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Women Leaders Call On Candidates to Address the #MeTooVoter Ahead of Democratic Debate

"Sexual violence is a national problem that deserves a national response."

A sign reading, "We Will Be Heard" at the 2019 Women's March in Washington, D.C. (Photo: TC Davis/Flickr/cc)

Ahead of the fourth Democratic 2020 presidential primary debate Tuesday night, the founder of the #MeToo social justice movement launched a new voter mobilization campaign, urging the recognition of survivors of sexual violence and harassment as a "power base."

Tuesday marked the second anniversary of the viral hashtag #MeToo, which garnered millions of responses in just 24 hours after actress and activist Alyssa Milano posted a tweet asking her followers to respond, "Me too" if they had survived sexual assault or harassment.

Tarana Burke, who originally began using the phrase "Me Too" on social media in 2006 to show solidarity with women of color who had been abused, called on supporters to identify themselves as "Me Too Voters"—a constituency which will demand that elected officials prioritize the issue of sexual violence as the labor, human rights, and public health issue that it is.

In a country where more than one in three women and more than one in four men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, the campaign argues, political leaders must share concrete ideas for legislation that would make sure survivors are supported after they experience trauma and make it easier to hold perpetrators accountable for harassment or abuse—particularly in fields like domestic work, in which the vast majority of workers are not covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Last week, Burke wrote an op-ed in Time magazine asking why 2020 presidential candidates have rarely addressed issues affecting survivors of sexual violence and harassment, and why moderators of the three debates that have taken place so far have hardly touched on women's rights, including reproductive rights.

"Candidates have a responsibility to address the rampant sexual violence that permeates all of society's systems and structures, including government," wrote Burke. "Policies around race, immigration, and healthcare have rightfully taken center stage during the recent presidential debates, but something as prevalent as sexual violence, an issue spanning and intersecting with all of the above, has been largely overlooked. Sexual violence is a national problem that deserves a national response."

Burke was joined by National Women's Law Center (NWLC) president Fatima Goss-Graves, Ai-Jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Mónica Ramírez of Justice for Migrant Women in a video produced by NowThis News, explaining the need to expand the #MeToo movement into a #MeTooVoter movement.

"We know that survivors collectively are a force, and they're a force as voters," Goss Graves said.

"Preventative and post-trauma measures" including sex education, resources on college campuses for survivors beyond support in the immediate aftermath of violence, and revised workplace protections across industries were among the reforms the #MeTooVoter leaders urged the 2020 candidates to address.

In her op-ed, Burke noted that during her presidential campaign Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) centered women's rights—"but she's no longer in the race."

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On Twitter, presidential candidate Julian Castro responded to the #MeTooVoter campaign with a pledge to "listen to survivors and work to end sexual violence in our country."

In an opinion piece at CNN Tuesday, Goss Graves called on debate moderators at the fourth debate to address three questions:

  • Do you think every person in the U.S. should be able to access abortion care, no matter where they live or the money they make?
  • What will you do to make sure that all families have access to affordable, high-quality child care?
  • What will you do to address sexual harassment and make workplaces safe and fair for all workers?

A number of women's rights advocates expressed their support for the #MeTooVoter movement on social media.

"Millions of women will be watching on Tuesday," wrote Goss Graves at CNN. "Moderators owe them the chance to hear about candidates' plans to tackle issues that directly affect their lives. Women are more than half of this country, and it's time for candidates to answer to them."

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