By Lauren “Lo” Valle
I get amped about social justice issues. I mean, really amped. I’ve tried to pinpoint a moment in time when this happened, but I think I was just born this way.
I remember being seven years old, on the playground with some classmates in line to play handball. When it was my turn, I was supposed to play against a boy named Kenny.
“I don’t wanna play with you. Girls suck. Boys are better at everything,” he said.
At first, I raised my fist at him. Then I remembered how often my older brother was in detention for getting into fights at school, and that I was known by the teachers as “the good one.” So I put my fist down and replied, “Okay. Since this is going to be so easy for you, why don’t you just play me and get it over with?”
I proceeded to win the game, as well as every other match against those who had been in line to play.
Even if I had not been able to beat Kenny at handball, from that young age I knew what he said was wrong. We were just kids, and maybe he didn’t really know what he was saying, but those words had to have come from somewhere, right?
Around that same age, my dad had told me that my mouth was going to get me into trouble one of these days (and by the way, I don’t recall him ever saying anything like that to either of my brothers). Well, that didn’t stop me from getting smart with Kenny, or telling a classmate that maybe she shouldn’t be repeating what her mother says; that classmate had told my Buddhist friend Baptism was the only “acceptable” religion because her mother said so. My classmate went on to tell me that Catholics bow down to idols and that her mother would be praying for me. I laughed.
In college, I led a club on campus called Students for Essential Equality (SEE), which was an organization that addressed the inequalities experienced by: women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and those who are not part of privileged social classes.
During one of our beginning-of-the-semester meetings, I met Veronica, who would later become one of my college best friends. Veronica had just moved to Hawaii from Chicago, and with her Bitch magazine in hand, she approached me and said, “We should participate in this.”
She was pointing to an ad for Girl Fest Hawaii. That was when I first heard about the organization. Unfortunately, the timing was such that the club was not able to participate that year, but the club members agreed we would eventually check out the event.
After college, I traveled during the summer, and in the fall I took the first job I was offered. It was at an insurance agency, and I found absolutely no fulfillment there. When I was no longer at the agency, I thought maybe working at a law firm would be a better fit because I was thinking about going to law school. Ironically, I ended up at an insurance defense firm. Again, I felt empty. By then it was spring 2007, and I decided I would quit my job at the firm and move to LA by the end of the summer. I was floundering, and not realizing that the reason my life felt so empty was that since college, I hadn’t participated in anything that fueled my passion for social justice.
I was gone by the fall, but Veronica was still in Honolulu, and she volunteered for her first Girl Fest. She told me it was an incredible experience, and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t there. A job offer at the State Capitol brought me back to Hawaii in 2008, and that year I told myself I wouldn’t make the mistake of missing out on another Girl Fest Hawaii opportunity.
Just going to my first meeting, connecting with volunteers old and new, had me feeling reinvigorated. It was such a diverse group of women and girls (and some conscious brothers) working together to make a safer community. How could I have neglected the staunch feminist in me for so long and not participated in something like this sooner?
A few months later, I had finally made it to my first Girl Fest Hawaii event. It was the 2008 art gallery opening, which was held during a First Friday that year. I volunteered to help serve drinks, and I totally found my niche pouring wine and talking to the gallery walkers about the pieces on display and the upcoming festival. The huge smile on my face wasn’t from acting as bartender or from my glass of red wine; it was a sincere smile at how good it felt to talk with people about bringing the community together to prevent violence against women and girls.
The festival only got better from there. I became friends with the people I did my volunteer shifts with, and mingled with those who attended the events. It seemed like even if you didn’t know them prior to the event, you could connect with people while enjoying whatever was going on. I could be in line for the bar, and the person next to me would start a conversation about how funny the comedian was. I could be observing from the back, and start bobbing heads with those around me to the awesome music set. Being a volunteer was a lot of work, and I remember sleeping very little that week, but it was also incredibly fun.
That empty feeling I felt after college had disappeared, and shortly after I had begun volunteering for Girl Fest Hawaii, I was offered a full time position as an Advocate for the Domestic Violence Action Center. I was back to doing something I felt passionate about.
I’ve been a volunteer with Girl Fest Hawaii since then. I moved to LA from Hawaii last December, but I was able to return to Honolulu in February and volunteer for the 2012 festival. I was in town on some personal business that happened to coincide with the dates of the festival, and I realized something during my 2.5 weeks in Honolulu. Aside from the personal business, which ended up lasting only a couple days, the rest of my time there was nearly all spent with friends I had made through Girl Fest Hawaii, either at the festival events themselves, or just hanging out because I enjoyed their company.
The element of friendship with like-minded individuals contributed to my feeling empowered again, and it seems like the positive energy flow is contagious at Girl Fest events. People go to the events because they know they’re going to have fun listening to poems from the brilliant minds of Amber Tamblyn, Mindy Netifee, and Natasha T. Miller. People are going to jump up and down rocking out to The Throwdowns, or feel soothed listening to the beautiful voice of Tahiti Rey. Performers, artists, instructors, and people from the community, along with the hard work of the volunteers and coordinators, are awesome and key to a successful festival. But amidst all this, to make friends you can relate to, who one night you’re out at the festival events with, then a week later you’re camping with at the beach, and yet another week later you’re planning a spontaneous weekend trip with… well, that’s what kept me coming back year after year, and I’ve been blessed to have made several of these friends volunteering for Girl Fest Hawaii.
From Hawaii to San Diego, Girl Fest is becoming an army of valiant knights. Women, and even men, from all walks of life are joining the cause as they empower themselves and others through Girl Fest’s mission. Your story can be Lauren’s story. Join the noble fight and volunteer with Girl Fest.