Recently, at work, I was asked to organise a book launch. The book was a memoir of a woman who had dedicated her life to fighting for women's rights across the world. She was 80 now, and it was time to celebrate all that she and the wider movement had achieved. It was going to be a low-key event in our office, with a few friends and a couple of bottles of wine.
I talked with the author on the phone about cheese and book sales, put all the information into a spreadsheet, and began organising things. But as the date of the launch grew closer, it became evident that it was getting bigger and bigger, as the author kept thinking of more and more people she wanted to invite. Now there were 80 people coming, and I didn't know how they were all going to fit into the board room. The author started talking to me about booking other venues, like a bar or a bookshop. We began discussing canapés and sound-systems. I realised that the book launch had developed a life of its own, like a storm that was quickly approaching land.
This event wasn't really in my job description, and my boss was becoming concerned that it was taking my time and energy away from other work. She tried to arrange another person to take over the organising, but I felt strongly that it would be damaging if I was swapped out. I stayed the course.
But what what I did decide was that I needed help. I ran across the office to visit another colleague, and said, "Help!" And she did help. My colleague, it turned out, knew all about this approaching storm, which was the global women's right movement. We began to work together. Bit by bit, the book launch took on the form that it wanted to take. A volunteer went to the Victoria Market and talked to a delicatessen about our event, who then donated lots of delicious free cheese. It turned out that one of my other colleagues was a sommelier in a past life, so secured a wonderful selection of wines. We were getting reports about how the formalities were taking shape, and which feminist activists would be making an appearance. I began to feel excited about this event.
On the day, we moved all the furniture out of the board room and put out all the wine and cheese. Since the author was 80, a lot of her friends came ridiculously early, while we were still setting up the book sales table and moving chairs about. But it didn't matter and the room filled up with old friends and siblings and colleagues from 40 years ago, when second-wave feminism was being introduced to places like Kenya and Fiji. An activist who the author had worked with years ago came out in a ball gown and provided us with a dramatic celebration of the author's life, and another old friend entered in a sequinned dress and led us all in a group rendition of I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar. Suddenly I was in the middle of the global women's rights movement, at an event that I had organised. Or rather, what it felt like was that it was the movement that organised this event, and I was a participant.
Soon it was over and we kissed the author and her friends goodbye, and then it was just us, sitting in a circle to debrief. When it was my turn to speak, I joked that I had only agreed to organise this book launch because I was too new in my job to say no. The event was completely outside of my job description. But now, I felt privileged to be part of it, because I had my first real taste of the spirit of the global women's rights movement. It was a beautiful thing to sit back and see the women around me: both the ones I was with now, and the ones who had gone before.
I had a profound and transformative experience, in the moment I decided I needed help. The event went from this stressful thing of questionable necessity that I had to make happen on my own, to a soulful experience steeped in history and community, that I could simply partake in. Being at this event - even though I had lots of things to do - was deeply comforting. I had a lovely, soft sense of being held.