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The Citizen

If not now, when? Speaking up for change

By Ami Valdemoro, MPP ’13, Correspondent

“If you see something, say something.” I heard this public service announcement every day for five years during my commute into Washington, D.C. I knew that the Metro officials had to sound the alarm over suspicious behavior or unattended bags, but I never really thought about it outside of the fifteen or twenty minutes I spent on the train. Maybe it was because I thought none of these threats affected me personally. Perhaps I didn’t feel it was my load to carry. mob crowd

Everyone has a moment when something clicks, when the price of not acting becomes too costly to bear. That moment for me came this fall, when two separate but equally heinous acts of violence came upon two young women far away from the safety and comfort of Cambridge, Mass. Malala Yousafzai was shot point blank as she rode the bus home from school because she spoke up for every girl’s right to an education in the Swat Valley. A young student was gang-raped and her male friend brutally beaten in Delhi for reasons that still remain unclear.

What were their crimes? Traveling outside their homes to be educated, and being women?

For the first time in a long time, I felt angry. Not the kind of blind outrage that has no direction. I felt a conscious indignation that what happened to these young women was wrong, and that I had to do something, to say something, about it.

One in three women on the planet is raped or abused in her lifetime. One in three. That could mean our mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers or friends. In today’s world, one billion women will suffer from physical, mental or emotional harm just because they are women. This means that if you haven’t already witnessed someone suffer from this abuse, you will in your lifetime. With the odds stacked the way they are, it’s nearly inevitable.

One Billion Rising is a global campaign launched on Feb. 14, the fifteenth anniversary of V-Day, a movement to end violence against women and girls around the world. This year, V-Day founder and playwright Eve Ensler issued a call to action, asking one billion people – women and men – to walk out, dance and rise in defiance of this injustice.

Why dance? Because it is universal. Dancing is liberating, it is spiritual and it is hopeful. Not all calls to action have to end in a piece of writing. Sometimes the most powerful calls to action are the ones that visibly disrupt your daily routine and force you to think about an issue that you may have brushed aside before.

When I reached out to my classmates about rising last Thursday, I wasn’t sure how they would respond. We take classes about leadership and sparking social change, and wax poetically about the great things we are going to accomplish when we leave this place. But why wait? I certainly had my own doubts – rational and irrational – about this whole endeavor. Would anyone sign up? Would men get involved? Would we have the space or equipment to stage our flash mob without protest? Most importantly, would people get the message?

As anyone who was in the Forum at 1pm on Thursday could see, our small intervention stopped people in their tracks. We captured peoples’ attentions for five minutes. But it shouldn’t end there. My hope – my challenge – to those who watched us that day is to break the chain of silence. Whether it’s the issue of violence against women or another issue you care about, speak up and say something. Don’t wait.

Voices from the Participants: Two Students Explain Why they Danced

The One Billion Rising HKS flash mob was a chance to speak out against gender violence. One in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s staggering and, not to mention, disturbing. As a male, I’m particularly disheartened by the lack of visible involvement from men in engaging and combating these issues. Because, when it comes down to it, we (men) are the perpetrators of this atrocious violence. Shouldn’t we be outraged? Shouldn’t we stand alongside our brave sisters and mothers and wives and female friends who have been calling for justice for so long? Shouldn’t we lend our voices in shaping a new kind of masculinity that avidly rejects exploitation and dominance? Gender violence is not simply a “women’s issue.” It involves us all. Why should we—women and men—let it continue? The HKS flash mob was a small act, but as part of a global campaign it is certainly a step towards a more peaceful and equitable future.

–    Mike McMahon, MPP ’13

“One Billion Rising – not nearly enough when one considers the epidemic these billion are rising against. Violence against women affects every girl and woman and everyone who loves and cares for them – that definitely accounts for more than a billion people. And so, I felt it was very important to take this first step – in solidarity, in unity. On Feb. 14 I rose, and I danced, because I am no longer going to withhold expressing and being my complete self in the fear of backlash. And I wanted to share this message with all my sisters across the world – those who are fighting against this epidemic every day and those who are quietly suffering.”

–    Ishani Mehta, MPP ’14