The woman behind Me Too on scaling it up for 2O19
TARANA BURKE WASN’T taggedinactor Alyssa Milano’s original #MeToo tweet — the one that urged everyone who’d ever been sexually harassed or assaulted to respond ‘me too’ in order to ‘give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’. But when it went viral last October, with 12 million using the hashtag, Burke’s phone began blowing up. That’s because she’d spent the better part of the previous decade working on a campaign aimed at survivors of sexual violence called the Me Too Movement. Mere hours after Milano’s missive, Burke posted a clip of herself speaking in 2O14 about the movement. ‘I think I helped people understand that it was about empathy as well as visibility,’ she said. ‘It needed to be more than a hashtag.’
Today, it’s much more, thanks in large part to Burke’s tireless work. ‘Survivors deserve to be healed, but I also believe we have the answers,’ she explains. ‘People have been doing this work for decades, and, as successful as they’ve been, I want to expand their reach.’
1. I CAME FROM A VERY POLITICALLY CONSCIOUS FAMILY. My grandfather would drive us to Harlem to buy tapes of John Henrik Clarke and other black historians. He’d give me all these heavy books to read. Then the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement reached out to my school, and even at 14 I was like, ‘This is what I need. I don’t want to just read books about protest — I’m going to get into it.’
2. PEOPLE SAY ‘CONGRATUL ATIONS’, AND I WANT TO SAY, ‘FOR WHAT?’ Are you congratulating me because you’ve seen me on TV? Being famous wasn’t a bucket-list item for me — but the level of visibility I have now is good only in that it allows me to raise funds and amplify the work I’m doing.
3. I STARTED THE ME TOO MOVEMENT IN 2OO5, BUT I HAD THE IDEA BACK IN 1996, WHEN A CHILD AT SUMMER CAMP SHARED HER STORY WITH ME. I was only 22 at the time, I wasn’t a therapist or social worker, and I was scared of saying the wrong thing; I didn’t want to mess her up. So I panicked and didn’t say anything. As soon as she left, I realised that wasn’t right; you have to engage in some way when somebody you care about opens up to you. It would have been enough to at least tell her that it had happened to me, too.
4. I DREAMT FOR ME TOO TO BE A SIGNAL BETWEEN SURVIVORS… That you’d see someone with a [Me Too] bumper sticker or key chain and you’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s another survivor,’ and there’d be this silent support. I couldn’t imagine a time in which we would talk about sexual violence as openly as we do now. It opens up a whole world of possibilities.
FIVE THINGS you NEED to KNOW ABOUT TARANA BURKE
5. NOW I’M COMPLETELY FOCUSED ON SCALING IT UP. I want to create [a world] where survivors can go to craft their own healing journey. For a while, everybody and their mother was telling me, ‘You need to do a GoFundMe.’ But you don’t build a movement that way; that’s not sustainable longterm funding. We need to be something that will be around for years to come, something I can eventually turn over to some brilliant 28-year-old, and she won’t have the responsibility and burden of having to start raising money from scratch. Tarana Burke appears on the 2O18 ELLE List, produced in association with THE OUTNET.COM
SHE FOUNDED the ME TOO MOVEMENT 12 YEARS AGO, BUT the WORLD DIDN’T NOTICE until HOLLYWOOD STEPPED UP. ELLE REVEALS WHY THIS CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST is SCALING IT UP FOR 2O19
Jacket, £111, ROBERT RODRIGUEZ at THE OUTNET.COM. Jewellery, Tarana’s ownWords byPhotograph byLAUREN WATERMANDOUGAL MARTHURac