Practicing Presence at V-Day
First I have to prove to you that I am indeed here in New Orleans with thousands of women celebrating V-Day; so, here's a picture, a gargantuan expression of the vaginal symbol associated with the V-Day movement. It's sitting in the center of the main stage at the Louisiana Superdome. You can see it straight on at this link in a picture taken last night at the The Katrina Monologues: Swimming Upstream production.
Yes, V-Day is a movement, a global movement to end violence against women. Did you know that?
V-Day started with the first benefit production in 1998 of The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler to raise money and awareness in the struggle to stop violence against women. Since then "the nonprofit has raised more than $50 million for local anti violence groups with benefit events taking place in over 120 countries to date," states information in the press kit.
I came to this 10th anniversary event because I needed to come, unsure of what I may be getting myself into. I hadn't been to the Superdome in New Orleans in years and since returning to the city last summer had avoided the sprawling stadium. I avoided it the same way I avoided Ground Zero in New York City when I lived in New Jersey. Enough ghosts haunt me from the flooding of New Orleans. Why conjure more by walking through the dark energy hanging in the air at the infamous site of America's homegrown tragedy?
Why wade through circles of sorrow and hear whispers of theft, rape, murder, rage, and the sobbing of women and children awakening to abandonment? I had stayed away because I didn't want these spirits visiting my dreams.
But it promised to be a day of turning dark to light: the Superdome transformed to Superlove.
Signs of the real world were reporters and their camera people with giddy fans nearly trampling each other to take pictures of Jane Fonda, Rosario Dawson, Kerry Washington, and Eve Ensler during and after the press briefing, which was held at the main stage with the women seated beneath that towering symbol of feminine power. The women on stage, including Katrina Warriors Representative and Ashe Cultural Arts Center's Carol Bebelle of New Orleans and the Coastal Women Coming Home's Colette Pjchon-Battle, talked about stopping violence against women and how what happened in New Orleans was a metaphor for "the challenges women face worldwide -- violence, global warming, racism, lack of health care and education, financial insecurity, and the failure of local and national governments."
As they descended the stage, reporters and fans swarmed them. And later it seemed surreal to see Jane Fonda sitting about four rows back in the audience surrounded by fans. Fonda attended not only because she supports any effort to end violence against women and Eve Ensler's work to raise world consciousness, but also because she will be performing Saturday night in the 10th anniversary benefit production of The Vagina Monologues, V to the 10th. Rosario Dawson and Kerry Washington will also perform:
On Saturday evening, April 12, 2008, V-Day will stage a
once in a lifetime event - V TO THE TENTH - featuring international performances of The Vagina Monologues, musical guests, V-Day activists from across the globe including Kenya, Afghanistan, Iraq, The Philippines, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Europe, men standing up for women and much more.
Salma Hayek, Oprah Winfrey, Faith Hill, Jane Fonda, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Hudson, Glenn Close, Ali Larter, Calpernia Addams, Rosario Dawson, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Beals, Didi Conn, Christine Lahti, Doris Roberts, Liz Mikel, and Charmaine Neville have already signed on.
The evening will open minds and hearts and raise much needed attention and funds for groups working to end violence against women and girls around the world, and in New Orleans and the Gulf South. (V to the Tenth)
In addition to these women, Jennifer Hudson will be a musical guest.
The celebrities and speakers are paying their own expenses and giving their services for free.
The production at the New Orleans Arena has been modified with new material, including a new monologue that will be delivered by Oprah Winfrey called "Hey Miss Pat!"
I met (Miss Pat) when she was sitting on her porch in Central City," Ensler said. "She was bereft because her church was destroyed, and she couldn't cook oxtail for the homeless on Wednesday nights."
Ensler's organization helped rebuild God's Prince of Protection church in her neighborhood. (The Times Picayune)
Yes, I plan to attend Saturday night's performance.
