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The Road to New Orleans

Tue, 04/01/2008

Dear V Warriors,

I am on my way to San Francisco, the last city of the V to 10th tour before New Orleans. It has been a wild, inspiring, disturbing journey. I have spoken at nearly 22 places—colleges, conferences, auditoriums, theatres. I have traveled on some main roads, but mainly I have been off the beaten track in small towns like Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, Clemson, South Carolina, and Florence, Alabama. I have spoken to crowds of hundreds and thousands. I experienced nearly seven snowstorms, a hail storm, one blessedly hot day in Austin, Texas. I have stayed in places with names like the Sleep Inn, Apple Butter Inn, and The Mansion.

I have seen the faces of hundreds of activated, vital, committed, diverse women and men who are literally giving their lives to end violence against women and girls. Women and men who have changed their cultures, told their stories and helped others do the same. I have met the V-Day activists who have raised money, raised hope, raised hackles, raised the V flag in community after community. I have seen the most beautiful original posters, t-shirts
and buttons. I saw Megan’s red and black skirt in Alabama, where she sewed the V-DAY logo as a design. I heard 200 women chant “Cunt!” in Alma, Michigan. I spoke in several churches, one called Beneficent, which is my new favorite word. It means “loving kindness”. These churches and the feisty spiritual women and men who run them or work in them gave refuge and support to V-Day when other churches or religions tried to censure the productions.

I signed a woman’s hip at Slippery Rock University so she could get a tattoo and drew a red V on a woman’s back in Alabama so she could do the same. (This woman had already had a vagina and uterus tattooed on her entire back after her first V-Day.)

I heard the stories of three women in the military, April Fitzsimmons, Suzanne Swift, Dorothy Mackey, who flew in to Austin Texas to be honored at a V-DAY in an Enchanted Forest. I learned from them that one out of three women in the military will be raped and that very few men are every held accountable. I learned that there is something called Military Sexual Trauma. This is a condition in which, after suffering terrible trauma on the battlefield leading to PTSD, women -and some men- are then raped by their own comrades who they were trained to trust. This secondary betrayal and violation throws them into multiple layers of trauma, often resulting in severe depression and suicide.

I heard stories of great success. In Clemson, one of the most conservative colleges in America, they began V-Day 5 years ago. Initially they experienced strong resistance. One of the organizers even got spit on when she was handing out fliers. The first year they had 100 people in the audience. This year there were 1000 and it has now been established as an annual event. I visited places like Dartmouth, where tenacious women are fighting to keep the women’s movement alive in the face of resistance and apathy, and places like Stetson College, where there is a wildly supportive and active administration and teaching body.

I admire and am profoundly grateful to professors in Women Studies programs across this country who keep Feminism alive, often with very few resources or support. I was moved at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee to have the evening include a discussion on race and gender. And throughout the country I was deeply moved by men: how much things have changed, how honest they were in the q and a’s when they talked about wanting to be part of this movement, wanting to take a stand against violence, wanting to find a way out of the current tyranny of masculinity.

At Clarion College one young man talked to me about how hard it had been coming from a home where his father hated his mother and sisters. He grew up trying not to hate women as his father had. I heard men say how much they needed to cry and be vulnerable.

I met many women from local beneficiaries who have been supported by the local V-Days for the last years and heard stories of how that money had kept shelters open, developed new programs, changed laws.

In Toronto, I was able to get a taste of the scope of the V-DAY movement throughout Canada. I got to participate in a most wonderful evening called FEMCAB, filled with theater and music where great Canadian women artists gave voice to all kinds of issues with passion and humor.

And I was crushed by story after story of women who have been raped, beaten, incested, date-raped, or who have daughters or friends of daughters who were murdered. Whether it was the 18 year-old in Providence, Rhode Island, who told me that at 15 she had gone to a doctor, been raped by him under anesthesia, developed a dangerous eating disorder and was sent to a clinic where she met many other women who were there because they, too, had been abused, such as the anorexic girl who was actually pregnant with her fathers baby. Or the woman whose sister had become a serious drug addict since her father raped and sodomized her and was now in a lock-down facility. Or the18 year old woman who broke down in my arms because she had only learned recently that she was the product of her mother being gang raped in the army.

I would say that at least one out of every three women told me stories of abuse. This was in front of a camera as we documented the tour. In some places almost every single woman told a story of abuse.

I know that our movement has had huge victories, even the ability of women to tell these stories is progress, but I must say that after 22 states I feel shell shocked.

I no longer believe violence against women is random, individual or accidental. After 50 countries,10 years, thousands of women’s stories and this 22 state tour, I know there is a global pattern destroying and undermining women through violence.

Many would like to think that this type of systematic violation of women does not happen in America. I want you to know that indeed it does. In homes, colleges, streets and armies, thousands of women are being raped, beaten, dishonored, and undermined.

I am not sure the language has yet been invented to describe the breath, depth and insidiousness of violence towards women. This global pattern of raping and abusing one out of three women in every village, town and city on this planet (a UN statistic), has got to be named. Femicide is a word that was used by the brave and visionary women in the early feminist movement to describe the systematic killing of women. I want to enlarge the definition to include the innumerable violations that destroy not only women’s bodies, but their souls, their spirits, their dreams, their ability to trust, love and prosper.

In three weeks, we will be in New Orleans with V to the 10th. We will take back the superdome and throw the biggest mega event of our times. I am fueled by this tour, this journey into this wild, spreading movement. I am enraged and heart broken by the violence. My commitment has only become surer and deeper. I am more brave today because I have absorbed the bravery of the women who are fighting for their lives and their sister’s lives on the front lines—in conservative towns, in liberal cities, in living rooms and bedrooms where leaving the battery means going without income, leaving means taking children and finding your way alone, leaving means building the new world: V-World.

Ten years ago, there was one production of The Vagina Monologues in one city. This year there are 4000 productions in 1500 places. We are growing and spreading. We are fierce and loving and strategic and full of sexuality and humor. And we are winning.

For those of you in places I wasn’t able to visit, I am with you in my heart. I thank you for standing up and for not being afraid.

I know there are buses and trains and planes and cars filled with V-Day activists on the way to support our sisters in New Orleans. This will be our moment to gather and celebrate and mourn and heal and inspire each other. This will be our moment to escalate this movement and layer our vision and amplify our creativity and include more warriors as we move towards victory in the next ten years. It will be our moment to push the edge and stand firmer and speak louder and love deeper.

I can’t wait to see you all there.

V to the Tenth!!!!

Eve Ensler