Tarana Burke and Alyssa Milano on the Future of #MeToo (ep. 19)

October 25, 2018
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One year ago this month, the first bombshell allegations against Harvey Weinstein appeared in The New York Times and The New Yorker. Shortly thereafter, #MeToo went viral on social media. But the origins of this movement are at least a decade older. They lie with the work of Tarana Burke, a civil rights advocate devoted to fighting sexual harassment and violence. We talk to Tarana and Alyssa Milano — actor, activist, and ACLU Artist Ambassador for Reproductive Freedom — whose tweet helped bring #MeToo mainstream.

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LEE ROWLAND
[00:04] I’m Lee Rowland. From the ACLU, this is: At Liberty, the podcast where we discuss today’s most important civil rights and civil liberties topics. Today, the origins and future of #MeToo.

This month, some in the media industry marked what they called the one year anniversary of the #MeToo movement. That is, one year after the first bombshell allegations against Harvey Weinstein appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker, and the #MeToo hashtag went viral on social media. But in fact, the origins of this movement, and the expression, MeToo, are at least a decade older. Their origin lies with the work of a civil rights advocate devoted to fighting sexual harassment and violence against women and girls, Tarana Burke. She is here to talk to us about her work today. And joining us in the studio is actor and activist, Alyssa Milano, whose October 2017 tweet helped take #MeToo to the center of the political conversation over the past year.

Tarana and Alyssa, thank you both so much for being here today.

TARANA BURKE
Thank you for having us.

LEE ROWLAND
Tarana, I would love to start with you because you're a lifelong activist. And before we even get to #MeToo — you've advocated on a number of issues. Can you tell us a little bit about your work as a civil rights advocate and what makes you tick?

TARANA BURKE
What makes me tick, injustice! No...

LEE ROWLAND
Yeah, that’s the right answer I think.

TARANA BURKE
Yeah, I, I come from sort of a conscious family and so I had a mother and a grandfather who were very, very… well people would call them “left-leaning” now, but, we, I, grew up in sort of a pan-Africanist kind of household. And so that gave me a lot, just, awareness. And then when I was 14, I joined an organization called the 21st Century Youth Leadership movement, which was founded by veterans of the civil rights, and Black Power, and labor movements. And they, they really were concerned about making sure the next generation had carried on this legacy of work. And, so, from really early, at like 14, I was organizing. And, it was a similar type of time period as now, so where like Black Lives Matter kicked off with Trayvon Martin being killed, and that was a catalyst, in New York in the 90s or late 80s there was Yusef Hawkins, which was a big case here for us. And so a lot of my early work was around racial injustice and economic injustice. When, you know, I campaigned for David Dinkins, that’s how old I am.

[Laughter]

TARANA
[02:40] And, um, yeah, so I was in politics and just really so excited to be engaged at an early age. And I did not think about organizing around sexual violence until much later. But, I know now that I was so engaged because I was a survivor. And, I, really, it was something that took me away from that. And so then, you know, I could pour myself into this other thing.

LEE
So, in some ways you got involved in your community issues as a form of escapism?

TARANA
Yeah it was, it was like, I'm valuable in this space, right? Like, in this other identity, if you will, I didn't feel valuable, I didn’t feel useful in the world. And so this gave me like a sense of purpose. I think the combination of that and just having this energy. Like, I'm not really a public speaker — I know people say, oh yes you are — but I would rather not be the person out in front and talking, but...

LEE
Well, thank you for being here...

TARANA
There’s a thing that happens, literally, I can feel it’s like fire in my chest and I have to be like, oh, but I have to say it. You know?

ALYSSA MILANO
I also think most activists and advocates are people that were somehow silenced themselves. And so they feel a need to be the voice for people that don't have a voice. And if you were to ask most activists and advocates about their own personal past, I bet that there is some, there is some moment they were silenced.

TARANA
[04:00] Or they witnessed it.

ALYSSA MILANO
Or they witnessed someone else being silenced. And, it affected them in such a way that they feel like they need to do something. And that fire in the belly is a great description.

