Since Thursday, my life has once again shifted in colossal ways. That evening, eight months of planning came to fruition with the Agent of Change produced Equality Now 20th Anniversary Event, which took place at the Asia Society. It was a labor of love, one that resulted in a spectacular and singular night.
Equality Now has been at the forefront of women's rights for 20 years. Providing legal support for female victims of rape, sex trafficking, genital mutilation, and other global atrocities, this organization began treading an unbeaten path long before governments and judicial systems ever thought to do so. Founded in 1992 by the unrelenting and awe-inspiring Jessica Neuwirth, she and Equality Now's eloquent and powerful global director, Yasmeen Hassan, are two incredible women who I have learned so much from. They define what it means to be an agent of change, and it was a true honor to work alongside them.
The evening was constructed around a segmented show, written by the oft-noted, oft-lauded writer, director, producer Joss Whedon. Emcee'd by Sarah Jones, the night also featured musical performances by Natalie Merchant and performances by Vanessa Redgrave, Laura Linney, Debra Winger, Eliza Dushku, Daphne Zuniga, and more.
On Friday, the day after our Equality Now event, I had a production meeting at the United Nations for the film One Day on Earth, set to premiere on Earth Day in the U.N.'s General Assembly. 1600 people came to experience this masterpiece created by Brandon Litman and Kyle Ruddick, one that asked people in 190 countries to film and submit video about their lives on October 10, 2010.
Now, for anyone who isn't familiar with this great island of Manhattan, the U.N.'s base is on 42nd Street at 1st Avenue. As a resident of 42nd Street at 12th Avenue, I know how hard it can be to get across town, and this occasion was no exception. After far too long of waiting for a cab, I admitted defeat and resolved to wait for the bus. As I approached the stop, I saw a tall African-American woman talking to a hysterically crying disheveled Hispanic young woman, the latter of whom was holding a baby in her arms.
RPG: What is wrong?
Diana (in tears holding a baby in a fleece, pink blanket): My baby is suffering; I have to get her home..not safe.
RPG: Do you want money to take a cab home?
African-American woman: She can't take a cab, they won't let her.
Diana: (In broken English) They won't take me because I don't have a car seat. I live in NJ.
RPG: Do you want me to buy you a car seat so you can get home?
Diana: I will go to Port Authority and take the bus home.
Her waterfall of tears continue to flow, she kisses the baby's head. The bus arrives. Diana crookedly walks up the stairs and sits in a seat and I sit right next to her. I don't want her to feel alone. The woman comes onto the bus, hands Diana $20, and walks off.
RPG: Great -- I'll ride with you to Port Authority.
RPG: What's your baby's name?
RPG: What a blessing you have curled up in your arms. You are so lucky to have a daughter. When did you give birth?
Diana: Four days ago.
RPG: I can't wait to be a mother -- look at the wonderful bundle of love you have looking back at you. Where are you from?
RPG: How old are you?
RPG: (I gulp.) Are you sure you don't want me to go buy a baby seat with you? (The thought of taking a four-day old baby into Port Authority made me want to throw up.)
Diana: I just want to get her home.
A mature Hispanic woman sits behind Diana and the women behind her are trying to figure out is going on. Over Diana's head and out of earshot, I begin talking to them.
Hispanic woman: Be careful, I work in a hospital and I see this all the time. These girls come to the U.S. and use babies to get money.
RPG: (Dumbfounded) Really? That's hard to believe.
Hispanic woman: Yes, yes!
Collecting the cash I have in my wallet to give to Diana, I tune the Hispanic woman out. She then proceeds to whisper into Diana's ear in Spanish. You are going to get caught by the police. Do not use people for money. You are no good. Other women are entering the bus, all of who exude NYC attitude. An Irish woman, who I later find out is named Barbara, gets on the bus and stands in front of us. This is now a multi-cultural NYC experience!
Diana: Can you take me into Port Authority and get me to the bus?
Sadly, I was so late in getting to the hospital to visit my father that I couldn't.
Barbara: I'll take you to Port Authority and make sure you are okay. I'm a mother of three.
Immediately Barbara and I founded an unspoken bond that resulted in tag-team efforts to take care of Diana and baby Veronica.
RPG: Diana -- You are never alone, people do care. (Her tears are drying up.)
The Hispanic woman gets off the bus and the other energy-filled NYC women collectively chime in.
Women: Later Hater!... Do unto others like you want done to you!
Port Authority is coming up. Barbara gets her things ready and I put the money in Diana's bag. She saw that I gave her $40 and her eyes popped out of her head with gratitude.
RPG: Remember Diana -- you are not alone!
It is for Baby Veronica that I do my work. I keep it real! My focus deepened in that moment on 42nd Street, knowing that everything I do led me to that moment to help a young mother flip her pancake, be thankful for what she has, and know that people do care. I am so thankful for who I have become, and who I became that day. I felt like a lawyer changing the mind of a jury, a teacher shaping the future of a student. I felt like a true citizen of the world, uniting with others to help my fellow (wo)man.
The next day, my friend Ariel and I went to Tribeca to grab some sushi and it turned out to be a good mind dump as life had recently dealt both of us some hefty cards. The rain was torrential by the time I was ready to head home and I could only secure a gypsy cab. I haggled with him to take me home for $30, as opposed to his suggested $40. Sure, it's only a $12 ride in a yellow cab but it was raining, and my patience was thinning.
As the driver pulled into my driveway I asked him for change of a $20. He told me he had it but for $30 he would go to my bedroom with me. Wait...
Driver: For $30 I can go to your bedroom with you.
RPG: (Fuming) YOU ARE DISGUSTING!
Women are always dealing with something, good or bad. Harassment and abuse can happen to anyone! There are two things I now know for certain: one, the work Equality Now does is changing the world so that Baby Veronica will never have to deal with this kind of sexist treatment. And two, that cab driver has no idea what he's in for.
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