2017: The Year of the Survivor

January 1, 2018

2017 will be known as a movement-building, foundation-shaking year: it will be known as the year of the Survivor. The year began with an outpouring of millions of women marching for dignity. Over four million Americans took part in the Women’s March on Jan 21, making it the largest single-day protest in American history. Hundreds of thousands marched in solidarity and sister marches occurred on every continent. Marchers called for economic dignity, reproductive rights, anti-discrimination and worker’s rights. Millions of photographs, posts and Tweets were shared in solidarity with marchers and activists around the world.

 

        The Women’s March began a series of important conversations which would permeate 2017. What types of policies should we be working towards? How can the 2017 feminist movement be more inclusive? What can we do create more equitable world?

 

        Women of all ages turned to their communities and started to take action. Political organizations to help elect women to local, state and federal office celebrated record numbers of women seeking political office and participating in trainings across the country. Because of this national movement, women will be more equipped today than ever to organize and demand policy to combat sexual violence and harassment.

 

        On October 5, The New York Times released the first of many reports of alleged sexual harassment by the hands of film producer and titan Harvy Weinstein. Ten days later after the Weinstein news broke, American actress Alyssa Milano asked women to share their experiences of sexual harassment to relay the “magnitude of the problem.” Aligned with the movement Tarana Burke began over a decade ago, the world took note. Within a matter of weeks Twitter was lit up with 2.3 million #MeToo tweets from 85 countries and more than 24 million stories.

 

        From boardrooms to classrooms, college campuses to neighborhood streets, women and men from every socio-economic background, age, sexual orientation and racial identity shared their harrowing stories. #MeToo stirred a global movement and issued pink slips to many powerful men protected by their work environments, wealth and privilege. In the opinion of US Today, 2017 became the year in which “sexual harassment became a fireable offense.” But will that movement translate into policy?

 

        2017 was also marked as a year of taking action. Long-time survivor and advocate, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced vital legislation to change the culture of sexual harassment in Congress. Senator Gillibrand spoke of her own harassment when she was a young lawyer and as a Senator. Survivors are steadily gaining more champions in the halls of government and civic life. Senator Gillibrand is a prime example of why it is so important to lift up survivors, supporting them in occupying essential positions to enact change. 

 

        There were some setbacks in 2017 too, reminding us that justice is often delayed. Pop culture icon and singer Kesha was strong-armed into dropping a suit against her producer Dr. Luke after a tumultuous fight to silence her. She returned to the recording studio and released an album of powerful hits. Her album inspired people around the globe to make peace with their pasts. She embodied the struggle that many survivors experience; the pain of continuing to work and create beauty despite the abuse which surrounds them. Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case was deemed a mistrial after a hung jury, but the wheels have been set in motion. He will never recover a career and will be tarnished by allegations for the rest of his life.

 

        Amid these setbacks, TIME magazine crowed the Person of the Year, the Silence Breakers. The Silence Breakers are women and men who devoted themselves to abolish the culture of silence which has turned a blind eye to the suffering of survivors. While “Me Too” founder Burke, Milano and Taylor Swift graced the cover, one survivor remained anonymous and obscured by photo editing. For that anonymous survivor, we are reminded of the thousands suffer in silence. We still have much work head of us.

 

        #MeToo and the movement ignited in its wake is believed by many to be a“culture shift" and in 2018 we will face it head on. We can organize, mobilize and demand better for our communities. As a society we can boycott and blackout companies, institutions and individuals which stand in the way of justice. We can politically organize and electorally defeat and replace harassers (as witnessed in the 2017 Alabama Senate election). We can encourage more women and survivors to run for office and once elected, support their efforts to change policy. We can lobby and confront those in positions of power and require them to become vocal advocates. We can demand that our government provide the resources needed to confront sexual violence. We can take action against employers who ignore and perpetuate the culture of silence of sexual harassment and workplace violence. We have power and momentum on our side.

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