As Movements Like #MeToo Grow, We Must Not Forget Their Grassroots Origins


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The recently circulating #IDidntReport that has emerged in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has caught the headlines recently and typifies the kind of individualised response of recent high profile feminist activism.

Not so long ago it appeared that feminism had become an antiquated form of self-definition for young women, but feminist campaigns, including  #IDidntReport, which are centred on sexual violence, misogyny, transgender rights and other global campaigns would appear to have buried this notion.

The idea that these movements suddenly erupted can, however, be misleading. Public protests are built upon the work of grassroots activists over long periods of time. The #MeToo movement is a clear example of this. It began as a grassroots campaign led by a Black woman Tarana Burke in 2006, an activist since her teenage years, and with extensive experience of organising. The campaign was aimed at young women of colour who were survivors of sexual violence, and who lived in communities where resources for trauma survivors were practically non-existent.

A decade later #MeToo became a global campaign and viral twitter hashtag, often ignoring this prior work. “It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow,” as Tarana Burke explained. “It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”

The danger of a celebrity-led Twitter campaign, despite its important naming and shaming of powerful media moguls, is that it occludes the important grassroots work that feminists elsewhere are doing while personalising and individualising the response to sexual assault. Instead it is important to reframe this moment as one of rupture in established patterns of the exercise of power and privilege.

This is a historical moment that a global, youth-based…

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