by Allison Wonders Gars, Regional Coordinator
On Feb. 14th, 2013, Atlanta, Georgia joined together in solidarity to demand an end to violence against women and girls in our city and around the world. Our team of organizers grew from a few dedicated passionate people to a team of 115 amazing and influential members of our community including artists, activists, musicians, dancers, government employees, women business owners, as well as Founders & Directors of key organizations in Atlanta that are committed to working on the issue of violence against women and girls.
Once we assembled our team and reached out into our community to ask for support by joining our coalition and/or donating, we all heard the same answer, YES! Yes, I will offer my studio for rehearsals. Yes, I will donate printing, banners, t-shirts, radio spots, PSA’s. Yes I will join the coalition of over 100 Organizations and spread this message and event with our networks. As we broadened our network, we discovered the issue of violence against women and girls was at the forefront of so many organizations’ current agendas. We were invited to rallies, meetings, candlelight vigils and Capital gatherings. It was clear as we extended our reach that Atlanta was ready to rise and rally around this issue.
As we got closer to the event, people were inspired to create. One Woman Rising, a 16 foot tall gloriously painted statue now stands at Freedom Park for all to see, and an original Music Video “One Billion Rising’ was created inspiring women to make the choice to walk away. We could feel the rising as our Facebook numbers increased, phones were ringing endlessly, emails were coming in every few minutes, articles were written and our PSA’s were playing on major television stations.
After four days of cold and rain, we awoke on Feb. 14th to sunshine and clear blue skies. We began our day at the Georgia State Capitol where 500 excited and passionate people stood together as we listened to the words of Reverend Dr. Bernice King who touched each of us, “In spirit of my mother and father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, I AM RISING. I am reminded of my father’s words when he said returning violence for violence only multiplies violence adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” , State Senator Nan Orrock, Sara Blakely owner of Spanx, and Kai Lewis a teenager who moved everyone to tears as she shared, “I’m Rising because I live with one of those 1 in 3” and she continued to tell us her story. Our time at the Capitol ended with an original song by Sam Collier and Fly Musiq and the entire audience singing together “Rise up, we gotta rise up, we stand up for the ones who gave up. Rise up we gotta rise up for all of the children, at least one billion.”
We all walked together from the Capitol to the location of our FlashMob less than a mile away at Woodruff Park, Atlanta’s Central Park, surrounded by high rise office buildings. The perfect spot. As we got closer to Woodruff Park, you could feel the excitement. Then the moment that will remain forever etched in my memory came as I entered Woodruff Park where our 500 had swelled to 7000 people wearing red and pink One Billion Rising Shirts coming out of every street surrounding the park, filling the park.
At 12:00 Noon, 7000 women, men and children of all ages and ethnicities stood together energized and ready to dance as ‘Break the Chain’ echoed throughout the park with Tena Clark on the stage witnessing the greatest expression of her song. Thousands of people moving in unison to the vision of One Billion Rising, “I can see a world where we all live. Safe and free from oppression. No more rape or incest, or abuse. Women are not a possession.”
Each individual marked their ONE in a billion as onlookers viewed from surrounding office buildings and thousands watched it Live Streaming throughout the world. We all stood in awe in our most stunning collective moment in a sea of ‘one’ marked by thousands of fingers pointed toward the sky.
And then the celebration continued. Speakers and Musicians graced our stage continuing to keep everyone inspired and in touch with the issue. I had the privilege of reciting Eve Ensler's, monologue Rising and as I raged through the realities of what we are facing, I found myself standing at the crossroads of what our work will be in Atlanta as I said, “It’s time to tell a new story. It needs to be OUR STORY.”
And so we will begin to tell a new story and it will be our story. It will be Atlanta’s specific call to action based on the needs of our city to end violence against women and girls. Atlanta will never be the same. Our city is forever changed and we have built a coalition thousands strong so that we can work together to end violence against women and girls in our city and around the world!