LEE
What about you Alyssa? Many of us have known you for decades as an actress. Have you always considered yourself an activist? Or is...

ALYSSA
Well, my activism started when I was 15 years old, which was the height of the Who's the Boss frenzy, and it was in the 80s. And I was very dear friends with Ryan White, who, I don't know if you remember who he was, but he, uh, was basically kicked out of a school because people thought that you could get HIV/AIDS from casual contact. And I met Ryan through Elton John, and was with Ryan as he fought for his right to go back to school, and also spoke in front of Congress. And he asked me, again, in the middle of the 80s when the stigma was at its craziness about HIV/AIDS, if I would kiss him on national television to prove that you couldn't get HIV/AIDS from casual contact. And, so, I went on the Phil Donahue Show.

TARANA
I remember this.

ALYSSA
That’s how old I am!

CROSSTALK/LAUGHTER

ALYSSA
Those of you who do not know who Phil Donahue was...

LEE
Apologies to Phil if he’s out out there.

ALYSSA
He was a daytime talk show, kind of like a Dr. Phil. And I kissed Ryan White, and, I realized, really the importance of what being a celebrity meant, and what... he forever shaped what I would use my platform for. So, I've been an activist my whole life. Um, more so in the international realm. Again, same, very politically active parents. But, I've been a UNICEF ambassador since 2003. And I've traveled the world for children's rights. In 2000, I started driving people to the polls. You know.

LEE
That’s amazing.

ALYSSA
Yeah. And, and, I still do that to this day. I still drive.

LEE
I just think going viral probably looked different on the Phil Donahue Show, right?

ALYSSA
Yeah, it did. There was no such thing -

TARANA
It was like, did you catch it? You missed it? Oh, well, darnit, you should have seen it.

ALYSSA
[06:03] But, it was, it was a big moment because in the 80s, the show was number one. So it was a big thing and it completely shaped my life.

LEE
Yeah. Did you expect the power of your celebrity, was it addictive? Did it make you realize that you had this incredible platform?

ALYSSA
No, it made sense, finally. Like it finally made sense to me that I was given this gift of being, you know, a famous young child actor. Like, before that I couldn't put everything in its place.

LEE
And for many people not a gift, so...

ALYSSA
Well, yeah, it shaped the way I looked at it.

LEE
That’s right.

Alyssa
As being a gift. So, um.

LEE
You had something real to anchor you, I wonder.

ALYSSA
I had you something real, to not only anchor, but to motivate me to continue to have enough influence to make a change.

LEE
So, let's talk about the platform that you guys have collaborated on to create for #MeToo. Tarana, I know that the origin of that phrase and the activism dates back many years. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were thinking when you came up with that phrase and what the need was?

TARANA
I mean, the need was connection, in this really basic way and, and, I think that's why we saw it go viral in that way, because people need to be connected to other people — sort of the power of empathy driving it. It was feeling desperate living in the South, working with this group of black girls who were entrenched in trauma in ways that they didn't even realize — it had become so normal in their lives. And there were layers of it. And trying to unpack some of that and still dealing with my own stuff, right, still trying to like figure out what this means to walk through the world with these wounds. You know kids will always do that to you, whether they are your own or ones that you connect to, they force you to be better and they force you to think more, and, because you want to protect them, like that's your first priority. And so...

ALYSSA
They can also see through the bullshit.

TARANA
Oh absolutely. And that's a really good point because we would, I remember, I would try to have conversations but not put myself in it, not share my story, not tell, and I would sorta end up just fading to the back, right, and not not contributing in those moments. That's what happened with the little girl, Heaven, I was just like, I'm not about to say anything. You know, I'll listen and I'll console and I'll send you to the counselor. But I wasn't going to contribute. And just the small act of contributing my story, and saying, this is, you're not alone. Right?

[08:28] So, the stage was already set for it, because these were young people who trusted me. So, adding that other element was like, “Oh, this happened to you too? Like Miss T.” And then, you know, we used celebrity from the very beginning, um, which is why this is such an interesting full circle moment. Because, I have these letters — and I just found them, maybe about a month ago — that I wrote in 2007 to these black women celebrities. Who I had just done all this research trying to figure anybody who would talk about their connection to sexual violence. And I found, you know, Gabrielle Union has always been out front.

