In early October former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for a culture shift. Holder referred to a foundation-shaking reformation in America: one which would confront the powers which protect sexual assault abusers. Holder further declared that sexual harassment was not unique to a single industry and implored men to become active participants in developing a society where women are safe in their workplaces and communities.
Two months later, the nation bears witness to the rumblings of reformation. These rumblings are also reverberating in the halls of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Politicians accused of sexual harassment and assault represent a variety of political parties, backgrounds, ages and experience in government and public service. Harassment at the high levels of government mirror the diversity and proliferation in which workplace harassment occurs. A growing number of staffers have joined female Senators in sharing their stories of harassment at the hands of some of the most powerful players in government.
Last week Minnesota Senator Al Franken offered an emotional apology on the Senate floor while announcing his resignation amid several harassment allegations. Democrats are split over his resignation. Many claim that a few bad “jokes” at the expense of women do not outweigh the benefits that the Senator has contributed to progressive causes. Others claim that he should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
America deserves policy-makers of the highest moral fiber. As a society we cannot make exceptions for the accused because of the good they have previously performed in their lives or careers. For workplace harassment survivors, these defenses are reminiscent of the claims they have experienced: “he contributes so much to the team, he’s too valuable to lose” or “he treats other members of our workplace well, let’s evaluate him based on that.” Justice can be fleeting for survivors who open themselves to vilification and publicity in an effort to improve their workplaces and society.
A societal shift is coming and we must confront and actively promote this shift to assist survivors on their path to justice. In order to attain authentic, substantial policy change in the realm of sexual assault reduction and workplace safety, our policy-makers must live the principles of virtuous policy. This is the least we can ask of them.
We can no longer shield elected representatives from critique because of the power they possess to do good deeds. The capacity to do good rest with the power of the office and the faith the public grant their representatives. We can no longer allow our politicians to remain silent on the subject of sexual harassment and workplace violence. All levels of government should reflect values we hope to instill in our children. How can we expect sexual assault policy to come from those who do not express these values genuinely in their public and private lives? The arena of policy making and public service must be occupied by those which hold their duty to defend and respect all people, sacred.
As a society, we possess a tremendous ability to demand better for communities and organize until we achieve it. Democratic National Committee Chairman, Tom Perez recently stated: “public service is a public trust. If you are a candidate for office or an elected official who has engaged in sexual misconduct you should step aside---whether you sit at the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate or the Oval Office.”
Our nation is filled with an abundance of courageous, tenacious and passionate people who are ready, willing and able to make our nation better. Rather than viewing the mounting allegations of harassment and the toppling of powerful people as a Shakespearian tragedy, we can view the coming days as an opportunity to fill these vacancies with well-qualified, ethical citizens waiting to do good.
Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said: “law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” We must ensure that our lawmakers live honorably, treating their staff, coworkers and constituents with respect. We must remember that we have to power to replace them, letting justice roll down like mighty waters for the sake of our future and the betterment of today.