St. Thomas joined the global community Thursday as women from the Democratic Republic of Congo to flash mobs in Mogadishu, demonstrations from Paris to the Philippines, where they held a 24-hour dance party celebrating "One Billion Rising," a cry to end violence to women.
Global organizer Eve Ensler, activist and author of The Vagina Monologues, designated Feb. 14 as the "day to rise."
"I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime," she told the Guardian newspaper. "It’s a tsunami," she said.
One in three women around the world is subject to violence at some point in her life, a statistic that prompted Ensler to set up One Billion Rising. The movement speaks against the violence encompassing domestic abuse, gang rape, female genital mutilation and war.
"The dancing on Thursday will be amazing," Ensler said, "but more important is what’s happening to move violence against women to the forefront of the agenda. It will never be a marginalized issue again."
Through the efforts of Vivian St. Juste, director of the Family Resource Center, there is no danger of the issue being marginalized on St. Thomas.
The island rose to the occasion Thursday as a flash mob at Emancipation Garden danced and jumped up, led by St. Juste.
"Strike, Dance, Rise," St. Juste chanted as she led the dancers in the "Break the Chains" dance. An enthusiastic crowd of 100 or so clapped and whooped, cheering them on.
"No more incest," St. Juste’s voice roared over the crowd. "No more violence!" "No more genital mutilation!" "No more abuse!" And the crowd – women, girls, men and boys from 6 to over 60 – echoed her demands.
"One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime," St. Juste said. "One billion women violated is an atrocity. One billion women dancing is a revolution!"
Though flash mobs are supposedly spur of the moment, Thursday’s mob wasn’t all that spontaneous. St. Juste said the group has been rehearsing for weeks, led by dance instructors Raquiima Sargeant-Doway and Joan Martinez-Jones, while the day’s actual organizing has been in progress for a year.
Exhibiting the spirit of the day, Martinez-Jones went the extra mile – or step, so to speak – as she danced on crutches after breaking her foot over the weekend.
St. Juste said Thursday marked the final escalation of its year-long "One Billion Rising” campaign and the start of the 2014 activities. Family Resource Center workers passed through the crowd, signing up volunteers for the center and for next year’s celebration.
While Suzanne Robinson, a long-time member of the St. Thomas civic community, kept in step with the dancers, she cast a serious eye on the reason for the rally. "I’m so proud of our community and being part of this global protest," she said.
"I applaud the Vivian and the Family Resource Center for exposing us to the reality of this horrible abuse. It’s really amazing and so rewarding to be a part of."
On Thursday, St. Thomas joined women and men in 203 countries, coming together in the largest day of mass action ever to stop violence against women and girls, to express their outrage, and to strike, dance and RISE to support an end to violence against women once and for all.
The Family Resource Center is a private nonprofit corporation that provides programs and services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. Its mission is to end family violence in the Virgin Islands. The center is celebrating 31 years of service to the community and says it will continue this important work until its services are no longer needed.