On February 14th, 2013, Cornell undergraduate students rose up on Ho Plaza against violence towards women in a small flash mob mirroring similar movements in over 200 countries. Mikey and I joined in their dance to celebrate the One Billion Rising event advocating for gender equality worldwide.
Both male and female students came together in the days leading up to Valentines’ Day and learned the dance in various locations around campus. For students who couldn’t make the trek to Central or North Campus, the event’s Facebook page provided a Youtube link to an instructional video which they could use to learn the dance at home. The sessions were fun and short, and the dance itself was easy enough for even the most uncoordinated dancer to learn (even Mikey).
At around noon on V-Day, students and bystanders began chalking up Ho Plaza with inspirational messages against female violence. Some students left short impacting phrases like “Cornell Rises Above Violence” while others rewrote the event’s slogan in different colors across the Plaza. One particularly talented student managed to recreate the logo of the organization which began the One Billion Rising event–V-Day–known best for its creation of the Vagina Monologues and other gender equality-based initiatives.
At 1pm, the participating students came together to prepare their dance to the song “Break the Chain.” Midway through the song, students brought in members of the crowd to join them and soon a small crowd of dancers began celebrating the cause together as fellow activists. It was a wonderful, fun event and it was a remarkable way to bring attention to the issue of gender violence.
Unfortunately, amidst its success there also lie its critics.
Unlike Cornell’s recent Gangnam Style flash mob and its upcoming Harlem Shake event, the One Billion Rising movement had a much smaller turnout and was organized by a smaller group of students. By sheer number, the popularity of these other pop media movements greatly overwhelmed the One Billion Rising flash mob, attracting more volunteers and more audience members in both cases. Some students point out that this lack of turnout points to an underlying issue in the priorities of Cornell’s community: students as a whole would much rather emulate pop culture than volunteer their time for a legitimate global cause, even when both activities require the same effort (in this case, dance). Other critics point to an alternative reasoning for the small volunteer base: the timing of the event. Smack in the middle of a heavy academic time slot, many students couldn’t make it to the event because of class conflicts. In addition, other events like the Gangnam Style flash mob utilized social media much earlier to attract interest than did the organizers of the One Billion Rising event, giving more students a chance to learn about the opportunity and to reorganize their schedules around the dance sessions.
Regardless, it is important to realize that the turnout was not nonexistent. There was a moderate group of volunteers and audience members, given the time and resources provided, and the event did capture a lot of interest on various media outlets throughout Cornell. For example, the event was featured on the front page and website of the Cornell Daily Sun and Cornell University’s Facebook page. Several pictures of the events also circulated between students on social media outlets like Facebook.
It is important to acknowledge the good will that was demonstrated by those who did come to support the cause. In the context of the greater picture, where our students stand in the backdrop of over 200 countries standing behind their message, the flash mob was certainly not a small feat.
If anything, parlaying the facts about the issue before the dance helped bring us closer to the issue by illuminating the seriousness of gender violence.
One in three women on the planet will be raped of beaten in her lifetime.
One billion women violated is an atrocity.
One billion women dancing is a revolution.
The message of the movement rang clear through Ho Plaza this Valentines’ Day, and no amount of criticism can dilute the impact of that message.
Congratulations to the volunteers of Cornell University’s One Billion Rising Flash Mob event for illuminating that message.