So much to see in Superdome/Superlove
The title of this post is "Practicing Presence at V-Day" because as I walked into this building where I'd seen the New Orleans Saints play while growing up, had gone to many a Bayou Classic, and a concert or two but had also seen from afar children wailing for their mothers as they waded through flood waters, old men and women dying of thirst, and dead bodies on the news, I wasn't paying attention. I was focused on finding the press table, not being left behind when they called for the press briefing and damn it all, why can't I learn to work this stupid camera! Also, I'm so fat. I can't believe how much weight I've gained since I moved back to New Orleans.
Then I was fidgety and fiddling with the tape player, and trying to figure out the best way to carry my purse and my computer, fretting about where I could plug in later to send the blog and calling myself dense and brain dead because I couldn't think of any deep questions for, well, anybody. I looked round with my cynical journalist eye, wondered at negatives like where's the money all come from and gone. I saw the art on the walls but didn't take it in; the Oprah and Friends radio booth, but didn't care much about that, and then I saw Eve Ensler and thought, she's right in front of me. I should go up and speak to her. I should if I can snag a chance because every few seconds someone's asking her a question, or hugging her, or asking her take a picture. And the press briefing hadn't started yet; so, really should I be so pushy?
In the back of my head was the small voice, Nordette this is big. Nordette this important. Slow down, take it in. Take it in or you're gonna miss it all. You too are a woman. You too are back home. What's here for you? Be still. Be present and see these other women.
I took a picture with Ms. Ensler and then later, after that press briefing I mentioned earlier, I was one of the people
being pushed and nudged to get a shot of Rosario Dawson or Jane Fonda
with a Gulf South woman. I was one of more than a thousand people standing with 1200 coastal women standing behind me who had returned home for V-Day and one hearing about Katrina Warriors.
And I was one of the people snapping shots of the opening ceremonies and the spiritual cleansing ceremony. This is the part where Superdome became Superlove:
A Cleansing and Blessing Ritual opened SUPERLOVE, where we gathered and held a vision of transformation, for the Superdome, for the people of New Orleans, for the people of the world. Dr. Johnnetta Cole, former President of Spelman College, Buddhist leader Roshi Joan Halifax, Native American tribal leader Brenda Dardar Roubichaux and Denese Shevrington of New
Orleans led this ritual, which ended with a performance led by New Orleans’ Rev. Lois Dejean and the Mahalia Jackson Choir. (From V Day website, tense changed by this blogger)
And it was during this segment that I sat my behind down and stopped pretending I was Carol Jenkins.
I stopped pretense and frenzy when I realized I hadn't really seen the
Houma tribal dance. I'd barely heard the chanting. My mind was at work
and overworked. So, I stopped. I breathed. I sat down and listened.
For as long as space exist and the world abides may I too remain to dispel the suffering of this world. (Buddhist teacher Roshi Joan Halifax at V Day cleansing ceremony April 11, 2008)
I could tell you more now, but I will wait and tell you tomorrow after I've seen this evening's performance of V to the Tenth, The Vagina Monologues. Let me simply say that I heard things, stories of women having limbs amputated, genitals mutilated, and sold away. I saw things, an all-girls gospel choir singing their hearts out and poets and actresses spilling their souls, and a red tent waiting with storytellers that I want to visit -- and Eve Ensler weeping in the hallway carrying a burden then releasing it with joy. I even looked up to see Gayle King striding past me in a yellow dress last night, but these things should be spoken of slowly and some, perhaps, kept for face-to-face.
Whatever the case, more tomorrow.
Photos: First photo, V-Day logo towering over the stage. Second photo, r-l, Eve
Ensler, Kerry Washinton, and Rosario Dawson at press conference. Third
photo, r-l Coastal Women Coming Home's Colette Pjchon-Battle with actress Rosario Dawson.
Below, r-l, Coastal Women Coming Home's Colette Pjchon-Battle, actress and activist Jane Fonda, Katrina Warriors Representative and Ashe Cultural Arts Center's Carol Bebelle, and Eve Ensler at press briefing.
Part 2, Is New Orleans the Vagina of America?
Nordette Adams is a BlogHer.com Contributing Editor.