washington’s Dupont Circle by teenage survivors of sex-trafficking.
At the office of Farmworker Justice, Eve is introduced to twenty organizers: mostly Spanish-speaking women from the most vulnerable of communities. Farmworker women face violence from police, from poison, from bosses, from husbands, as well as the grinding violence of back-breaking work for starvation wages. As Eve rises to deliver her OBR speech about women dancing and moving the earth, I hold my breath. But already a murmur is going around the room: “Vageena.” It turns out almost all the attendees have seen the play (which ran for ten years in Mexico City). Before I know it, the women are crowding around Eve, fingers poking the air in “V” signs, chanting “Vageena Campesina.”
Mily Treviño-Sauceda, an organizer from Oxnard, California, told me she’d never seen the play, but she and her sister read it at their kitchen table as soon as it came out in Spanish. Referring to Eve, she exclaims, “She goes out very far, and we need that.”
Score another strike against snark. In an era of mealy-mouthed politicians and penned-in progressives—underfunded, dependent on donor dollars and desperate not to offend—Eve’s “realness” is her power. She’s rarely barefoot these days, but she’s still willing to stand exposed in public, even if tears come.
“Most of us have fear-of-failure or fear-of-embarrassment filters,” says public speaking coach Joel Silberman. Not Eve. “Charisma comes from turning off the editor. She’s not afraid of her emotions, and that’s the root of her power.”
Eve says more simply: “If someone goes out there, everyone can inch a bit forward.”
I’m reminded of what social historian Lewis Mumford wrote about the role of magicians in the advance of science: “Their fiery hopes, their crazy dreams…. To have dreamed so riotously was to make the technics that followed less incredible and hence less impossible.”