By Lauren Rearick
Me Too founder Tarana Burke wants 2020 presidential candidates to remember to include survivors of sexual violence in their policies. And she wants to remind those millions of Americans to vote, too.
On Tuesday (Oct. 16), Burke announced #MeTooVoter, a social media hashtag created to remind candidates of America’s ongoing issue of sexual violence and sexual harassment. The advocacy group unleashed the campaign ahead of the third Democratic primary debate, which was held at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.
Burke first founded Me Too in 2006 and largely centered its work on helping Black women and girls heal from sexual misconduct, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 2017, the organization went viral when the actress Alyssa Milano used the hashtag #MeToo in relation to the broader conversation about sexual assault in Hollywood and at large (she later corrected her use of the phrase and correctly attributed it to Burke). The movement encouraged millions of people to come forward with their own stories and helped shine a spotlight on rampant sexual misconduct in Hollywood and workplaces across America.
As Burke told the Associated Press, she wants to take the momentum of #MeToo and expand its focus to the 2020 election. She says that so far, no presidential candidates have set aside time to speak with her about the issue of sexual misconduct, and she wants that to change. “You can’t have 12 million people respond to a hashtag in this country and they not be constituents, taxpayers, and voters,” she told the AP. “We need these candidates to see us as a power base. So many people engage with survivors from a place of pity.”
In an op-ed for CNN, Jennifer Klein of TIME’S UP Now and journalist Gretchen Carlson also noted a need for a debate questions centered on sexual harassment, and pointed out that none had yet been asked of the candidates. Previous research from TIME’S UP reported that moderators asked zero questions about sexual harassment at any of the 123 primary debates held between 1996 and 2016.
Candidates have offered limited information on their plans related to sexual misconduct legislation. Sen. Kamala Harris acknowledges her past work for sexual misconduct and pledges continued support on her website; former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro announced a platform supporting Indigenous people that proposed partnering with Ingenious communities to protect Native women; and Sen. Cory Booker introduced legislation in July 2019 that asked Congress to form a committee that would elevate the voices of sexual harassment survivors. The next presidential debate is scheduled for November 20, and it remains to be seen if candidates will address or be asked of the issue then.
For #MeTooVoter, Burke intends to team up with other organizations focused on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Women’s Law Center. The organizations want their work to result in candidates addressing the issue at a future debate. “We’re going to be calling on anyone who’s serious about governing and leading this country forward to actually answer for how they’re going to make this country more safe,” Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told AP.
Along with a social media campaign, the organizations intend to offer opportunities to educate voters, and hopefully increase voter turnout. “We’re not asking politicians to check off a box and say, ‘Oh, we did #MeToo. We got that covered,’” Burke said. “The constituents that you are responsible for in this country, millions of them, raised their hand to say, ‘#MeToo,’ and you have not responded to them yet.” According to the Los Angeles Times, Burke said she is “considering” a town hall centered on the issue.
If and when politicians do address the issue of sexual violence, those associated with #MeTooVoter want candidates to support resources including sexual education, offerings for college campuses, and measures that will protect those who speak out. “We’re not asking whether change is possible, we’re asking what next is going to be possible,” Monica Ramírez, President of Justice for Migrant Women and Gender Justice Campaigns Director for National Domestic Workers Alliance, said in an interview with AP.