'I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore'

Image: Tarana Burke/Facebook

"I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore." Helen Reddy sang those words in 1972, providing an anthem to the rising women's movement. Forty-five years later, the song could serve as the score to a movie documenting the abusive rise and abrupt demise of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. If only it were just a movie. Fifty-five women have bravely come forward so far, accusing Weinstein of everything from sexual harassment to rape and propelling the issue of violence against women to the forefront of American life.

The flood of personal statements has gone well beyond Weinstein now, channeled on social media under the hashtag "MeToo," posted on Sunday by actress Alyssa Milano. "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem," she wrote, adding, "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." Over half a million women (and some men as well) have used the #MeToo hashtag, exposing in a few short days how pervasive are the crimes of sexual harassment and rape.

While Alyssa Milano propelled "MeToo" into the public forum, it was founded 10 years ago by Tarana Burke, a longtime African-American feminist who now works as program director at Girls for Gender Equity.

"As a survivor of sexual violence myself, as a person who was struggling trying to figure out what healing looked like for me, I also saw young people, and particularly young women of color, in the community I worked with, struggling with the same issues and trying to find a succinct way to show empathy," Tarana Burke said on the Democracy Now! news hour. "'Me Too' is so powerful, because somebody had said it to me, and it changed the trajectory of my healing process."

Celebrity perpetrators, as well as victims who also are celebrities, can quickly bring an issue to the forefront. But Burke has for decades been working with regular people: "For every R. Kelly or Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, there's the owner of the grocery store, the coach, the teacher, the neighbor, who are doing the same things...we don't pay attention till it's a big celebrity. But this work is ongoing, because this is pervasive."

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, also spoke on "Democracy Now!," saying: "I first have to just say a deep thank-you to Tarana for creating this space for survivors like myself. Without that space, I wouldn't be able to tell my story, and thousands and thousands of other people that I know would not be able to tell their stories." Garza added, "This kind of violence is as American as apple pie."

In addition to the torrent of accusations Harvey Weinstein faces, new criminal investigations are being undertaken by both the New York City Police Department and Scotland Yard. As the floodgates have opened, Amazon Studios head Roy Price has been forced to resign after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed a female producer.

This all comes on the first anniversary of the notorious 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape on which Donald Trump is caught bragging to TV host Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women:

Trump: "I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."
Bush: "Whatever you want." 
Trump: "Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."

Two years later, in 2007, Celebrity Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos alleges, Trump sexually assaulted her: "He put me in an embrace and I tried to push him away. I pushed his chest to put space between us...he began thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again, with my hand still on his chest."

Trump denied Zervos' accusations, as well as similar allegations from at least a dozen other women who came out last year accusing him of sexual assault. Trump promised to sue them after the election. To date, he hasn't. Zervos, however, has sued him, charging Trump with libel for using his vast bully pulpit (stress on the word "bully") to call her a liar. As part of her lawsuit, Zervos' lawyer has issued a subpoena to the Trump campaign for all documents relating to her and other women's allegations of his inappropriate or unwanted contact.

After our interview, Tarana Burke took off her leopard-patterned sweater and proudly displayed her black T-shirt. On the front, in pink letters, were the words "me too." She smiled and turned around. On the back were the words "You are not alone...It's a movement!"

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: Tarana Burke/Facebook

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