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Tarana Burke says #MeToo is a 'galvanizing tool' — but 'hashtags don’t heal'

Tarana Burke attends The 2019 MAKERS Conference at Monarch Beach Resort on February 8, 2019 in Dana Point, California. (Photo by Getty Images/Rachel Murray)

Tarana Burke, activist, advocate and founder of the ‘me too’ movement, sat down with the Editor in Chief of HuffPost, Lydia Polgreen, during the final day of the 2019 MAKERS conference to discuss Brett Kavanaugh, survivors and what she hopes for the future.

Burke, a Bronx, N.Y., native, founded the ‘me too’ movement in 2006 as a means of spreading awareness about the sexual violence faced by women and men. But she says the two words that have come to encapsulate the movement — cemented, in part, by Alyssa Milano’s 2017 tweet — don’t tell the whole story.

“It is a wonderful galvanizing tool to help us build, but hashtags don’t heal,” Burke told Polgreen. “People need to heal and [this is about] activating those people, while they are healing, to do this work. None of that is going to come from us just naming and shaming using social media.” Part of furthering this movement, said Burke, is recognizing the pivotal role that survivors play, a fact which came into sharp focus after the Kavanaugh hearings. 

Watching the response to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, she said, was a reality check. “What I realize coming off the hearings was that, oh goodness, people are excited about what’s happening — but they don’t really understand what survival looks like,” said Burke. “People don’t understand the experience of survivors, because we would not be judging this woman, in this moment, in this way.”

And although survivors like Ford have received recognition for their efforts in furthering this movement, Burke said it’s still not enough. “The 12 million people who [used] the #MeToo hashtag in 24 hours — that was courageous,” said Burke. “We are literally living off of their labor, we are trading on the labor of survivors. It’s nice to be like, ‘Look at these courageous people,’ But millions of people raised their hands last year to say ‘me too’ and their hands are still raised.”

Burke said the key is becoming “comfortable with the uncomfortable” and finding ways to enact change in your own circle. “You need to talk about this movement differently and redirect the people in your life who characterizes it as negative,” said Burke. “We need to be pro-active in our lives. I always ask people, ‘Do you know the sexual harassment policy at your job?’ Get with two or three people over coffee and read it and make sure this matches your lived experience. Look for the gap.'” 

While she seems hopeful for the future, the 45-year-old said she’s still struck by how many people consider the ‘me too’ movement a controversial one. “An interview[er] asked yesterday: ‘What about the people who don’t agree with me too?’ And I said, ‘What is there not to agree with?’ We are not asking for weird things. It’s like if you want to touch me, can you please ask permission.”

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