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.