ALYSSA
She’s amazing.

TARANA
Yeah —

ALYSSA
She’s so fierce.

TARANA
She's talked about it, you know, pretty much openly since she came forward. But, otherwise, they would mention it in articles here and there, you could catch snippets, and I just did that kind of research — like anybody who mentioned anything. Mary J Blige said it on Oprah once. Queen Latifah mentioned article, Missy in an article. And I wrote to them and I said, I had been using them in our workshops and that was a connection for the kids. It was like, oh these things happened...and Oprah, Oprah was the big big one. Right? We tell the story of what happened in a generic way, and they turned the paper over and they'd be like, “What?! That happened to..”

ALYSSA
Oh, wow, that’s amazing Tarana.

TARANA
Yeah, right, and they’d be like, “That happened to Gabrielle Union? Oh my gosh.” You know, and then we’d… And so the point was these are people who you admire, these people who you look at as successful. And I know it’s problematic to, like, center celebrity in some ways, but it's also helpful. Because for them, it made, it was a very simple way to make the connection that your life doesn't have to be defined by this thing.

LEE
Right, well there are shared reference points, right?

ALYSSA
And also that this is a universal issue. This doesn’t —

TARANA
It could happen to them.

ALYSSA
It doesn’t discriminate —

TARANA
Exactly.

ALYSSA
— you know, status or financial or

TARANA
None of it.

ALYSSA
— community or any of it.

TARANA
So, part of the pushback we would get from young people is they didn't want to be — it's like people who don't want to be victims.

LEE
Of course.

TARANA
You don't want to identify as a victim or say something happened to you, so they’d be like oh, it’s not a big deal, or, you know, they’d try to find different ways to deflect. But, having the celebrity there was like,“Oh, well, the same thing that happened to Gabrielle Union happened to me. And you’re like, “but look at who she is now” and they'd be like, “okay.” You know, so it was an opening. It was just a way to get in.

LEE
[10:36] So, I'm wondering, have you thought about ways to decouple victimhood from weakness?

ALYSSA
Well, I think that's what Tarana does so beautifully is she, people might come to Tarana as victims, but they leave survivors, they leave as survivors. Um, for me, I'm still dealing with my own rawness, so I don't really know how to translate that in a way that is helpful for other people, except to be the messenger, or to be the megaphone. And, I think it's okay to be that raw person for other people and say yeah —

TARANA
People need to see the whole journey.

ALYSSA
— this hurts, and I cry, and I'm fearful, and I have flashbacks and it's horrible. You know, we walk through the rain but we're not the rain, right?

TARANA
I get young people all the time, especially in colleges who are like, “I can't wait to be healed, I can't wait to get, you know, to, to get to this place.” And I'm like, “Listen to me, there are still days that I cannot get out of bed. There are still days that I cry uncontrollably. I have triggers, I have flashbacks. This is the life of a survivor. What I'm telling you is that, despite that, joy is possible, despite that, feeling whole is possible. Because people have a stigma around victimhood, we try to move to “survivor.” I know people, they downplay it, they don't really understand what the day to day existence is. And that's why we saw what we saw in the reaction to Dr. Ford, and the Kavanaugh case, is that people really don't understand the life cycle of a survivor. It's been made to be this simple thing, this journey. Healing is raw and, it is, there’s an ugly underbelly to that, it's not just like, you know, sitting and meditating and burning candles and you know, like, writing in your journal everyday and waking up like sunshine. That’s not... the journey just doesn't look like that, you know?

ALYSSA
And we can't keep perpetuating that —

TARANA
Right, it’s dangerous.

ALYSSA
— it does look like that because then you think you fail when you when you —

TARANA
[12:27] When you don’t hit that.

ALYSSA
— When you don’t hit that point.

TARANA
Exactly. And that's what we get all the time, is people saying, I'm trying to do this thing, but I still get triggered and I'm like no, darling. It's the acknowledgement, the fact that you can say, I'm on it, I'm in this, that you get back up the next day and you're like, okay this is a good day, right? I think that's an important part of it.

