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#MeToo founder Tarana Burke in East Bay: It’s not about ‘taking down’ powerful men

HEAR HIGHLIGHTS OF “ME TOO” FOUNDER TARANA BURKE’S SPEECH: Click here if you’re having trouble viewing the gallery or video on your mobile device.

MORAGA — Tarana Burke wants to clear up some misconceptions about the Me Too movement.

The founder of the movement to help survivors of sexual violence has not been accustomed to giving big speeches in her decades of experience as an organizer and activist, she said. But Burke has found herself in the spotlight since the movement she started more than a decade ago was adopted by a social media hashtag and thrust to the forefront in the wake of sexual violence and harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

She is now in the position of helping unpack exactly what this movement is all about. It means occasionally giving speeches, which is what brought her before a rapt crowd at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga Tuesday night. She was there, she said, to set the record straight on “lots of bad information” that has circulated since the October day she woke up to find that (eventually millions of) people were posting on social media accounts the hashtag #MeToo to show the pervasiveness of sexual violence and harassment.

Among the biggest misconceptions? That the movement is about taking down powerful men, which it is “absolutely not,” Burke said.

Rather, “people are trying to find an outlet to tell their truth,” Burke said. The Me Too movement is an effort to de-stigmatize survivors of sexual violence and help them find healing, she explained. The firing of powerful men has largely been a “corporate response” when people have named notable men as assailants or harassers, including Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, and many others.

It’s problematic, Burke said, that the attention has been on those men, rather than their victims.



“We hear all about the men, the predators,” Burke said, but rarely does the public hear much about the victims, what they need or their process of healing.

It’s also important to understand that Me Too is for both women and men, including transgender men and women, Burke said. All survivors should be able to have the space to talk about it.

At the Tuesday night event, Burke also wanted to offer information about the origin of the movement, which was lost in the swirl of social media and headlines as more and more accusers stepped up and more and more alleged abusers were outed.

A native of the Bronx, Burke started a lifetime of community organizing with the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement at age 14 and continued her efforts after moving to Alabama for college.

It was several years later, when Burke was working with young women of color in Alabama, that she realized there were few resources to help survivors of sexual violence or trauma — none of them particularly healing or helpful.

So she started creating new resources and ways to help. It began with creating “healing circles” and spaces where survivors could share information with each other, and curriculum to help them know they were not alone. A Myspace page they set up for the movement caught the attention of survivors, and Burke began sending information, resources and curriculum out so that others could do it in their own communities.

“Me Too” was the phrase she settled on for the movement.

“When one person says, ‘yeah, me, too,’ it gives permission for others to open up,” Burke said.

That’s what happened in October of 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano, apparently prompted by a friend, tweeted a suggestion that women post the words “me too” if they have been sexually harassed or assaults.

The outpouring that followed was swift and intense. Burke, at first, panicked, she said, worried that the Me Too movement she had spearheaded for years would be altered inappropriately or misunderstood, and not forgetful that the work of people of color has historically been unfairly erased and credited to white people.

Milano, to her credit, said Burke, helped elevate Burke’s name and work when she found out about the origin of the movement. But regardless, Burke was struck by the realization that the work she had been doing was having a huge moment on the national stage, and five months later, it continues — something that still seems to surprise her.

“We have never seen a sustained national dialogue about sexual violence ever,” she told the crowd at Saint Mary’s Tuesday night. It was the last event of a series called “44 Days Honoring Black History,” a set of speeches, events, and other campus activities aimed at celebrating the contributions of Black Americans to the country and to the Saint Mary’s College campus.

Calvin Monroe, chair of this year’s inaugural program, said the theme was “collective courage,” and “who better to bring for that theme than her?” he said of Burke.

Aubrey Williams, 22, an Oakland resident and Saint Mary’s alum, said she was thrilled to learn of the inaugural series honoring Black history, and found Burke’s talk empowering.

“It struck a chord,” she said.

As members of the audience hung on Burke’s words, she seemed to know what they were thinking — what’s next for the Me Too movement?

“We have a lot of unpacking to do,” she said. “Keep digging into this issue.”

She knows that the power of pop culture means a need to capitalize on a moment, but she’ll keep doing her work, regardless of what’s going on in the media cycle.

“I have no use for celebrity, unless it’s to elevate this platform,” she said. “We need to do that together.”

Source: East Bay #MeToo founder Tarana Burke in East Bay: It’s not about ‘taking down’ powerful men

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