Founder of the Me Too movement, Tarana Burke, cut Gov. Andrew Cuomo down to size, and redirected Ali Velshi to focusing on what mattered in the process. In light of Cuomo's deepening political and legal troubles, Velshi spent a lot of time discussing Cuomo's response to New York Attorney General Tish James' report on her office's investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him. His recorded video was universally panned, and rightfully so.
Velshi asked Burke for her reaction to it, and she said, "I would say I'm more disgusted. His response has been really, really primal, and just not thoughtful, and it shows so much -- it just shows how much people haven't learned in the last four years, and that power is as power does."
Then, Velshi asked his fourth question about Cuomo's response, and this is when Burke executed a brilliant re-direct. The host wanted to know if the governor's response encourages or discourages people from coming forward in high-profile cases.
Upon first hearing this question, I thought it was an uncharacteristically obtuse query from a host I generally respect and admire. "DIScourage!" I almost yelled..."The answer is DIScourage! It DIScourages people, isn't that obvious???" But then, I heard Burke's answer.
"This is the tricky part, why we can't come forward to look for a response. Coming forward has to be about our need to tell the truth and have the truth live outside of ourselves. And so, the victory really is in that these 11 women found community, came together, and that they were heard. Not just believed, but they were heard," she said.
That struck me as brilliant. We don't come forward to get a gratifying response from the person who harmed us. We come forward so others know that person is untrustworthy and/or potentially dangerous.
Burke continued, "And what they came forward with and said was investigated. To me, Cuomo's response is what a lot of powerful men do. And they can't find healing or catharsis in his response."
She brushed Cuomo off like the dirt he is. His response is irrelevant. The victory is in everyone else's response.
She elaborated. "But we have actually moved the needle in having these women's claims be investigated, having the media respond to it the way they have. Having the people stand up and say, this is not okay, we won't stand for it. The victory really is in that. We can't control Cuomo's response."
Velshi took her point, and asked her about what, if any, progress she's seen since her movement began, and Burke dropped some more brilliance about what everyone needs to do to continue the culture shift moving forward.
"I think there's definitely been progress. Because, again, I don't think that -- look at what happened when the Cosby allegations happened, or the Fox News allegations happened, and how those survivors were heard. Or the Weinstein, you know, allegations, even," she said. "I think we have progressed, because survivors have a bigger voice now. And they're taken more seriously. But really, it's about culture shift. And so we won't see powerful people really be accountable until we shift the culture that says that you can't harass people with impunity. You can't be a powerful person and this is not what leadership looks like, right? When we redefine what a leader is, and that includes people who don't abuse their power, then we will really have a shift. But we've certainly progressed."
He asked if she sees that progress with younger generations, and Burke answered with hope.
"I hope so. I think we see it, I think we hear it, I think we hear a lot of talk towards it. But it's important that people take this seriously and address Me, Too — and the Me, Too movement, and the movement to end sexual violence — differently," she instructed. "It's not a spectator sport. We're not just waiting for the next big name to fall. We all have to be committed to shifting culture in our everyday lives and disrupting rape culture, because it creates the environment for harassment like this to happen and for powerful people to do it with impunity."
Anyone can interrupt a sexist joke. Anyone can make the person who's being misogynistic know they're in the wrong. You don't have to hold high office or do national investigative work to bring down sexism and rape culture. In fact, it's likely the opportunity will present itself sooner than you think. Be ready.