Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

One Billion Rising, B.C. style: Women dance in peace and solidarity

Curious pedestrians stopped to watch. A man in a taxi stared out the back-seat window. A nearby sidewalk vendor with a kazoo and crazy red costume sold Valentine’s trinkets to passersby.


But as darkness descended last Thursday, thirteen women in downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada focused on slow, spontaneous movement, in silent unison. We were part of the global solidarity dance One Billion Rising, held on Valentine’s Day as a symbolic demand to end violence against women and girls. (The name of the event, created by Eve Ensler’s organization V Day, refers to the reality that one in three females on earth will be beaten or raped in her lifetime, which amounts to more than a billion women.)

While women in cities around the world gyrated, sang, and held flash mobs, our group, arranged in a line, clutched a long, rolled-up red cloth. We lay it on the ground in front of the old courthouse steps on Robson Street, now part of the Vancouver Art Gallery. This defined our space, as a symbolic boundary, while a supportive male friend watched our belongings.


With informal facilitator Ingrid Rose, we took turns leading an improvised series of synchronized movements, decided in the moment by each rotating “leader.” Some of us used flashlights to spark the night as we all clasped hands to our hearts, raised arms skyward, bent down to touch the earth, and maintained an ongoing fluid flow of motions with our arms and legs.

I learned that such group movement with no set pattern or formation, yet with everyone doing the same motions, is called “flocking.”


This group activity, embodying the intention of nonviolence, felt like a combination of tai chi, yoga in motion, and Gabrielle Roth’s “flow” rhythm. All but one of the women were strangers to me, yet sharing this collective action felt like an ongoing hug from warm friends. We came together, we cared, we acted, without attachment to others’ reactions, and without fear in the night.


We danced not as spectacle or as separate performance, but as an extension of everyday life. Beside us, a First Nations man displayed hand-carved wooden masks, laid out on the steps for potential buyers. Electric trolley buses rattled past. From the top of the steps, a drunk man with a beer can heckled us briefly, then ignored us.

We were dancing both for ourselves and for women and children everywhere. Some in the group cried out or intoned as we danced. After forty minutes, we stopped and formed a circle. Without any planning or discussion, we each spontaneously called out words or phrases that our dance had inspired, things like “empowerment,”  “peace,” and “safety.”


Under a crescent moon, amidst the harsh lights and noise of the city, it was a rare opportunity to extend and experience a soulful presence. It invited us to redefine our relationships through peace, not just with others, but with ourselves.

In Sechelt on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, about 25 women and one man danced at Trail Bay Mall in front of Clayton’s supermarket as part of One Billion Rising.  As Jan Jensen led a lively group to song lyrics that celebrated women, more than two dozen people watched and clapped in appreciation. Dance participant Wendy Crumpler says: “It was amazing: a very moving experience as well as being fun. Afterwards, there was this wonderful feeling of having done something together that was important.”

Click here to see video of One Billion Rising event in Sechelt.

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February 19, 2013 at 9:49 pm Comments (0)

The dummy and the mannequin: a perfect combo for Valentine’s Day


Amidst the blush of Valentine’s Day, with its cliché red hearts, roses, and lipstick smudges, I’d like to offer a more tarnished version of this commercial event.

Take this snuggling couple above, for instance, who recently appeared in the window of a second-hand furniture store (love as used goods?) on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, BC. (I like the symbolism of them behind bars—the imprisonment of stereotypes.)

The dummy, in a lounge-lizard smoking jacket à la Hugh Hefner, clearly needs an eyebrow trim. Speaking of Hef, it’s pathetic that mainstream media drools with lust and envy over his lifestyle, as if there’s nothing sick or predatory about an 80-something man frolicking with—let alone marrying—a 20ish nymphette. What role models we have!

This dummy has opted for the usual ploys: flowers (but no water) and chocolate. But is his approach working? Don’t think so. His date looks comatose, like the glazed eyes of the woman on the cover of the book Love and the Facts of Life, which my mom gave me at puberty back in the 1970s. That book’s main message to female readers was: even if your sweetie’s talk bores you, act like you’re interested. Read up on a few recent sports scores so you’ll have some conversation to offer. What gender roles we’ve been taught!

This gal must have read the same book. Someone better tell her that bright blue eyeshadow and rouged cheeks went out of vogue in the 1950s, unless you were portraying a lady of the night or buxom madam in a western.

