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V-Day: Poet Aja Monet & V (Eve Ensler) on the Movement to End Violence Against Women & Girls

StoryFebruary 12, 2021
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Amid a global rise in domestic violence during the pandemic, we speak with the founder of V-Day, a day of action to fight violence against women. V, the award-winning playwright of “The Vagina Monologues,” formerly known as Eve Ensler, says organizers around the globe are finding ways to fight back. “I’m so moved to see our grassroots women movements around the world finding ways to rise in spite of people being locked in and shut in and in spite of COVID,” she says. We also speak with blues poet and organizer Aja Monet, V-Day’s VOICES artistic creative director, who says Black women are particularly at risk. “For every Black woman who reports rape, at least 15 Black women do not,” Monet says. “We can go down the list and see the impact that sexual violence and harm and abuse has had on Black women primarily, but on women across the world.” VOICES is a new interdisciplinary performance arts project and campaign grounded in Black women’s stories by V-Day to unify the vision of ending violence against women — cis women, trans women, and nonbinary people across the African continent and African diaspora. VOICES’ goal is to use art to embody and inspire solidarity-making in our collective imagination.

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StoryFeb 14, 2018V-Day: Global Movement to Stop Violence Against Women and Girls Marks 20th Anniversary
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

In what’s being called the pandemic within the pandemic, domestic violence has soared across the globe over the last year. Time magazine recently reported domestic violence increased 300% in Hubei, China, 25% in Argentina, 30% in Cyprus, 33% in Singapore and 50% in Brazil. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine reports domestic violence has also spiked across the U.S. — it’s up 22% in Portland, Oregon, 18% in San Antonio, over 10% in New York — as people can be trapped with their batterers at home.

This Sunday marks Valentine’s Day, as well as V-Day, a global day of action to fight violence against women and girls. We’re joined now by two guests. The playwright V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, she’s the author of The Vagina Monologues and many other works. We’re also joined by the poet Aja Monet, V-Day’s new artistic creative director.

And we welcome you both to Democracy Now! As I read out those figures, V, about domestic violence soaring in the world as people are alone in homes, sometimes with their batterers, can you fit that into what’s happening this Sunday around the world?

V: Yes. I mean, obviously, we’re here. It’s so funny, because I’ve been doing a lot of online risings this year because people can’t be in the streets, a lot of people, because of COVID. And we’re hearing about these incredible numbers of domestic violence and all kinds of other violences, the violences of frontline workers, mainly women and women of color, being exposed to all kinds of things without protections. I mean, there’s endless violences. And I just want to say I’m so moved to see our grassroots women movements around the world finding ways to rise in spite of people been locked in and shut in and in spite of COVID.

I think what I’m excited to be talking with you about this morning — and happy V-Day to everybody — is this new program that we’re doing and this new campaign that Aja Monet is leading up. And I just want to just briefly talk about that for a second, because it directly feeds into all the statistics you were talking about. I think, during this last year in America and across the world, we’ve seen some of the most hideous murders of Black men and women and trans women by the police, and an escalation of white supremacy and, most recently, the horrific murder of Breonna Taylor, and the, still, injustice that’s followed it. And I know, for me, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection in V-Day, as has our whole team, this movement that’s been here for 23 years and has really been supported, initiated and driven by The Vagina Monologues.

And I think this year we all decided we needed to go further, we needed to go deeper. Something more is being called for. And I’ve been doing deep reflection about my life as a white woman playwright and activist, fully aware of the depth of my privilege and access to networks and resources that have helped to produce my work. And I believe this is the moment where we need to uplift and be in deepest solidarity with Black women, cis women, trans woman, nonbinary people across the African continent and African diaspora, and we need to share our networks and resources that will bring their voices into the center of our movement.

So I am thrilled that we have invited and joined with the forces of the powerhouse and the visionary that is Aja Monet, someone who really understands the connection between art and activism, who is a brilliant poet in her own right, and has been curating this piece filled with the stories of Black women throughout the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Aja, I want to turn to you next. And just giving a little background, you’re the youngest poet to have ever become the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam Champion at the age of 19 in 2007. And that’s just way back then, but you’re doing remarkable things. And I was wondering if you can describe the VOICES project.

AJA MONET: Yeah. So, we also know that for every Black woman who reports rape, at least 15 Black women do not. You know, one in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. So these statistics, we can go down the list and see the impact that sexual violence and harm and abuse has had on Black women primarily, but on women across the world.

VOICES is a project that, for us, we’re deeply invested in how do we interrogate the interior landscapes of people and their relationship, not just to violence, but to liberation and freedom; how does art become critical in the ways that we imagine the world we want to see and to start to practice, to actively engage people, beyond just speaking and telling the truth, but also showing and demonstrating what active listening looks like; how we show up for those who are speaking; how we engage; and how we show compassion and collective care in this moment.

