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Lisa Kuneman, a member of the Women’s Action Team, speaks to reporters on March 8 before a #MeToo rally at Pliny Park in Brattleboro.

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‘Empowerment through empathy’

#MeToo march draws more than 50 on International Women’s Day

BRATTLEBORO—In the gray, snowy twilight of an early March afternoon in Pliny Park, the words on signs held up by Diana Whitney stated clearly why more than 50 people were gathered for the #MeToo Solidarity March — “Speak Your Truth” and “We Believe You.”

Those principles are at the heart of the movement signified by #MeToo, a Twitter hashtag created in 2006 by Tarana Burke to help victims of sexual assault to tell their stories.

It took more than a decade, and the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, for #MeToo to go from a little known act of solidarity to widespread recognition that men have been, and are still, using their power to abuse women.

Whitney said the rally, which was held on International Women’s Day on March 8 and put together by the Women’s Action Team, a local grassroots feminist group, was about what Burke called “empowerment through empathy, and letting other survivors know that they are not alone.”

That was the feeling that Lisa Kuneman, a member of the Women’s Action Team and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, said she had as #MeToo went mainstream.

“Experiencing this phenomenon of women’s voices being taken seriously or even listened to at all,” she said, “is new in my lifetime.”

An assortment of women told their experiences with sexual abuse and violence, but one speaker sought to make some deeper connections.

Kelly Junno, an elementary school teacher and member of the activist group Brattleboro Solidarity, said that many of thegains for women in the 20th century have been shown to be only temporary, as reproductive rights and anti-discrimination laws are now under siege.

“The feminist movement has some serious reflecting to do,” Junno said. “We need to stop putting our energies into small victories that only benefit the privileged few and can be rolled back by the next right-wing backlash. We need to do what the last three waves of mainstream feminism has failed to do, and that’s see the oppression of poor people, people of color, and Third World people as inextricably linked to our own oppression.”

To fight that, Junno called for a feminism movement that will “stand up to all state violence” — from militarism to overcrowded prisons to anti-immigration laws to the epidemic of gun violence — “which is only used to oppress and repress, and is funded to the detriment of health care, education, housing, and clean water.”

In short, she said, feminism needs to become “an anti-poverty, anti-colonial, and anti-racist movement” because “the movement for women’s liberation is a movement for human liberation.”

The rally concluded with the group marching, singing, and chanting their way south down Main Street to the Whetstone Pathway.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #450 (Wednesday, March 14, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.

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