ALYSSA
Do you think that this is the first time that this pain is so collective?

TARANA
Yeah.

ALYSSA
That’s, to me, the most powerful part. For better and for worse.

TARANA
Yeah.

ALYSSA
Is that we're all triggered together. And how do we harness that collective pain into being collective power?

LEE
Yeah.

ALYSSA
To, to walk through it together to implement change in, you know, whether it be policy or cultural change or whatever. This is the first time in my life where I feel like a collective...

TARANA
You can look around, and, you don’t, there’s no — the stigma, and the stigma is still there. Right? I'm not trying to make this seem like, you know, obviously we know we haven't moved away from it. But, my biggest vision for Me Too, when we first started, was that survivors would know it. And that we’d see it and it’d be like a secret code, we'd have, like, uh, window decals and car decals and you'd know, oh that's a person who knows who I am. Right. And you could see yourself in that. Because I thought other people would never get it, they won’t catch on.

ALYSSA
Right.

TARANA
But forgetting I guess, knowing that the sheer magnitude of the people whose lives that are being touched by or affected by sexual violence is so great, that even if it was just survivors, it’s damn near everybody. Like, it’s so many people. And so this collective moment, this, this community that has been created. What happened during the hearing. Right? When you had all those people coming together. I know this has happened to you, Alyssa, but everywhere I go, people are still raw. They're still open and it's still kind of like, it's been a rough couple of weeks, huh. Yeah. You know, like, it's just an agreement.

ALYSSA
[14:14] By the way, even before Kavanaugh, it was that.

TARANA
Oh, yeah, it’s been like, uh, woo.

ALYSSA
Where people would see me in an airport and just start crying.

TARANA
Oh, everyday, yeah.

TARANA
I think, I think that Trump really put that in effect. Where people, women especially, are so scared. Since Kavanaugh, what we really felt there, this mob that Trump is talking about, is a collective swell of emotion. And, and, fear, but also like just strength and power. And, and, a brotherhood and sisterhood that I just didn't know that I'd ever see in my lifetime.

LEE
One of the things I was really struck by during, or I guess, in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, was where, where, just a baffling incident we need not retread —

TARANA
I’m sorry, we have to retread it —

LEE
No, we can. Sure.

TARANA/CROSSTALK
— just for a second. Alyssa was sitting in front of me in the hearing and we couldn't talk -- and so she kept doing this, she was like, a side eye profile like, do you hear this? And then I’d be like, squeeze hands and be like just - we just gotta get through it. I'm sorry, but go ahead.

LEE
No, not at all. I mean, I’d love to ask you about your experiences at the hearing. Especially since you were both there. What did you guys make of the Kavanaugh hearing as kind of a, you know, a marker of where we are? You know, how did it feel going through Kavanaugh and ultimately ending with confirmation?

ALYSSA
Well, you know, what I keep saying is we may have lost the political battle this time around, but we are winning the cultural battle.

TARANA
Yeah.

ALYSSA
And, eventually, the political aspect of it will catch up to what we're doing culturally. And, that was a very bizarre experience. I don't know about you, because we haven't talked to each other. But I went from total pride and hope during, during Dr. Ford’s testimony, and, um, just feeling like such a survivor in that she was making me so proud. And then we went to lunch.

TARANA
And then we went to lunch--

ALYSSA
Remember?

TARANA
[16:08] And came back, yeah.

ALYSSA
And when we were at lunch there was that, that scroll that said that Hatch said that she was an attractive woman.

LEE
Yes, I remember that.

TARANA
Yeah, yeah.

ALYSSA
And, we kind of had a little giggle about that, and then we went back in after lunch. And as soon as he blew open those doors, it felt like, like an animal was...

TARANA
Something wicked this way comes.

ALYSSA
Yeah, was being released into that hearing room. It literally felt like he was shadow boxing on the other side of the door, and then they opened the door and he was, like, just ready to fight.

ALYSSA/CROSSTALK
And, I think, it took my breath away.

