#MeToo Founder Tarana Burke on Keeping the Movement Going Strong
She has a new hashtag that declares: "We aren't just statistics. Look at us and don’t look away."
When activist Tarana Burke first encouraged women to say “me too” over a decade ago (on MySpace no less), she never imagined a movement would follow. But the community leader has been on a path of bravery and healing for most of her life — and shows no signs of slowing down.
As a third-generation Bronx, New York resident, Burke was raised, as she says, knowing her culture and being able to recognize bias and oppression when she saw it. “I [understood] injustice; I could name it and call it out when I saw it — but I wanted to do something about it,” she says in her InStyle Badass Women video, above.
Burke began working with survivors of sexual violence in her twenties, and as she heard their stories, she realized that she identified with them. Armed with a plan of empowerment and a lot of empathy, Burke created Justbe Inc., an organization committed to the empowerment and wellness of black girls, and began leading the conversation around sexual violence and the need for solutions centered around survivors. Burke believes that healing isn't a destination but a journey of courage — one that she, too, has been on for years.
It was on that journey that Burke took to MySpace (this was 2006, back in the early days of social media) and shared her story — not knowing the seed of a new movement had just been planted. Women began sending messages, thanking her, asking for more resources, and inviting Burke to speak in their communities.
Then, in October of 2017, on the suggestion of a friend, actress Alyssa Milano shared on Twitter “women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted write me too” in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations earlier that month. The #MeToo hashtag went viral with responses in the millions, and Burke herself was thrust into the spotlight.
Now, two years later, as the 2020 election looms ahead, Burke says that while the movement was critical, it didn’t result in the necessary shift in culture, the actual change. “It’s absolutely a public health crisis and I think there needs to be a voice louder than others — one that keeps the focus on what this work is really about and what this movement is really about,” she says.
In short, Burke is looking for a #MeToo candidate for president, and is calling on her community (19 million people responded to the hashtag in the first year), to use a new one: #MeTooVoter. Burke wants to send the message that survivors should be seen as the politically motivated power base they are.
“These politicians need to see that this is not just about us declaring who we are; we are not just statistics. Look at us and don’t look away! This is what we want in our leadership and #MeTooVoter is about pushing for that,” Burke says.
Her passion for community organization started a teen, back in the early ‘80s, when she joined a youth organization called 21st Century and her life would both change and begin as a young grassroots organizer. Soon Burke was getting involved in racially motivated cases including that of Yusef Hawkins, who was shot to death by white teenagers in Central Park. Burke saw how society was painting a picture of Black youth and she joined in pushing back against the negative images.
“It changed me,” she says of participating in rallies and protests, and finding community among those rising up to make change. “It made me know that even as a young person, my voice counted and I knew this is how I wanted to live my life. This is what I want to do.”
Fast-forward into her adulthood and not only is she doing it, she's making sure every voice in her millions-strong movement is counted, too.