“Fist! Fist! Resist! Resist!” shouts 10-year-old Amarra Marie Andresen, her loose ponytail bouncing as she dances. It’s a Saturday morning, and the sun has made a rare wintry appearance, but Andresen is inside and focused. She’s practicing to be one of many activists around the world celebrating Valentine’s Day a little differently this year.
“It’s going to be random, and nobody is going to know that we’re doing it,” says Andresen, explaining that she will be participating in a flash mob (at an undisclosed location) Friday evening as part of a global campaign to end violence against women.
For over a decade, Feb. 14 has been more than fancy chocolates and paper hearts for many women’s rights advocates. V-Day was started in 1998 by Eve Ensler, author of the play “The Vagina Monologues,” with the mission to end violence against girls and women.
Last year, the V-Day organization announced the One Billion Rising campaign — referencing United Nations statistics that one in three women will be raped, beaten or abused in her lifetime (or roughly 1 billion women worldwide).
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One Billing Rising called on people around the world to “walk out, dance, rise up, and demand an end to this violence.” And, according to the campaign, people in 207 countries did, including Filipino activists who popularized the use of flash mobs — group dances performed, unannounced, in public spaces — as a way of making their demands visible.
“It’s really hard to talk about,” says Jill Mangaliman of Pin@y sa Seattle, a Filipino human-rights collective that works both locally and internationally and is helping to organize this year’s flash mob, “so people being able to express themselves through art has been a great way to help heal and engage people.”
Mangaliman says Pin@y was inspired by the success of these One Billion Rising flash mobs in the Philippines last year, and wanted to bring them to the Pacific Northwest as a way of reaching out to new people — especially in the local Filipino community.
The song they will be dancing to is in Tagalog — though the shouts of “Don’t be silent! Stop the violence!” are in English. But the energy of the music is universal, full of urgency and power. The dancing is simple enough that a wide range of people can follow along (the flash mob rehearsal I attended was at a senior home where elderly women, some with walkers, joined in on the dancing from the sidelines). But the moves are also militant and rhythmic. It is dancing that demands attention.
In-your-face performance that communicates across culture and language is increasingly popular among feminist movements around the globe. From Pussy Riot’s ski masks in Moscow, to the topless activists of Ukraine and the pumping fists of One Billion Rising, an interesting performance is far more likely to go viral in the Internet age than a old-school protest march.
“It’s different, it’s creative and people are not used to seeing this every day of their lives,” says Noralis Rodriguez Coss, a Ph.D. candidate in Feminist Studies at the University of Washington who investigates the use of street performance to protest gender-based violence in Puerto Rico. “You will stop and look just out of curiosity.”
Coss says it’s an effective way of engaging people who may be fatigued by typical protests or are alienated by negative messaging. But she also believes these public acts are more than a publicity stunt or an organizing technique — they are also a powerful form of political expression.
“Violence against women is presented as isolated cases because that is how we are taught to normalize it,” says Coss, who says these performances express collective responsibility for an issue that is too often shrouded in secrecy. “But using your body for 10 minutes to say ‘this is an issue we all have to do something about’ — that’s amazing.”
Flash mobs, by definition, are secret until they happen, so the details of the action haven’t been released publicly.
But if you’re looking for a little guerrilla consciousness-raising with your Valentine’s Day dinner, the organizers of Pin@y have some insider advice: Consider taking your date out for seafood at a mall in the South End sometime between 6:30 and 7:15 Friday evening.
Sarah Stuteville is a multimedia journalist and co-founder of The Seattle Globalist, www.seattleglobalist.com, a blog covering Seattle’s international connections. Sarah Stuteville: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @SeaStute