AMES — Tarana Burke says people are always asking what’s next for the Me Too movement she founded more than a decade ago, which makes her a little confused and concerned.
“You all only know me because this thing went viral and whatever,” Burke told about 1,000 people gathered Monday night at Iowa State University. If actress Alyssa Milano hadn’t unwittingly co-opted Burke’s work by launching the #MeToo social media tag last fall, Burke told audience members she’d still be the same person, fighting for the same thing, one community at a time.
“Now I have an elevated platform. But you don’t need one. You all have a platform of some kind in your lives right now,” Burke said. “Figure out what it is and use it to interrupt sexual violence in your community.”
People who want to make a difference, she said, should get a few friends together and begin exploring the gaps in their community, whether that be a neighborhood, a town or a college campus. Think about all of the people your children interact with when you send them to school, and ask how those people are vetted. Consider that although rape crisis centers dot the nation there are “far, far, far more survivors” than there are crisis centers or advocacy groups.
“You each have the power to fill in those gaps. That’s all I did,” she said.
And, above all else, she cautioned, don’t let the media and other bad actors redefine this movement, or this moment. MeTooMVMT.org was founded for everyone — not just women of a certain color or straight people.
“Yes, it started with black girls, but it has always expanded to accept all survivors,” she said. “If you are a survivor of sexual violence and this thing gives you something, then take it.
“Why are you letting someone else define what you’ve already been told is yours? It’s your movement, white ladies. And it is your movement, Indian man. It’s your movement, trans girls. It’s your movement, disabled guy. It’s all of ours. We just have to stand up and claim it.”
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Burke, of course, hopes those she speaks with will become part of her movement to support suvivors and end sexual violence.
“But, I think, if you aren’t going to sign up and be a Me Too soldier, the very least you can do is talk about this movement differently,” she said.
At the center of all Me Too discussions must be survivors of sexual violence. The popular narrative, promoted by the media, that this is a movement about taking down powerful men or targeting men needs to end.
“We must start to focus on the people who are screaming and yelling and pleading for help around the world,” she said.
It’s the same message my friends, themselves survivors of sexual violence, shared last fall when this latest hashtag erupted: Telling personal stories of abuse can be painful, can trigger those with similar experiences, and disclosure doesn’t always walk hand-in-hand with healing.
As Burke explained so well — describing it as “an argument with God” — uttering or writing “me too” is just one step. It’s important, but it alone isn’t cultural change.
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