One year ago today, actress and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted out a would-be bat signal for survivors of sexual harassment and assault to show their solidarity with the phrase “Me too.” And on the anniversary of Milano’s tweet, the actual founder of the Me Too movement, Tarana Burke, is reflecting on the moment the movement fell out of her hands and took on a life of its own.
Speaking to the Daily Dot, Burke said she’s found the past year to be a mix of emotions. On one hand, she said, she thinks it’s great to have this expanded platform to advocate for the 12-year-old Me Too Movement she helped create, which specifically helps Black women and girl survivors of sexual violence, as well as an opportunity to talk about the work that the movement has been doing. On the other hand, Burke said it’s been “heart-wrenching” to watch people misuse the movement and weaponize #MeToo.
“Sexual violence clearly does not discriminate and affects people regardless of their political affiliations. We have to do something about the way that [sexual violence] is so pervasive in our communities,” Burke said. “I just knew that this would be the one place where we could maybe avoid politics, but I was certainly wrong about that.”
While Burke didn’t anticipate the ways in which Me Too would be politicized, the discomfort and outright vitriol both Republicans and Democrats have used at opportune times to respond to the movement makes sense when Burke explains Me Too’s inherent goal. While the behaviors of “bad men” such as Harvey Weinstein and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh have been under the spotlight throughout the past year, Me Too isn’t about focusing on bad actors and singular events, but about interrogating unchecked power and privilege and the systems that afford such. When we move toward checking that power, Burke says, people get nervous, uncomfortable, and want to push back.
“Any tool that they can use to further their cause or further their goals, I think they will. And why not? Why wouldn’t you use this thing that has become a pop culture phenomenon?” Burke said.
A year ago today I thought my world was falling apart. I woke up to find out that the hashtag #metoo had gone viral and I didn't see any of the work I laid out over the previous decade attached to it. I thought for sure I would be erased from a thing I worked so hard to build. + https://t.co/VmfwTxhcIo— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) October 15, 2018
On Twitter today, Burke recalled when she woke up to see that #MeToo had gone viral a year ago, without any sort of attachment to the decade of work she had done for the movement. Milano, who later apologized to Burke and credited her with the idea, had encouraged her followers to share their stories of abuse to show the magnitude and pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault.
After the virality of the hashtag, Burke said she remembered calling her friends for help and watching them activate a support network that reached Milano and told the world who initially started the movement. And yet while she attempted to address her would-be erasure, she watched social media for hours as hundreds of people shared their accounts of harassment and assault. The whole time she was fretting about saving her work, Burke tweeted, but she didn’t realize that her work was happening before her very eyes.
“My work has always centered Black and Brown women and girls. And it always will—but at the heart of it all it supports ALL survivors of sexual violence. And I committed to that work a long time ago so watching people open up with what felt like no covering online was hard,” Burke tweeted. “I have wondered a lot this year why God chose to give me this platform and why I was trusted to shoulder this responsibility and every time I ask the question the answer shows up in a different way. I am not questioning anymore I am just grateful.”
But Burke wants to emphasize the movement is not a space for women only. The movement isn’t a war between genders, Burke told the Daily Dot, nor is it about waiting for the next person to be exposed as an abuser of power. And just because the year of viral “reckoning” began with the fall of Hollywood mogul Weinstein and ended with Kavanaugh’s confirmation and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denying her husband’s abuse of power, it doesn’t mean Me Too experienced a zero-sum year. (Though, “it would have been great to see some accountability, in hindsight,” Burke said of Clinton’s Sunday interview with CBS.)
“Movements are long and they have battles, and this is just a battle, right? We’re going to win some of these battles, we’re going to lose some of these battles…and so, it’s OK to feel discouraged. It really is. It’s OK to feel frustrated because that’s a natural feeling—it’s just not OK to stop,” Burke said. “It’s not OK to check out and say, ‘Well, I’m not going to be a part of this because we’re not going to win anyway.’ This is what happens when you shake things loose. You’ve got to get this backlash first, and then we keep on coming back.”
Burke’s thread on this moment—the initial viral spark of the Me Too that has turned into a full-on reckoning for the silent survivors of abusive people in power—ended in thanks for the people who have loved and supported her over the past year. She also told the Daily Dot that the Me Too movement has plans to soon roll out what they’ve been working on, including a new website which went live on Monday, and upcoming ground-level programmatic work, such as survivor leadership trainings, community healing circle training, and ongoing partnerships and youth work.
My work has always centered Black and Brown women and girls. And it always will – but at the heart of it all it supports ALL survivors of sexual violence. And I committed to that work a long time ago so watching people open up with what felt like no covering online was hard. +— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) October 15, 2018
“I hope that I represent and stand for survivors of sexual violence in a way that makes you proud,” Burke wrote. “Please know that our work is never ending. In fact it’s just beginning.”