Working-class women, actresses unite in #MeToo solidarity

You would have thought it was an Oprah Winfrey for President rally the way the media covered it. Yet the real story, buried in the back pages of the entertainment section of the New York Times, is that in an extraordinary development, the Jan. 7 Golden Globes Awards ceremony was turned into a protest against sexual harassment and inequities based upon gender and race. Presenters and award recipients alike spoke out on these issues. Almost everyone present wore black in solidarity with the victims of sexual harassment, assault and predatory practices.

If you got that far, you would also think that the impetus for this highly visible act of solidarity came from Hollywood actors. In actuality, that millions of viewed what was in essence a subversion of the awards ceremony came originally as a result of an act of solidarity from women farmworkers towards the Hollywood women actors following the public revelation of massive sexual misconduct directed against women and others in the entertainment industry.

Thus it was no surprise the media coverage skimmed over or ignored the presence at the awards of  numerous activists representing women agricultural workers and domestic, restaurant and hotel workers, as well as feminist icon athlete Billy Jean King and Tanara Burke, who started the #MeToo movement a decade go. The activists were also there to support the initiative of the actors including a $13 million fund for working class women to fight sexual harassment. Each activist was invited to attend by an individual actress; they then took a stand together in red carpet interviews before the ceremony. The event was watched by 19 million people around the world.

Chain of events

Just a few months ago, well-known actresses and others in the entertainment industry spoke out against their sexual harassment by powerful producers and actors. They launched a movement whose  hashtag,  #MeToo, was created  by Tanara Burke a decade ago to  support to young Black women  victimized by sexual predators. Speaking out took courage and perseverance.

#MeToo spread like wildfire, bringing attention to an issue that is systemic — sexual predation upon men and women who are vulnerable because of a disparity in power. Most of the visible representatives of this struggle were famous or well placed.

Then, on Nov 11, the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, representing 700,000 women farmworkers, wrote a moving and powerful open letter showing solidarity and support (In solidarity, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas) to Hollywood actresses and actors. Female farmworkers are among the most victimized, and this issue resonated deeply with the women who put food on our tables. Eighty percent of 700,000 women who work in the fields and packing sheds across the U.S. have been subjected to some form of sexual harassment.

“Countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence because of the widespread sexual harassment and assault that they face at work. We don’t work under bright lights. We work in the shadows of society in isolated fields and packinghouses that are out of sight and out of mind for most people in this country … Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security … In these moments of despair, and as you cope with scrutiny and criticism because you have bravely chosen to speak out against the harrowing acts that were committed against you, please know that you’re not alone. We believe and stand with you.”

Hollywood women return the solidarity

On Jan. 1, more than 300 women who work in film, theatre and television answered with their own open letter of solidarity to campesinas and working class women, run as full-page ads in the New York Times and the Spanish-language newspaper El Observer. 

“At one of our most difficult and vulnerable moments, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas sent us a powerful and compassionate message of solidarity for which we are deeply grateful. To the members of Alianza and farmworker women across the country, we see you, we thank you, and we acknowledge the heavy weight of our common experience of being preyed on, harassed and exploited by those who abuse their power and threaten our physical and economic security…

“To every woman employed in agriculture who has had to fend off unwanted sexual advances from her boss, every housekeeper who has tried to escape an assaultive guest, every janitor trapped nightly in a building with a predatory supervisor, every waitress grabbed by a customer and expected to take it with a smile, every garment and factory worker forced to trade sexual acts for more shifts, every domestic workers or home health aide forcibly touched by a client, every immigrant woman silenced by the threat of her undocumented status being reported in retaliation for speaking up and women in every industry who are subjected to indignities and offensive behavior that they are expected to tolerate in order to make a living: We stand with you. We support you.

“We fervently urge the media covering the disclosures by people in Hollywood to spend equal time on the myriad experiences of individuals working is less glamorized and valorized trades …”

‘Time’s UP’ $13 million legal fund

These women and men have set up an initiative against harassment called “Time’s Up.” It includes a $13 million legal fund to “help survivors of sexual assault and harassment across all industries challenge those responsible for the harm against them and give voice to their experiences …”

Activists invited to Golden Globes

Signers of the Hollywood letter including Michelle Williams, Emma Watson, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Emma Stone and Amy Poehler, brought as their guests to the awards Golden Globes ceremony activists representing millions of working-class women. These guests included Tarana Burke, who started #MeToo; Marai Larasi, executive director of Imkaan (UK), a leading Black-feminist network organization with members in the UK; Rosa Clemente, a Bronx-based Puerto Rican community activist who spoke at the Peoples Congress of Resistance inaugural meeting in September 2017; Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, speaking to the needs of some 2 million domestic workers; Mónica Ramírez, co-founder and president of Alianza Nacional de Campesina; Calina Lawrence, an Indigenous activist from Washington state and a member of the Suquamish Tribe; Billie Jean King, tennis champion and feminist; and Saru Jayaraman, advocate for restaurant workers in the Bay Area and co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

‘Finding  solutions that leave no women behind’

Representing millions of working women, they made a joint statement before the event:

“As longtime organizers, activists and advocates for racial and gender justice, it gives us enormous pride to stand with the members of the TIMES UP campaign who have stood up and spoken out in this groundbreaking historical moment …

“Too much of the recent press attention has been focused on perpetrators and does not adequately address the systematic nature of violence including the importance of race, ethnicity and economic status in sexual violence and other forms of violence against women. Our goal in attending the Golden Globes is to shift the focus back to survivors and on systemic, lasting solutions …

“… We believe that people of all genders and ages should live free of violence against us. And, we believe that women of color, and women who have faced generations of exclusion — Indigenous, Black, Brown and Asian women, farmworkers and domestic workers, disabled women, undocumented and queer and trans women — should be at the center of our solutions. This moment in time calls for us to use the power of our collective voices to find solutions that leave no woman behind.”

Solidarity opens up the struggle

This solidarity is an important and powerful step. It recognizes that sexual harassment and predation affects all women, some men and LGBTQ people. It also recognizes that there are class differences among women, and workers, especially those in low-paying jobs, are the most vulnerable and need even more solidarity.

This is not a magic pill. Will the ruling class and its mouthpiece, the corporate media, try to do everything to disrupt it? Will it try to turn this movement around to their own advantage? Certainly. There are profits to be made in continuing sexual oppression.

Right now, the publicity generated by #MeToo, and even more, the powerful solidarity currently being expressed, have opened a door long closed, and bringing into the light the women and men humiliated, abused, harassed and violently assaulted in the workplace.

Let’s put our foot in the crack, and push the door open all the way open, exposing all the jobs that place workers in danger of sexual violence, that don’t pay enough to survive, where the hours are long and the benefits few. The need is for even more solidarity, and to build a struggle firmly planted in the working class. While workers are more vulnerable, they are also ultimately more powerful. Workers are the vast majority and we make everything of value in society. When workers are in motion, we have the power to change the world.

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