Eve Ensler made me cry. A lot.
Unabashed, overwhelming, relentless tears washed down my face, smearing my mascara, and giving me that overall unattractive raccoon/just watched Tears of Endearment/just got dumped by my boyfriend look, as I listened to her speak about violence against women in the world.
Ensler, the playwright who brought us The Vagina Monologues, is touring Canada and the United States this month with the Turning Pain into Power campaign. The focus is African women. In particular women in the Congo who are being raped, mutilated, tortured, and murdered systematically, and en masse every second, of every minute, of every day.
I cried when I saw the video of women speaking -- screaming -- shouting at me, at the audience, at the world to listen to them as they told their stories of being gang raped and beaten, and then forced to watch militia soldiers murdering their husbands and sons, and/or raping their six month old baby girls, and 80 year old grandmothers for days on end.
I cried when Ensler spoke about this as a systematic weapon of war meant to physically, emotionally, and spiritually destroy the people of the Congo.
I cried when It dawned on me that all this violence is in the name of profiting on the natural resources in the lush country. I cried because it's about money. Money.
Most of all, I cried because I have turned away from this for so long. As a college professor, I have taught close to a thousand students about violence against women. I even show Ensler's documentary in my class every semester. And yet. Somehow, I had failed to take action in any significant way. I cried tears of shame at my complacency.
Our own humanity is at stake. This is not only about the women in the Congo. This is about ourselves -- who we are, what we believe in, and what we allow the world to do under our watch. Sixty years after the holocaust and we still haven't learned our lesson. Standing by while others suffer makes us as guilty of the crime as if we have committed it ourselves.
One version of Hell in the Jewish tradition is failing to live up to your own potential. It said that at the end of your life, you will be brought to the divine gates and a movie of your life will play out in front of you. You will see the best possible version of yourself -- all your potential lived to its fullest glory. Hell is having to watch that image of your best self for eternity if you haven't lived up to your own values and potential in your lifetime. Hell is seeing what you could have been, but never lived up to.
When it comes to the women of the Congo, and violence against women throughout the world, I'm afraid, we -- both victims and witnesses-- are in the worst kind of Hell.
But, there is a way out. Here are 10 things you can do right now, today, tonight, from your own home that don't involve money, to end the widespread, brutal violence against women in the Congo and throughout the world.
Let's collectively take our first step out of the gates of Hell. Join me:
1- Visit the website.
The V-Day website is filled with information about events, activist kits, ways to donate, ways to get involved, and page after page of updated information about what is happening to women around the world.
2- Attend an event.
Go see the Vagina Monologues. The proceeds go to support the cause. Attend a rally, a teach-in, or a poetry/music/art event. Go see a lecture. Attending is an act of protest in itself.
3- Watch the video, Until the Violence Stops, and host a screening of the video at your house to raise awareness.
The film I show in my class is moving, inspiring, revolutionary, and best of all, available free online.
4- Become a community or college organizer.
Put together a production of the Vagina Monologues, show the documentary, host a teach-in, raise money for the cause.
5- Write directly to the women of the Congo.
Show your support for their struggle by writing directly to the women of the Congo fighting back against the violence. Take five minutes to post a comment. If you have the time to comment on this site, you have time to send a comment of support to the women of the Congo today.
6- Tell the truth and break the silence.
Violence against women is an issue that affects everyone. Speak up. Tell your story. You are not alone. The more we speak up, the more we say "enough", the more we say "no", the more we end the shame, embarrassment, and silence around this issue.
7- Become a V-Man or recruit one.
This is not a women's issue. This is a human issue. Only women AND men can stop the violence together. This has to be a unified effort or it will fail. Become a V-Man and recruit others to joint your cause.
8- Join the V-day mailing list.
Hear about the latest news, events in your area, and ideas for how to get involved.
9- Add V-Day on your Facebook and MySpace Page.
Build awareness. Recruit your friends. It counts.
10 - Take the Congo on as a cause and support the women today.
Write a letter, donate some money, buy a handbag made by Congolese women, host a teach-in.
Do your part. Together we can end this.