EMPOWERMENT THROUGH EMPATHY

The #MeToo movement was actually launched over 10 years ago, by a black activist

In the wake of dozens of allegations of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein, actor Alyssa Milano tweeted a call Sunday (Oct. 15) to survivors to use the hashtag #MeToo after seeing a friend post the idea on Facebook. The campaign created a flood of response across social media, a powerful rallying cry for survivors of harassment and sexual assault. But the campaign isn’t actually new: It was created over 10 years ago, by black activist Tarana Burke.

Burke initially launched “Me Too” as a grassroots movement to provide “empowerment through empathy” to survivors of sexual abuse, assault, exploitation, and harassment in underprivileged communities who typically don’t have access to rape crisis centers or counselors, she told Ebony.

Burke is also the founder and director of Just Be Inc., a nonprofit organization launched in 2006 that is “focused on the health, well-being, and wholeness of young women of color.” Since initially launching the Me Too movement, she founded an online support network of the same name that aims to support and amplify the voices of survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and exploitation.

She told Ebony that “Me Too” wasn’t “built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow.”

“It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”

“What’s happening now is powerful and I salute it and the women who have disclosed but the power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation – but it was us talking to us.”

As the hashtag gained popularity, journalist Britni Danielle tweeted support and credit to Burke for creating the movement 10 years ago, followed by high-profile social activist movements Black Lives Matter and Women’s March.

Since noon on Sunday, #MeToo has been used 825,000 times, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN. On Facebook, 4.7 million people engaged with “Me Too” posts in less than 24 hours, with over 12 million posts, comments, and reactions. CNN reports that 45% of US Facebook users are friends with someone who posted a “Me Too” message.

According to Just Be, Burke created Me Too after meeting a young girl at a youth camp whose story of abuse was so painful to Burke that she cut the girl off and directed her to another female counselor who could “help her better” instead of saying, “Me too.”

Burke explains the idea behind the campaign in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!:

Women of color are more likely to experience sexual assault, yet the conversation surrounding the issue in the wake of the Weinstein allegations has largely centered around the stories shared by famous white women like Ashely Judd, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Reese Witherspoon.

Commentators have highlighted that this double-standard isn’t uncommon. “Where was the boycott for ESPN sports journalist Jemele Hill when her employer suspended her from her job citing a vague social media policy?” Ashley C. Ford wrote in Refinery29. “Where was the boycott when actress and comedian Leslie Jones was harassed by trolls to the point of deleting her account for months?” The Root was more direct, creating a hashtag of its own: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.

On Monday, Alyssa Milano credited Burke and the Just Be organization for launching the Me Too movement, saying the story is “equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.”

For her part, Burke isn’t upset to see people taking her idea and running with it.


Read this next: The unexpected, paradigm-shifting power of #MeToo

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