If there's one bright spot to 2017, it's that women have been emboldened to come forward with their stories of sexual misconduct — and that the world is finally listening. Ultimately, social media has played a huge role in making these women's voices heard. As such, it feels right that "Me Too" creator Tarana Burke will drop the New Year's ball and ring in 2018 as a guest of honor at Times Square's New Year's Eve Celebration. Though Burke's movement and the hashtag developed independently, the activist has been encouraging survivors to say "me too" for the past decade.
#MeToo messages started going viral on social media not long after The New York Times and The New Yorker broke stories detailing disturbing allegations about producer Harvey Weinstein. The film mogul was accused of sexually harassing women in Hollywood for decades, though he has strongly denied any acts of nonconsensual sex or sexual assault.
When Twitter locked the account of Rose McGowan, one of Weinstein's most vocal accusers, messages of #MeToo quickly ramped up, as individuals began sharing their stories of alleged sexual assault and harassment. It quickly became clear that it was rare that a woman didn't have a similar story, no matter what industry she worked in, and as the stories grew in number, the movement quickly took off.
While #MeToo didn't enter the American lexicon until this year, Burke has been using the phrase, off of Twitter, for years. She was inspired to establish the movement as far back as 1997, when she met a 13-year-old girl that had been sexually abused. Years later, Burke started Just Be Inc., an organization that promotes health and wellness in young women of color, and works with sexual harassment and assault victims.
"MeToo is essentially about survivors supporting survivors, and it's really about community healing and community action," Burke told Business Insider. And while she acknowledged that she's considered the de facto leader of the movement, she believes that she's a worker above all else. Now that virtually everyone knows what "Me Too" means, Burke hopes to use her platform to elevate her mission.
Because #MeToo first went viral with a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano, not everyone realized that Burke had been using the phrase for years. Some expressed concern shortly after Milano's tweet took off so quickly that while it's easy for white women to be heard when it comes to tough issues like sexual assault, it's often much harder for women of color to do the same. When Burke was left off the TIME cover honoring the women who've spoken out about assault this year, some voiced criticism of the direction the movement has gone.
That's why Kirsten West Savali, an editor at The Root, tweeted that it's important to remember that Burke created this movement for black women and girls.
Now that Burke is set to drop the ball on New Year's Eve, it's likely that more people will know who she is by the time 2018 rolls around. Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, told AM New York:
New Year's is a time when we look at the most significant cultural and political moments of the last year, when we look for inspiration by honoring and giving a global platform to those who have made a difference. ... Tarana Burke's courage and foresight have changed the world this year, and, we hope, forever.
Some of the past honorees of the Times Square ball drop include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Lady Gaga. This is one of the few years that an activist who was relatively unknown until recently will take part in the celebration — never mind that the ball drop will take place mere blocks from some of the buildings bearing President Trump's name.
On New Year's, it will be about Burke, and the countless others who have been touched by the "Me Too" movement.