But enough about appearances. What about the subtleties of love—sideways glances, caring attention, and thoughtful gestures? No lingering eye contact for these two. They’re more interested in ceiling patterns.

Who could better represent love-gone-wrong than a dummy and a model? That’s what advertisers want us all to be.

Let’s redefine our love relationships, creating ones that honour who we truly are. Forget the media images that blast us daily with what love is supposed to look, act, sound, and be like. . . Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and all that bullshit.

Let’s scrap the gender stereotypes, especially those about females. They’re dangerous. They reinforce lies like women want to be raped.

On February 14, join the mass movement One Billion Rising, sponsored by V Day. In cities across the globe, this event invites us all to gather in our communities to dance and demand an end to violence against women and girls. One in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. That is more than one billion women!

In Vancouver, BC, join the dance at the Roundhouse from 7:15 to 9:15. Dance wherever you are. That’s a lot better than lying in the arms of a dummy.

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February 12, 2013 at 10:53 pm Comments (4)

Washington, DC to host biggest climate rally in U.S. history on Feb. 17

While we Canadians protest the creation or expansion of pipelines, fracking, and liquid natural gas facilities, U.S. activists are planning the biggest climate rally in their nation’s history.


Thousands will gather this Sunday, Feb. 17, at the National Mall in Washington, DC to demand strong governmental action in response to climate change. They want to stop expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline and are targeting Canada—home to the ever-growing Alberta tar sands—as one of our planet’s worst polluters. (The rally is to be held from noon to 4 p.m. Participants are asked to gather by 11:30 a.m. at the northeast corner of the Washington Monument.)


To think that Canada was once a global environmental leader. . . Now, thanks to prime minister Stephen Harper and his pro-oil cronies and deals, Canada is one of the top 10 polluting nations in the world. But thankfully, more people in Canada and the U.S. are waking up to the deadly results that high-carbon-emission industrial activity is having. The resulting ozone depletion and sea-level rise has brought the impact of climate change into people’s homes and neighbourhoods. They’re suffering extreme conditions like Superstorm Sandy, devastating wildfires, drought, floods, and wildly fluctuating temperatures. Friends, neighbours, and family are dying.


What will it take before climate change becomes a higher priority than the economy? How long will it take for politicians at all levels to see that the destruction and clean-up costs involved with cataclysmic weather due to climate change will drain our economy?


Obama gets it. Harper sure doesn’t.


Recent data shows that more than three-quarters of Americans want government action on climate change. They’re demanding strong climate action from president Obama, who delayed the Keystone XL expansion, but still has made no commitment to an environmental agenda over an economic one. Yes, he sounded promising in his second inaugural address, but still needs to back up his words with concrete changes that make the environment a priority: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations . . . [N]o one can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”*


Here in Canada, 61 per cent of respondents in an Ipsos Reid poll in December 2012 said that they think the Harper government is doing a poor job of protecting the environment. Besides Harper’s two recent omnibus bills, which eliminate or hobble any laws that protect species, habitat, and waterways, the Keystone XL project blatantly shows the prime minister’s willingness to forego the well-being of future generations, today’s public, and the environment, for the sake of economic development at any cost.


“It’s the [federal] government’s plan to annihilate our lands and our future,” says Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Fort Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta. After hearing of the federal government’s plan to balance tar sands production with environmental protection, Adam said: “There are no commitments to our people and no protection of our lands and rights. We thought we were working towards a partnership with this government, but this plan does not reflect that.” 


Please spread the word about Sunday’s rally. Check out #forwardonclimate on Twitter and Forward on Climate for more information.

* In his State of the Union speech tonight, Obama confirmed: “We must do more on climate change.” He challenged Congress that in this area, he will follow science and “act before it’s too late.” He announced that he’s seeking a “bi-partisan, market-based solution” to climate change. But what will that look like in the U.S.? Obama sounds as if he’s trying to appease both business and environmentalists. He wants to speed up the permit process for oil and gas exploration and he supports natural gas; that’s all old-paradigm stuff. At the same time, he wants to hasten the transition to more sustainable types of energy like wind power. He supports new research into alternative energy that will get vehicles off oil for good.

I’ll be curious to see how this vision unfolds. It sounds as if Obama is willing to make executive decisions to move forward on climate change, even if Congress tries to block any initiatives. He needs support for that.

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February 12, 2013 at 5:02 pm Comments (0)