Words from Past Resonate Today Local Sessions Celebrate International Women’s Day
By GENA MANGIARATTI, Gazette Contributing Writer
Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette Monday, March 10, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Women from all walks of life were reminded of the power of their words on International Women’s Day Saturday at the second annual Celebration of Speech.
Over the course of eight hours, around 40 women, whose roles ranged from executive director to student, re-enacted speeches of influential women from thousands of years ago to close to the present day. These included speeches by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and the Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.
The event was organized into six sessions, each consisting of speeches that fit into a particular category. Each session included a contemporary speaker and a featured speaker, who gave original speeches, as well as a musical guest.
The event, which was held in the sanctuary of First Churches on Main Street, was organized by Women’s Voices Worldwide Inc. Executive Director Laura Greenfield and event coordinator Maggie Baumer. Its purpose is to inspire and to educate the community about how women’s advocacy has shaped their lives, Greenfield said during opening remarks Saturday. Women’s Voices Worldwide is a nonprofit based on Conz Street in Northampton.
Greenfield, a Northampton resident, said in a later interview that the event attracted hundreds of people during the course of the day, and that attendance was up “tremendously” from the year before. She attributes this to the word-of-mouth publicity from the people who attended the previous year.
“I think a reason that people were so drawn to it is because the focus resonates with people,” she said. “They want to be inspired. They want to see the history. They want to be moved by these words.”
During the first session, called “Women Who Protested,” Mount Holyoke College graduate Keshia Pendigrast gave a speech called “Protest about India’s Rape Culture to Delhi Chief Minister,” which was originally delivered by Indian communist party leader Kavita Krishnan after the gang rape of a 23-year-old Indian woman in December 2012.
The speech stated that Indian law enforcement had no procedure in place for dealing with victims of rape, and instead discourages victims from filing a complaint. It also argued against assumptions that the woman — who died from her injuries in January 2013 — would have been like a “walking corpse” had she survived.
Reading the speech, Pendigrast told the story of how when the woman regained consciousness, she asked if her attackers had been caught. This, she said in the speech, shows her to still have had fight.
The featured speaker for that session was Frances Crowe, a Northampton peace activist who will turn 95 this month. Crowe, wearing a pin that read “No War,” took the podium smiling amid heavy applause from the audience before launching into the story of how she became an anti-war activist after learning about the events of Hiroshima. She attributes suffering in several other countries to a “culture of greed” in the United States.
“We live now in an empire in the United States controlled by the global corporations,” she said.
To make the world a better place for her grandchildren, she said she takes steps such as buying locally, so as to not take part in promoting the labor and transportation that goes into importing foods, and keeping the thermostat down when possible.
Crowe described how she believes the Internet can isolate people from one another, and how she feels pharmaceutical companies are making profits from medications that cause people not to be affected by what is happening in the world, she said.
“I think we have a lot to learn from each other,” she said. “We have to find a way to walk the talk and find the solutions together.”
Other speakers during the first session were Liz Friedman, program director for the organization MotherWoman, who read “Speech on Taxation without Representation” (c. 50 BCE) by Hortensia in Rome; Smith College Associate Professor Ginetta Candelario, who read “La Respuesta” (1690) by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in Mexico; Peace Net director Sarah Pirtle, who read “Mother’s Day Proclamation” (1870) by Julia Ward Howe in the United States; and Smith College Associate Professor Lucy Mule, who read “Women for a Better World” (2008) by Luisa Diogo in Mozambique. Smith College student Jiaying Xu read an original speech titled “A Call to Save Women in Rural China from Suicide.”
Toward the end of the session, a group of brightly dressed ladies with rainbow boas and buttons with messages for peace pinned on sun hats stood up from their row near the front of the sanctuary and revealed themselves to be the musical guest, The Raging Grannies. To patriotic and majestic-sounding melodies, they sang lyrics such as, “We’re rising up to tell you that our bodies are our own / We’re rising up today,” and “We’re radical environmentalists / Woo, woo.”
At the end of the event, Greenfield said it was hard to choose a highlight.
“Each speech became its own highlight,” she said. “Part of the power of the day was not necessarily any one speech in particular, but the fact that there were so many.”
She said at one point, a woman came up to her and told her she felt “reborn” from hearing the speeches.
“I think people came in hoping to be moved in that way,” she said. “People left, I think, with a spirit of excitement and hope and energy that we hope will ripple out beyond today.”