TARANA
It was shocking. It was, it was, it… I don't know what I was ready for. I didn't prepare. And as a matter of fact we were not going to stay. I was positioned to come there to support her, and then we were doing an action in the, in the atrium, we had all these survivors who had come, and then we decided to go back. And I was like, I don't know why, I felt, like, maybe protective of her. You were going to stay.

ALYSSA
I was gonna stay because I knew I would be having to do, do interviews based on that day --

TARANA
— Yeah, to see the whole thing.

ALYSSA
— And I felt like if I wasn't there for him, I wouldn't be able to articulate it well, so, I felt like I had to stay.

TARANA
We came back inside and it did feel like that, it just felt overwhelming. And then he was so aggressive and angry from day one, and it was also so performative, the performance of it felt disrespectful. It's like this woman came here and poured her heart out. Very genuinely. Nothing about it felt like performance. And then he came in — I was done at that point.

LEE
There was a performative cruelty I cannot imagine a woman in public being permitted to engage in.

ALYSSA
It was, yes.

TARANA
No, god no.

ALYSSA
Forget it.

TARANA
God no.

ALYSSA
And the other thing about him, just continuing to say that that everyone was working as a political operative. And, yet, he was the one that seemed like a political operative, because he was talking, not only talking about Clinton, but then fielding questions so differently from both sides of the aisle, right? The Republicans, he was very respectful and then the Democrats would ask questions and he was so combative with every single question, it was so gut-wrenching to feel that. And I think if those testimonies were swapped. He might not be…

TARANA
[18:14] You mean if, if he had a gone first, and then she would have gone?... Yeah, yeah.

ALYSSA
He might not have been confirmed, because there was such a feeling of hope after her, and he sucked that away.

LEE
During the lunch break, I think, Kavanagh's supporters, actually ratcheted up their own rhetoric of harm, which was that Kavanaugh was a victim, right?

TARANA
Oh, yeah.

LEE
He was being railroaded and —

TARANA
This narrative was —

LEE
And that's clearly not limited to Kavanaugh. I think that is the kind of the main note that has been sounded in response to #MeToo is that it is fundamentally at odds with the American presumption of innocence. How do you guys grapple with this, when you're accused of being part of a movement that is going to kill due process, in the American...

TARANA
Well, well, first of all, the majority of these things that we're talking about are not criminal cases. We're not talking about people who are going to court and have to prove, you know, you’re innocent till proven guilty and all the rest of that. And everybody loves to talk about, well, you’re killing due process. The reality is, this is really a conversation about harm and harm reduction -- more so to me than it is about crime and punishment. I think about this all the time terms of Kavanagh and Dr. Ford, right. It was 36 years ago. She has a fractured memory about it. Right, she’s clear about --

LEE
By her own admission.

TARANA
By her own admission. Right. She's clear about the things that matter. But the memory is fractured. However, what she's really saying is not Kavanaugh should go to jail. What she's saying is that this man caused me irreparable harm. This thing that he did to me — him and his friends did to me — 36 years ago has harmed me and haunted me for three decades. And there’s a straight line between the 17-year-old who would disrespect me and my body and the 50-whatever-year-old, who thinks he can make decisions about women's bodies for the Supreme Court, and I want to stand up to say that this is my experience. If Kavanaugh had responded to that by saying, “I'm a different person now, I might have caused this harm 17 years ago. I drank excessively when I was in high school. My understanding of consent was different than it is now.”

[20:19] You know, like, have some level of accountability in it. I think he's a horrific candidate. Regardless of Dr. Ford, so this is not about that -- I don't mean to confirm him, but I'm just talking about the way we approach this question right? Most times, survivors are trying to have a sense of accountability. There’s studies that show that the majority of survivors don't think punitively. Their first response is not, “I want you to go to jail.” It’s, “I want to be made whole.”

LEE
Right.

ALYSSA
Right.

TARANA
And so, what she was really saying is that, “You have fractured a part of my life that I can't ever get back, and you're continuing to double down on this by saying that it didn't happen now and you're making me out to be a liar and I have to defend this thing” — take some accountability.

