For the past several months, the #MeToo movement has swept through American culture, exposing incidents and allegations of sexual predation by powerful people in music, entertainment, journalism, and politics alike. And as far as the political side goes, this year's annual presidential address to the nation will reportedly have a major advocate in attendance: #MeToo's original creator Tarana Burke was invited the State of the Union this year, thanks to a California member of Congress.
Burke, 44, is an activist, and the director of Girls for Gender Equity based in Brooklyn, New York. She first launched the movement ten years ago, back in 2007. It wasn't a hashtag back then, as Twitter was still in its infancy. Rather, it was a grassroots effort to open up lines of connection with sexual assault survivors in traditionally marginalized and overlooked communities.
Speier, on the other hand, is the House representative from California's 14th congressional district, representing much of San Mateo county and the southern Bay Area. She's been one of the leading voices on matters of sexual assault and harassment within Congress, and opening up publicly about her own story of being assaulted.
On Thursday, Speier told MSNBC that she'd invited Burke as her guest for the State of the Union, and said Burke is currently "trying to change her schedule" in order to attend. The big night is scheduled for Jan. 30, and will be the first actual State of the Union of Trump's presidency ― his address before a joint session of Congress last year was not, in fact, officially a State of the Union speech.
Needless to say, Burke's presence at the State of the Union would be a very newsworthy event. As the creator of a movement explicitly founded to shine light on matters of sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation, and to support survivors, Burke's presence at President Donald Trump's first official State of the Union could send a strong message.
Trump, after all, has been accused of sexually predatory behavior by 19 women since launching his political career, with multiple allegations of unwanted kissing and forcible groping in both public and private settings.
Such allegations reflect precisely the sorts of behavior he infamously boasted about in the Access Hollywood tape released by The Washington Post prior to the election. For his part, Trump has maintained he's never behaved in the ways described on the tape, calling his comments "locker room talk," and has denied all the allegations against him, calling his many accusers "horrible liars."
In Oct. 2016, Burke told Ebony magazine that the Me Too movement was intended to be a "catchphrase" that would enable sexual assault survivors to bind together, an expression of solidarity and resilience.
"It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow,” she said. “It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”
"What’s happening now is powerful and I salute it and the women who have disclosed but the power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation – but it was us talking to us," Burke said.
Of course, Speier hasn't said that Burke's attendance is confirmed, but rather, that she's trying to move her schedule around to make it work. But if it ends up happening, you can expect to see the woman who laid the groundwork for this cultural moment, more than a decade ago, sitting in the House chamber on Jan. 30.