Kavanagh Nomination a Challenge to #MeToo Movement

Oakland   Flying into San Francisco from Denver there seemed to be people stopping in front of airport TV channels huddled around to read the scrolling headlines as Senators that had been in the middle from Alaska, Arizona, Maine, and West Virginia toppled to one side and then another.  Doing an interview late in the afternoon about the integrated care system in the Veterans Hospital Administration my guest suddenly interjected an aside on Judge Kavanagh that seemed to say that Maine’s Susan Collins had secured his nomination, which she confirmed as soon as I turned off the recorder.

The headline from Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski announcement to oppose Kavanagh had eloquently stated “he is not the right man for this moment” or words to that affect.  The “moment” is a recognition of the rising tide of women coming forward in government, workplaces, and personal spaces to protest a culture of sexual harassment, speak to their own victimization, and call out their abusers.  From Harvey Weinstein to the head of CBS to well known artists, chefs, politicians, actors, professors, thousands of men in positions of power have been forced to deal with accountability for crimes high and low.  The impact has been inarguable at this point.

For a long time, I wrote of the #MeToo “moment” wondering if it was a flash in the pan or would have some deep impact creating social change in the country and realigning the fundamental relationships between men and women.  As the body count rose and the calendar pages turned from month to month, the moment seemed to be having the kind of impact that actually qualified as a movement, even though many of the other indices of a movement were absent.

Now with Kavanagh lurching to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court in a divided Senate with more than half the country opposing his being seated, particularly women, #MeToo faces its biggest test that will actually determine whether these issues recede back into the private spaces or continue to be public concerns.  The impunity with which the President and the mostly white men of the Senate and the Republican Party have rammed this through for someone who was temperamentally unfit, unable to find objectivity given his fierce partisanship, and credibly accused of numerous incidents of sexual abuse and general bad behavior would have impossible to imagine in other political times, much less this one.

To prove sustainability as a movement, even without a defining organization, #MeToo will have to respond.  Punishment must fit the crime.  This may be the time that #MeToo becomes organizational and new and old organizations of women step into this moment in an effort to institutionalize change, rather than allowing this pushback from conservative forces to regain the public space and force women back in to the corner and silence their voices.

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Women’s Voice and Women’s March

#MeToo discussion at year end organizing meeting in New Orleans

New Orleans   Many women hit the streets once again all around the country at the anniversary of the first Women’s March. The theme was more political activism as the new face of resistance with the looming midterm elections providing the focal point. Numbers in local cities seemed to be running at half of last year’s totals, but that was to be expected at this point when resilience is twin to resistance.

One of the more interesting workshops for the Year End/ Year Beginning meeting of our organizers top organizers from ACORN Canada, Local 100, and other operations in New Orleans was how to transfer the recognition and cultural shifts of the #MeToo moment into the meetings of our workplace and community organizations as well as through our media outlets. Some organizers told stories of members complaints of harassment from landlords demanding sex in exchange for repairs and late fees, and questioned whether their organizational response would have been the same now in this climate as it was a couple of years ago when the issue presented. Judy Duncan, the head organizer of ACORN Canada as well as other office directors in Canada, the United States and Local 100 believed that they needed to talk to local leadership, many, if not most, of whom are women about making a place in the agenda of meetings in the coming months so that women had a space to talk about incidents of harassment and abuse and groups could debate and take effective action.

John Cain from KABF and others involved in AM/FM radio programming thought that the stations should ask hosts to raise the issue on their shows and encourage call-in’s, referral, and complaint. Others thought regular public service announcements encouraging women to come forward and giving them voice could be helpful.

Appropriately, there was also discussion about how women’s voice and perspective were integrated into the internal staff and leadership dynamics of organizing as well, especially since organizing has so long been characterized as male dominated field, and despite progress over recent decades, invariably contains vestiges of such a history, tradition, and stereotypes. There was an interesting discussion on whether organizers should counter the devaluation of women’s voice internally by formalizing relationships to break the pattern. Likely addressing everyone as Mr, Mrs, or Ms would not work, but there is a reason that old labor culture embraced addressing co-combatants as Sister and Brother, or comrade as was common in the South African struggle and others, or citizen during and after the French Revolution. Breaking habits in order to signify respect and as markers that we need to deal with each other differently would not be a trivial step forward in breaking old patterns and habits.

Beth Butler, head organizer of ACORN affiliate, A Community Voice, ended the workshop by letting everyone go around the room and indicate what they would do to implement the consensus and to create a different climate for women. The pledges were deep and sincere. We will have to make sure the followup is of a like kind, both here and everywhere else.

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