Sure, you can do the green-consumer thing and buy your honey some fair-trade, organic, no-sugar-added, sustainably produced chocolate hearts for Valentine’s Day. But you can also show your true feelings by getting up off your butt and doing something for the world — and that would actually be more historically accurate. The romantic version of Valentine’s Day that we now have to deal with didn’t come on the scene until the 1400s or so; the real intention of St. Valentinus, a third-century Christian bishop, was quite clear.
When Valentinus was alive, Christians were being persecuted by the Romans. Nevertheless, Valentinus continued to serve his fellow church members — which included performing illegal marriages for soldiers who were not allowed to compromise their single-minded focus on fighting by consorting with women. These acts of civil disobedience were what first landed him in jail, and they eventually led to his execution when he refused to convert.
You don’t have to court execution to stand up for love, but sometimes it does require breaking an unjust or immoral law. In honor of those who act courageously out of heartfelt sentiment, here are five ways others have shown their love — including an opportunity to join in the action this year.
1. The Pink Chaddi Campaign
It’s 2009 in India, and the conservative Hindu sect Sri Ram Sena has publicly announced that it will force any couples found celebrating Valentine’s Day to marry, or in other ways punish them for “violating Indian culture.” This is not an idle threat, as they have already attacked a group of young women and men enjoying a night out at a pub in Mangalore in January. Very quickly, the tongue-in-cheek Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women is formed. Using Facebook, they launch the Pink Chaddi Campaign, calling for people to send pink underwear to Sri Ram Sena. This is a humorous, playful and in-your-face tactic, starting with the choice of the word chaddi — a childish word for underwear in India that is also used as slang when talking about right-wing groups.
More than 2,000 intimate garments were received by Sri Ram Sena, which called off its hate-motivated V-Day campaign just a few days before the holiday. Its leadership was also detained by state authorities to enforce their promise. Count this as another triumph for love, lingerie and laughter.
2. Wisconsin protests for labor rights and democracy
Feb. 14, 2011, marked the beginning of huge protests against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” that would deal a hard blow to labor unions. Over several months, a couple hundred thousand people stood up in Wisconsin, showing their heartfelt support for organized labor and collective bargaining. At the universities and in the Capitol, valentines and posters with pithy messages and red hearts were everywhere: “We ♥ UW: Don’t Break My ♥,” said one. (There was also “Kill Bill” — in reference to a famous movie title — and “Recall Walker.”)
In March, Walker’s bill passed; in spite of more massive protests, it was upheld in June. Historically, the passage of this law in this state was particularly dramatic since, in 1959, Wisconsin was the first state in the United States to grant collective bargaining rights to public employees. It also served as a punctuation mark on the declining membership in unions nationwide, from a high of 35 percent of the workforce in the 1950s to the current rate of around 12 percent. The 7 percent of private sector employees who are union members represent the lowest rate since 1932. It seems like this Valentine’s Day the unions need some love.
3. The world’s largest anti-war demos
Technically, this happened the day after Valentine’s Day on Feb. 15, 2003. But, thematically, I don’t think you get a more direct message of love and compassion than a global day of action against war.
An estimated 15 million-plus people from 60 countries participated, making it the world’s largest demonstration — on any issue, for the entire existence of humanity. The largest gathering that day — according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest single rally ever — took place in Rome where 3 million people gathered to prevent the pending Iraq War. Favoloso! The Italians sure know how to show their amore for the world, for the people’s right to dissent and for the hope of a world free from war.
4. Gay-marriage advocates’ annual protest
A longstanding annual Valentine’s Day protest tradition takes place across the United States as supporters of marriage equality speak out for their right to legalize their devotion. A classic example of these ongoing protests has taken place in San Francisco at the county clerk’s office each year since 1999. Clearly evoking Valentinus’ courageous marriages of soldiers, these acts of civil resistance often landed a sweetheart in jail for demanding the right to marry their same-sex beloved. Along with the protests, there might also be presents delivered at the city court house. There has been some back-and-forth on the legality of same-sex marriage in California, but even when it was legal, before Proposition 8 was overturned, couples continued to visit the clerk’s office to thank officials for conducting their marriage ceremonies.
In all, nine states — along with two Native American tribes and the District of Columbia — have legalized same sex-marriage in the United States. Internationally, changes are afoot in many countries as well. This year, just in time for Valentine’s Day, France’s lower house of parliament passed a bill that not only allows marriage equality but also allows same-sex couples to adopt. The bill, however, is not assured passage as it moves to the French Senate.
5. From VDay.org in 1998 to One Billion Rising in 2013
In 1994 The Vagina Monologues began to appear on stages, born of the creative activism of playwright and feminist Eve Ensler. Everywhere the play was performed, dialogue spread about women’s sexuality, abuse, rape and cultural stigmas, enabling more women to speak out. On Valentine’s Day in 1998, moved by these years of intense response to these personal stories, VDay.org was born. The V stands for vagina, valentine and victory; since then, the website has been a force for ending violence against women and girls globally by organizing public events and readings, especially on Valentine’s Day.
This year, on the 15th anniversary of VDay.org’s founding, the campaign is calling for an audacious mass global action, One Billion Rising. Given the statistic that one of every three women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime — that adds up to more than a 1 billion women on this planet — this is a campaign that can draw strength from love and a deep respect for life. Today, the organizers hope to have one billion women and those who love them walk out, rise up and dance publicly in a powerful way to demand an end to this violence — for the love of women, for the love of all.
This Valentine’s day, take courage from Valentinus and do what’s right, for love.
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