Identity

Tarana Burke Remembers One Year Since #MeToo Went Viral

Monday marks the year anniversary of actress Alyssa Milano asking survivors to coalesce around the rallying cry "me too," a movement first started by Tarana Burke.

by Marie Solis
Oct 15 2018, 4:18pm

Aaron J. Thornton/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Monday marks the first anniversary of actress Alyssa Milano asking Twitter users to identify themselves as a survivor of sexual harassment or assault with "me too," the two words that helped spur a seismic cultural reckoning with sexual abuse in the aftermath of the allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

On October 15, 2017, Milano tweeted out a screenshot she'd received from a friend, which read: "Suggested by a friend: 'If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.'"

Milano encouraged her followers to reply to her tweet with "me too" if this applied to them, and the next morning she woke to discover more than 55,000 replies from users who had turned the rallying cry into a top trending hashtag on the site.

When Tarana Burke woke up that same morning, she was devastated to see the hashtag going viral—a hashtag she created in 2006 as part of her survivor advocacy—without any credit to her.

"A year ago today I thought my world was falling apart," Burke wrote on Twitter Monday, looking back on that day. "I woke up to find out that the hashtag #MeToo had gone viral and I didn't see any of the work I laid out over the previous decade attached to it. I thought for sure I would be erased from a thing I worked so hard to build.

"I remember calling my friends frantic and trying to figure out what to do. I didn't know whether to go online and say, 'This already exists!' or to just let it go," Burke continued. "But then I realized letting it go wasn't an option in this moment."

At the time Milano sent out her tweet, there'd already been multiple investigations into Weinstein—starting with the original bombshell October 5th New York Times story—which led to similar reports detailing sexual misconduct allegations against Andy Signore, the senior vice president of content for Defy Media, and Roy Price, the former head of Amazon Studios.

But as #MeToo crystallized into a movement, sexual assault accusations against powerful men began to emerge at breakneck pace. The coming days and weeks brought news of allegations against other powerful men in media and entertainment, including Lockhart Steele, the editorial director of Vox Media, famous fashion photographer Terry Richardson, NBC News and MSNBC contributor Mark Halperin, actor Kevin Spacey, and Hamilton Fish, the president and publisher of The New Republic. Many of these men were either fired from their posts or resigned them, while others were banned from contributing to the news networks, websites, and brands that had buoyed their careers.

When Milano learned that the #MeToo hashtag traced back to Burke, she issued an apology and encouraged her followers to support Burke's work at Just Be Inc., the sexual assault survivor advocacy nonprofit she founded.

Burke said Monday that she doesn't believe white celebrities in Hollywood meant to steal her work and erase her from #MeToo—but she sees how that could've easily been the case if other women of color didn't add their voices to the movement.

"I was definitely in danger of being erased if YOU ALL Black women and our allies and friends, didn't speak up," Burke wrote on Twitter. "But something else happened too. I watched for hours that first day as more and more stories poured out across social media from survivors."

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A year later, the movement whose seeds Burke planted 12 years ago have blossomed into a full-blown reckoning with sexual abuse, powered by the voices of survivors willing to come forward and say "me too."

"The whole time I was fretting about saving my work," Burke said, "and I didn't realize that 'my work' was happening right in front of me."