This Valentine’s Day the Woodbury Campus Student Center in Portland was packed with poets, writers, musicians, women activists and students as one of the sites for the global One Billion Rising rally that aimed to fight violence against women.
One Billion Rising is a worldwide protest to end the staggeringly high rates of violence against women across the globe. According to the One Billion Rising website, one in three women will be raped in their lifetime. This pushed author and activist Eve Ensler, who is well-known for writing The Vagina Monologues, to organize the worldwide protest in 2012.
The event called for one billion women and men in 203 countries across the world to “strike, dance and rise” to express their outrage and refusal to accept the violence and rape culture that fosters a global environment in which one in three women will be raped in her lifetime.
Portland and Lewiston were both V-Day rally sites for this year’s protest. The Portland rally was organized by Robin Farrin, professional photographer, activist and women and gender studies major. Starting at Monument Square, Farrin estimated 50 attendees gathered to march to the campus center in Portland. When they arrived, they recited poetry, recounted their personal experiences with abuse and talked about proper consent, interrupted only by interludes of music and dancing.
Farrin happily reported that she felt the event was a success. “Almost every country on the planet participated,” she said. “It was pretty incredible.”
Overall, she was pleased with the attendance of the the crowd, although she admitted that she would have loved for more student participation, as she noticed that the event brought in many community members, but fewer students than she had expected, and reaching out to students for help in planning the event, she received less than enthusiastic responses. She created a Facebook page event for the rally, where just under 300 people agreed to attend, but estimated that no more than 100 were in attendance.
Farrin has been active in various activist movements throughout the years, but she noted that she has always been a fan of Ensler’s work in particular. Ensler moved and inspired her when she saw her speak live. Since then, Farrin has been involved in Ensler’s movement.
“I raised my hand in the crowd of 400 women and was committed to do something as well,” she said. In her women and gender studies class, the professor asked them to choose a topic or event to support through activism. The One Billion Rising rally was Farrin’s choice.
Despite not achieving the full 300 hundred attendees, the event was lively, with discernible intensity in the crowd. At one point Annie Finch, local poet and director of USM’s Stonecoast MFA program, read “Invocation for the One Billion Rising” a poem that she wrote for the occasion. As she reached the poem’s high point, she grew louder until she was screaming and shaking her head and her hands in the air. The crowd rose up, joining her. “One billion of us are rising, rising, rising, / One billion of us are rising through the fire,” Finch shouted to the crowd.
Finch has also long been a fan of the work of Eve Ensler and went to the the Republic of Congo on a creative writing and teaching trip with the state department, sponsored by the University of Iowa, and Ensler herself has done extensive work there.
“When I saw what it was like over there it increased my admiration for her [Ensler] even more,” Finch said.
Finch explained that she is an avid supporter of women’s movements because she understands very personally how acts of violence on women change a woman’s life.
“I’m personally very aware of how it [abuse] can affect a woman’s life,” Finch said. To her, the violence that women face is a central issue right now. “I value women’s contributions to society so much,” she said. “The world really needs women to be strong and healthy right now.”
According to Farrin, footage taken at the Portland rally will be included in a documentary that Ensler is working on.