I want to say that I think the biggest thing that really impacted me last year, while there was an uprising around George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, was a story about a Tallahassee activist, a Black girl, a Nigerian Black American woman named Oluwatoyin Salau, who was assaulted and murdered seeking protection and seeking shelter in a moment where she was actively engaging in our movement to fight for us and to fight for our trans brothers and sisters, and so to note that this was a story that was kind of left out of the narrative of this moment, not for any, I wouldn’t say, intentional purposes, but it is something that begs of us to pay attention, to listen deeper, to go into our communities and to see how are we internalizing the harm and the violence of this country and how do we show up better in our movements for one another.

AMY GOODMAN: As you say her name, talk about the #SayHerName movement.

AJA MONET: I think that #SayHerName was born out of a necessity in a moment where media was hyperfocused on the violence and the ways that police violence was showing up in our communities around Black men and the stories of Black men. #SayHerName is a campaign that was created to support the voices of Black women all over the country, but particularly around state violence and the ways that state violence is also impacting us, not just through policing, but also through reproductive rights and issues that we’re facing in our maternal mortality — right? — also in the ways that we suffer from housing inequality, the ways that climate change impacts our communities, that we recognize that saying her name is not in an effort to combat the names or to resist the notion that our brothers’ names need to be stated, but that also our Black women are on the frontlines of often most of the violence that our communities see, and so, therefore, we must lift up the memories and the stories of those directly impacted by this violence.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Aja, on the issue of art and resistance, if you could talk, as an artist, about how your art has changed through the pandemic and what you’re hoping for most of all on Sunday with Billions Rising?

AJA MONET: Yeah. Well, we believe that art is for the people, by the people. And it’s about presence. It’s about attention. It’s about expression of one’s psychic terrain, the interior world, the last frontier. And so, I think a big part of what we see this project being, VOICES, is our unothering.

We create because we have no other choice in this moment, right? We want to create out of a space of what do we envision, what do we want to see, not just so much what we’re against and what we’re fighting. And so, I think we create because we’re possessed by our questions. We’re not creating because we believe we have the answers. We create because we know that art has the capacity to get the people to be challenged, to be intrigued, and to be transformed by their expressions of their interior world and their presence.

For me, during this moment, we found ways for art — with Homemade, poetry online series that we started, for art to be a part of helping us think through solutions. How can art help us practice the world that we want to see? How can art also provide the remedies for the moment? And what are the limitations of art, right? How does art become strategy for our freedom, not just an accessory to our movement?

And those are the things that I’ve seen happen in this moment, are the ways that artists are being engaged critically around the cultural shifts we need for our society to be where it needs to go. Abolition is on the tongues of everyone’s mouths because of culture, because of cultural workers, because of the folks on the frontlines organizing for that change and for the relationships built between artists and organizers during this moment.

I would say organizers are artists, that we are actively practicing our creative imaginations and pushing the conversation and pushing the nation forward. We’re the shamans and healers of this moment. So, I want to lift up all the organizers who are doing work to end violence against women and girls, but to end violence against those of us who are most marginalized across the globe. And Sunday!

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, V, February 14th, 1998, that’s when you began V-Day. We’re talking more than 20 years. Do you feel there has been major progress? And where are you headed in that work?

V: Well, I think with everything with patriarchy, it’s two steps forward and one step back. It’s a persistent, ongoing virus that we’re up against. But I think there has been change.

And I just want to say, about this year, our theme this year is One Billion Rising Gardens. And it’s been incredible to see how it’s amplifying the intersectional issues of women’s inequality, impact on food insecurity, land ownership and lack of access to healthcare, as well as the long-term effects of extractive industries on the destruction of Mother Earth and other basic rights for frontline and marginalized communities.

And I want to urge everybody to go to OneBillionRising.org. There are incredible things going on right now just everywhere on the globe. Our 60 global coordinators have unleashed vast, grassroots regionally and national actions. We’re seeing them dig deep into their communities — seed distribution and seed banks exchanges in India and Congo and the Philippines.

Last night I was on the phone with organizers in Davao, Philippines, with the Lumad women, the Indigenous women, who are rising to take back their lands from the plunderers and the people pillaging it and the corporates destroying it. And these are just archaic and horrible anti-terrorist laws that Duterte has put into place, where he’s just summarily arresting people without any charges.

We’re seeing people do artistic creations for zero-waste food art in Bangladesh, Rising Garden film festivals in South Asia. We’re seeing artistic risings all over Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Italy. And I just want to urge everybody here —

AMY GOODMAN: V, we have 10 seconds.

V: April 22nd, Earth Day, rise, plant your gardens in this country. Join V Is for VOICES. Send in your stories in the next two days and be part of our movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much, V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, and Aja Monet, the poet and V-Day’s new artistic creative director.

And remember, wearing a mask is an act of love. I’m Amy Goodman. Thank you so much for joining us.

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