ALYSSA
Yes, correct. And I also think due process, we don't really know what that looks like for sexual assault survivors because the system has always been against sexual assault survivors.

TARANA
I'm sorry to cut you off — but the other part of this that makes me scared, actually, is that we — all the progress that has been made around that. A person's word is enough evidence, that you coming to court and telling your story, is evidence enough. It took a long time to get to that to that point. And now with all of this this narrative about, you know, you're killing due process and, you know, and we need more evidence and more evidence —that's going to have a real life effect in courtrooms.

LEE
Yeah, so let's take…

ALYSSA
Especially with the courts being stacked the way they are right now.

LEE
When we're talking about reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, what is the ultimate goal of #MeToo? What do you want equality in the workplace to look like?

ALYSSA
Accountability for people abusing power. And I think the way in which we have to go about doing that is we have to figure out some sort of program where women can report to human resources together. We do everything together. We pee at a restaurant together because we don't want that person to go into the bathroom alone. Why would we think that a woman — except for the fact that, I think, that men in positions of power have pinned us against each other — I don't think that any woman should have to go in, in that position of being vulnerable alone to report some sort of harassment or assault or misconduct within the workplace.I think there's got to be some sort of buddy system in place and then I think we have to hold people accountable for their abuses of power.

LEE
[22:44] And have you seen any visceral change in Hollywood in the year since you've kind of been at the forefront of #MeToo?

ALYSSA
I mean yes and no. I mean I do think that people and corporations are much more aware that people are enraged and if they don't do anything to hold these men accountable for their actions of abuses of power, that they, you know, lose shareholders or viewers or respect within the community, whatever it is. And I also think that in my industry in particular, I have seen a noticeable difference of — it's still not enough — but women getting hired for powerful positions, more directors, more storytellers, you know, telling these stories from a different perspective. Not victimizing women in every single movie, you know, things like that I think are powerful, but it's gonna take time. But to think that we've come that far in a year is pretty outstanding.

LEE
What do you make of the backlash against the #MeToo movement?

ALYSSA
I say bring it!

LEE
Seriously, do you guys perceive a backlash against feminism at large right now?

TARANA
What? Of course.

ALYSSA
First of all there's no, this is not a linear movement, right? Shit is going to get broken, and that's just how you gotta look at it. Right. So to me every time there's some sort of backlash, which by the way, is usually some white man afraid he's going to lose his power. To me, it's an opportunity to have the discussion and define what it is. To me, it is so — we're defining boundaries with every single piece of criticism. Where did the best conversations stem from? Criticism. So let's keep, let's keep criticizing... I welcome it. Please, question everything we're doing so that we could grow from it and get it right. Because I'm not fucking dealing with this with my daughter. She's 4. I'm not going to do it. So we got to get it right. So let's get it right. Criticize all you want. That's how I look at it.

TARANA
[24:40] The only thing I would add to that is backlash though, the backlash is more than criticism. The criticism I, we can take because I think it's legitimate. Everybody is authentically in it. And so if it's a critique that we haven't grappled with, then let’s gapple with it, and if it's nonsense, you know, we're like, no that's nonsense, this is the answer to that. What concerns me is that the people who are in power, if you have the president of the United States, who's — I had a woman, two women confront me in an airport the other day and this one woman postured as if she was going to spit on me. And, they were Trump supporters. They were talking about, I should be ashamed of myself, and, “I have sons.” You know, so that that narrative is taking hold. That narrative of men are in danger, boys are in danger, is taking hold. So we have to —

ALYSSA
Frame it.

TARANA
Right. We have to push back —

LEE
And assuming that woman wasn't about to spit on you — what would you say? Why why should women with sons not be freaked out?

ALYSSA
But wait a minute. Can I ask a question? Why aren't women with sons freaked out that their son may be sexually assaulted or abused?

TARANA
How about that?

ALYSSA
It's one out of six boys —

TARANA
Exactly.

ALYSSA
— and men, why aren’t they concerned that that's going to happen to their boy? Why is their immediate reaction to think that they’re going, their sons...

