Suburbs rise, join billion dancing women to change world

Flowers? Chocolate? Jewelry? Red, itchy lingerie with snaps, lace and underwires?

Maybe what women really want for Valentine's Day is an end to abuse and oppression and a fun way to express that desire publicly. That's the message throughout the suburbs on Feb. 14 as groups rise up, speak out and dance as part of the worldwide One Billion Rising movement.

When Round Lake Beach Trustee Judy Armstrong heard about One Billion Rising last fall, she immediately went to

"On that website was a map with dots around the world where events were taking place," Armstrong remembers. From Albania to Zimbabwe, dots circled the globe. But the United States had a dot on the East Coast and a dot on the West Coast.

"I thought to myself, 'Uh-uh. We're having a dot in Lake County because I know the women of Lake County,'" recalls Armstrong, a mother of four grown boys. She's been an activist in women's issues starting with her days as a high school student in downstate Macomb and straight through to her current post as chairman of the Lake County Rising event.

Sponsored by community groups such as Nicasa, YWCA Lake County, Motherland Rhythm Community, CLC Women's Center, Students for Women Awareness Network and the Lake County state's attorney's office, the free program begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Round Lake Beach Cultural and Civic Center, 2006 Civic Center Way, and includes speakers, dancing, poetry, drummers and a women's resource fair.

Organizers of Elgin Rising plan to take to the street at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 14 on the corner of Kimball Street and Route 31 in downtown Elgin and are in the midst of finding an indoor option in case the weather turns ugly.

"But we are going to dance," says 71-year-old Mary Shesgreen, one of the organizers and a longtime member of Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice. "Dancing feels wonderful. It feels liberating. It feels empowering. It's aesthetically expressive. Dance is a very strong and liberating force."

Dancing makes a statement words can't.

"It's poetic justice that we're using our bodies to express our power, our determination to be heard, to be visible," Shesgreen says.

"I think of it as an organized flash mob," says Kathleen Carot, organizer of the Oakton Rising events at Oakton Community College campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie. As a professor of humanities, speech and theater and coordinator of women and gender studies, Carot has been involved in the annual Valentine's Day efforts since she made headlines in 2001 by directing "The Vagina Monologues" at the school.

The dance event at the Des Plaines campus, 1600 Golf Road, begins at 3:30 p.m. and serves as a warm-up for "The Vagina Monologues," which starts at 8 p.m. on Valentine's Day, Feb. 15 and 16,

With United Nations' statistics showing that one in every three women around the globe will be beaten or raped during her lifetime, the idea of 1 billion victims is staggering, Carot admits. The problem is too big to ignore, but not too big to fix, she says.

"Do not accept it as a given," Carot says.

Other One Billion Rising events in the suburbs on Valentine's Day are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Immanuel Hall, 302 S. Grant St., in Hinsdale and every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. at WAR Chest Boutique, 4 E. Jefferson Ave. in Naperville, with more events added to the calendar every day.

Prospect High School junior Meghan Doyle starting looking into the movement after she was in a hair salon and saw a magazine photo of actress Anne Hathaway wearing her One Billion Rising T-shirt. Doyle says she and fellow junior Leanne Gadow, both 16 and from Mount Prospect, decided it would be "a cool thing for Prospect to do" and are firming up details of an event at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect.

"We're going to do something on the morning announcement. The whole school will be asked to stand up and dance or chill to girl-power music," Doyle says. The teens say young people need to help shape the world they will inherit.

"Having high school kids aware of the abuses will make them aware for their future when they are adults and making decisions," Gadow adds. In the meantime, everyone can participate in such a simple and fun event.

"Turn Valentine's Day into a day of awareness for women in abusive relationships," their online message reads. "Do what you can: dance."

A longtime activist and current village trustee in Round Lake Beach, Judy Armstrong chairs the Lake County effort to bring attention to violence against women by taking part in the global One Billion Rising campaign on Valentine’s Day. Daily Herald file photo
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