Movement, Not Moment: Tarana J. Burke to Talk Me Too and Empathy


During his presidency, Barack Obama had one of his favorite historical quotes, which originated from Theodore Parker in the 19th century and made popular by Martin Luther King Jr., sewn into his rug in the Oval Office. The quote reads, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.”

“We’ve all heard this quote,” Tarana J. Burke said in her 2018 TED Talk. “But somebody has to bend it. The possibility that we create, in (the Me Too Movement) and others, is the weight leaning that arc in the right direction. Movements create possibility, and they are built on vision.”

The vision: To one day see a world free of sexual violence. Burke, longtime activist, advocate and founder of the Me Too Movement, discovered her passion for community organizing in the 1980s. She joined the youth development organization 21st Century in Selma, Alabama, where she met black girls who shared their experiences with sexual violence. She initiated Me Too in 2006, to provide resources and a community of advocates to survivors of sexual violence.

Burke, who also created Justbe Inc. in Selma — an organization dedicated “to the empowerment and wellness of black girls” that TED described as having effects that are “widespread” — will speak at 10:45 a.m. Friday, August 16, in the Amphitheater, as part of Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

 Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said he expects Burke to touch on the power of empathy, in addition to Me Too’s impact outside of the “viral moment” it became in 2017.   

“The Me Too Movement, founded by Tarana Burke, is undoubtedly global in its impact,” Ewalt said, “from court decisions and legislative reform in countries around the world, to the continued power of the hashtag #MeToo to raise the collective voice of women calling for justice and reform.”

Even though Burke started the hashtag #MeToo over a decade ago, it didn’t go viral until Alyssa Milano, American actress and activist, encouraged Twitter users who have experienced sexual assault to identify using “me too,” in an Oct. 15, 2017, tweet.

“A year ago today I thought my world was falling apart,” Burke wrote in an Oct. 15, 2018, tweet. “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.”

Burke’s work has attained global recognition — the morning after Milano posted her tweet, she received 55,000 user replies, leading #MeToo to become a top-trending hashtag, according to an October 2018 Vice article.

“So it’s about the millions and millions of people, who, one year ago, raised their hands to say, ‘Me Too,’ and their hands are still raised while the media that they consume erases them and politicians who they elected to represent them pivot away from solutions,” Burke said during her TED Talk.

Chautauqua has long been dedicated to exploring geopolitical issues in a global context, according to Ewalt. For its week on “Shifting Global Power,” he said the goal was to consider various definitions of geopolitical power surrounding many different societal issues.

“In this particular week, we wanted to look beyond our traditional definitions and discussions of geopolitical power and consider the larger forces and disruption at work, whether it be technology, climate change or a global movement to end sexual harassment and violence,” Ewalt said.

Tags : #MeToo movementmorning lectureMorning Lecture PreviewTarana J. Burke

The author Matthew Steinberg

Matthew Steinberg is a rising senior at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, studying communication arts, journalism, and Spanish. He will be copy editing for the Daily this summer, and in his free time enjoys spending way too much money at TJ Maxx, longboarding on roads that he shouldn’t and ranting about politics.