TARANA
Because that’s the narrative...

LEE
Because patriarchy is a hell of a drug…

TARANA
Exactly. But, but but the response to that one it's it's such a false narrative from so many different directions right. One, the idea that this is a movement that's targeting men specifically and trying to take down boys specifically, is wrong. It's just wrong. Two —

LEE
As Alyssa said, it may include male victims.

TARANA
Of course it includes, that's why I'm always like it's survivor's movement. It's not a women's movement. Right, we're talking about people across — however you identify, you know, your gender, are all survivors — trans survivors — just like I heard a statistic the other day that was crazy, it was like 84 percent of trans people have survived sexual violence.

LEE/CROSSTALK
Oh, it’s insane. Trans women of color and sex workers, I think, are statistically —

TARANA
[26:35] And, so, like, this is not about a gender, but also, this this notion that, um, we are about, you know, that it's a fight, that it's a war between genders. All of that is dangerous for both boys and for whoever, however you identify. So we have to really, we have to really, keep pushing back against that narrative because it’s more than critique. It's a falseness that they've built around us.

ALYSSA
It's what they, the sort of fear base that they take out of, out of the playbook, right? It's that we don't want immigrants here because they're taking away your jobs.

TARANA
You don't want #MeToo because they are trying to take your sons.

ALYSSA
Right, exactly. So it's really fighting against all of that fear-based politics.

LEE
And Tarana, we're getting really close to the end, so I would just love to know, um, you mentioned that your initial work started, you know, in your community and talking to Black girls in particular about sexual violence. I think the last year, the face of #MeToo has been fairly privileged, right, because we've been talking about men in Hollywood or even with Kavanaugh, we're talking about a very small and elite group of prep school kids. Right, Dr. Ford. Is the movement reaching Black girls, more vulnerable women who are in hourly wage jobs — is it doing enough? And, if not, what do we as feminists do to make sure that the movement isn't failing the most vulnerable?

TARANA
I think the first thing we have to do is understand what the movement is. If you subscribe to this definition that the media has created about the #MeToo movement, then it's only about taking down powerful men, you know. You know, who's it targeting next? It's this narrative that’s sort of been created by politicians and media and folks who are just watching it like a tennis match. So, there’s not space in there for very many people — we don't even really hear about the reality of the lives of the survivors in Hollywood. Right? We hear more so about the perpetrators.

ALYSSA
That’s right. That’s exactly right

TARANA
So, on the one hand, representation is very important. And so, we need the media to make a turn here, to start covering these stories and elevating stories about black girls, about Native folks, like the fact that nobody talk, talks about the Native community when sexual violence has ravaged the Native community more than any other community of color. It's fascinating to me. Right? There's so many stories that could have been plucked from this #MeToo journey over the last year that just haven't been told. So that's one thing.

The other thing is that as, as activists, as feminists, as advocates, as whatever, is that we have to stop buying into this popular narrative of what what this movement is. This is a movement that is for and by survivors. It is about getting resources for survivors. The fact that millions of people in the United States literally said -- My life has been affected by sexual violence. The CDC...Like, somebody should be like, “Oh my god!”

LEE
“That's an epidemic!”

TARANA
[29:25] “That's an epidemic!”

ALYSSA
Yep, nothing.

TARANA
Look at this. You saw the report that came out? 19 million tweets?

TARANA
19 million.

ALYSSA
And that's just that's just that's not even Facebook.

TARANA
Facebook had 12 million engagements with the hashtag in the first 24 to 48 hours. So we're talking about pandemic numbers. If you put those numbers on something else, if you put them on a disease, that everybody in 24 hours woke up and tomorrow they had the #MeToo disease and it was contagious, we'd be like oh God, we have to shut this down. There's only three questions to ask: How did we get here? How do we stop this, and how do we make sure it never happens again? That's it. That's what this movement is about.

LEE
Alyssa and Tarana, thank you both so much for being here today.

ALYSSA
Thank you.

TARANA
Thank you.

LEE
Thanks for listening to At Liberty. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcast to hear more great conversations like this one.

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