Community comes together to say 'We believe you'
BRATTLEBORO — Under an onslaught of nasty weather people holding signs high met at Pliny Park Thursday evening. The signs were simple; they said things such as "Speak your truth" and "We believe you."
The Women's Action Team, a local feminist group, organized a #MeToo Solidarity Rally for Thursday, which was also International Women's Day. The rally hosted an array of women speakers who expressed their feelings about the #MeToo movement and experiences with sexual harassment and violence.
One woman, Opeyemi Parham, dressed in purple, stomped her foot and declared that she wanted to testify her truth. She talked about her husband, "Who was not a good man," and the effect he had on their son.
A 14-year-old girl, Cassidy Majer, took the stage and proclaimed that she was not a slut but the boys at her middle school — "not just the bad boys ... the athletes ... maybe even your sons" — were accustomed to calling girls nasty names and harassing them.
Leslie Sullivan Sachs stood up and told another women's story. Wanda Sanville was shot in her home in South Royalton on Sunday. Her husband, Frank Sanville, is alleged to have shot her while he was on furlough on a domestic abuse charge. Her family members have alleged that she told police about death threats she had received from her husband, but the police refused to act.
Other people talked about what feminism needs to do to keep moving forward.
Kelly Juno, from Brattleboro Solidarity, declared that feminism needed to recognize all oppression as being a part of the problem.
The #MeToo movement was originally started in 2006 by Tarana Burke, who coined the term to help victims of sexual assault, particularly women and girls of color. The movement gained more popularity and traction after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." The tweet followed allegations of sexual harassment about both Harvey Weinstein, an American film producer, and Roy Price, the former president of Amazon.com's media development division.
Since then the movement has spread into a powerful cultural phenomenon. #MeToo has flooded social media and more and more allegations have come out about men abusing their power from Hollywood, to media, to sports. For many people at the rally, the reaction to #MeToo was relief.
"I've had plenty of encounters with childhood sexual abuse," Lisa Kuneman said. "I started going to therapy at 20. I'm still in therapy; I'll be in therapy my whole life." Out of all her efforts to cope with trauma the most effective action, she said, was being able to speak about her story to her community and being accepted.
"That has had a more profound effect on me as a person than any private process," she said. That acceptance started with her joining the Women's Action Team, which was formed over a year ago as a response to a federal administration that appears be hostile to women. The #MeToo movement, she said, has been adding to that reality.
"Experiencing this phenomenon of women's voices being taken seriously or even listened to at all," she said, "is new in my lifetime."
Kuneman wanted other women to know that she doesn't think #MeToo was in danger of going too far. "We've barely scratched the surface," she said. "If we expose more Larry Nassars in the world, and if we make changes that make it impossible for the type of enabling that happened, that's only good. Only good can come from that." Nassar is a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor who was found guilty of serial child molestation.
Other people, like Parham, said that when the #MeToo movement first surfaced, she felt like it was only gaining traction because "white women were seeing it." She mentioned Burke championing the cause as a lone wolf before. She was pleasantly surprised to see, "women stand together." While the current iteration of the movement seemed to start in Hollywood with "people who have more privilege — this is still a trauma." Those same people have helped, "normalize the desire to have us move forward as a gender."
Like Juno she wanted feminism to expand its reach to include other oppressed groups.
"It's so important for people to expand their comfort zone and stay awake," she said. It can be overwhelming for people to discover how much sexual abuse is out there, she said, "and it's on top of racism and it's on top of classism ... This is about decolonizing our minds."
Harmony Birch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.
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