Webster Leiden Students Start Flash Mob to Protest Violence Against Women

Flash Mob of StudentsThe Webster group of around 20 included flash mob first-timers Vesna Ratkovic and Julian Frankel. Ratkovic co-coordinated the event for the WU-Leiden International Relations Club.
-Photo by Brian Ruth

LEIDEN, Netherlands – A student-led effort to raise awareness of violence against women brought the “One Billion Rising” campaign to three different locations around Webster University-Leiden.

This year marked the fifth anniversary of the campaign, with a worldwide flash mob held on Valentine’s Day. Flash mobs organize on the web and usually result in some kind of public assembly, in this case performing a dance routine to the tune of “Break the Chain,” produced by Grammy Award winner Tena Clark.

The Webster group of around 20 included flash mob first-timers Vesna Ratkovic and Julian Frankel. Ratkovic co-coordinated the event for the WU-Leiden International Relations Club.

“I’m very happy,” Ratkovic said. “We raised crowds around us. People were asking, ‘What is this about?’”

Organizers at the campaign’s website, onebillionrising.org, use the tactic worldwide as a form of “creative resistance” by directing participants to dance. In 2015, the campaign stated over one million people in 200 countries participated in the global mass-action.

The song has been translated into over 15 languages. Local organizers use it to practice the Debbie Allen-choreographed routine on YouTube. The Webster group rehearsed on campus every week for almost a month.

The event marked two firsts for Frankel, a junior business major at the Leiden campus.

“This is my first time doing any type of flash mob. It’s also my first time doing something for this specific cause,” Frankel said.

The campaign, launched on Valentine’s Day in 2012, began as a call to action based on the UN statistic from 2011 stating one in three women on the planet will be assaulted or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at seven billion, that translates to approximately one billion women.

Fliers and electronic bulletin boards on campus announced the rehearsals early in the term. So Frankel kept asking himself, ‘What have you done?’

“And for that reason, I decided, ‘let’s make a change.’ And then, hopefully, by doing something it becomes a domino effect; other people see it and want to get involved,” Frankel said.

Dancers wearing pink t-shirts on top of coats performed the routine in the shadow of the main building on a very sunny Valentine’s Day. Next, audio riggers took off for Beestenmarkt – a public square just north of campus – to set up for the next performance. The final part of the action led the group to the main transit connection in town, Leiden Central.

The dancers received the most onlookers of the day as some foot traffic even stopped and tried to mimic the routine.

“If we managed to raise awareness in people to think about the issue that is global violence against women, then I’m satisfied,” Ratkovic said.

Faculty and staff also participated to help connect the day’s theme to the Bijlmer Project, a research and intervention-based effort assisting survivors of human trafficking and sexual violence. The project is a collaboration between Webster-Leiden and Christian Aid & Resources Foundation (CARF) and based in the Bijlmer (Bijlmermeer), a culturally-diverse area in the southeast section of Amsterdam stigmatized by its portrayal as a developing neighborhood.

Ratkovic said a multiple-school flash mob involving Webster-Leiden has not yet happened; and with one year remaining, the student leader hopes to see more pink shirts from neighboring colleges in bigger flash mobs next year.

“We’re already discussing next year. We want to do it at Amsterdam Central so we get greater crowds and create more and more awareness,” Ratkovic said.