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Rob Okun: Reinventing Valentine’s Day to combat domestic and sexual violence

Domestic and sexual abuse strains have long been resistant to vaccines of chocolate, champagne, diamond brooches and bouquets of flowers. This year, though, there’s a potent new injection available — One Billion Rising! It carries no live yeast and was not developed in a pharmaceutical laboratory. It came out of the cauldron of change that playwright-activist Eve Ensler (“The Vagina Monologues”) and her cohort at Vday.org devised as a prescription for peace and vitality. It’s one the World Health Organization would be wise to consider including in its protocols.

Vday, launched on Valentine’s Day 1998, has long worked to end sexual violence internationally. It chose its 15th anniversary to call for a global strike, a time to “walk out, rise up, and demand an end to violence against women.”

One Billion Rising is certainly a protest against violence and a demonstration of the collective strength, numbers and solidarity across borders. Yet it offers an unorthodox workout plan that calls for exercising the muscles of change through dance, song and speaking up.

As organizers say, “It breaks the rules ... it’s free. No corporation controls it. It joins us and pushes us to go further.” In 200 countries around the world today, women and men are on the streets saying yes to peace in the home and in our hearts as much as emphatically declaring no to violence everywhere. From Springfield (Tower Square) to Greenfield (Greenfield Community College), to a flash mob at 5 p.m. in downtown Northampton, activities are happening, including at the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College and in Brattleboro and Pittsfield.

Eve Ensler and Vday have long recognized men’s role in working to prevent violence. She has partnered with men and men’s organizations for years and cites men’s violence prevention efforts as integral in the work of creating a world where all are safe. Last month, she wrote a “Man Prayer,” a moving invocation recited in 16 languages in a film by Tony Stroebel that’s available on YouTube.

In it, she invites men to consider being the kind of men “whose confidence comes from the depth of my giving / who understands that vulnerability is my greatest strength / who creates space rather than dominates it / who appreciates listening more than knowing/who seeks kindness over control /who cries when the grief is too much / who refuses the slap, the gun, the choke, the insult, the punch.”

The prayer concludes, “May I cherish, respect, and love my mother. May the resonance of that love translate into loving all women and all living things.” However we celebrate Valentine’s Day — including those candlelight dinners — take a moment to consider Ensler’s “Man Prayer.” When married to commitment and action, it is a key ingredient in the vaccine necessary to cure the influenza of violence that, sadly, too many still contract.

Rob Okun of Amherst, a psychotherapist, is speaking at a One Billion Rising event in New York. He is editor of Voice Male magazine and can be reached at rob@voicemalemagazine.org.

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