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#MeToo: Take 2? Cuomo fallout highlights movement's strength

Anita Hill was a pioneer in educating the nation about workplace sexual harassment. She presented calm and deliberate testimony against Clarence Thomas in 1991.

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#MeToo: Take 2? Cuomo fallout highlights movement's strength

She speaks the same calm tones 30 years later. She avoids dramatic declarations, especially those of victory, and sounds more like an academic than an activist.

Hill was sure enough after Gov. Andrew Cuomo made this announcement this week: "We've made significant progress." The conversation has changed. #MeToo was the catalyst.

Hill was joined by a number of leading figures connected with #MeToo in her feeling that the movement, launched in 2017 with revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, had reached a significant milestone this week, regardless of fits and starts along the way.

Hill stated that "when you have millions of people talking about their experiences...and understanding that they are not alone", it sent a message that the American public needed to stop denial about these issues. Hill spoke out after Hill, the governor, said Tuesday that he would resign in two weeks amid harassment claims.

This is because there are too many voices and too many stories to share together. That was #MeToo's role, I believe, to get us where we are today.

To attorney Debra Katz, who's represented women accusing powerful men of sexual misconduct for four decades -- including Christine Blasey Ford, accuser of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Charlotte Bennett, one of the earliest Cuomo accusers -- the resignation marks "a really important moment of reckoning" for a movement that has shifted in and out of the spotlight in the last year or two. Many were concerned that Bill Cosby's release from prison, after his technical conviction was reversed, would cause a chilling effect on the movement.

Katz stated that the Cuomo outcome would have been impossible without #MeToo. She remarked on the domino effect that one accuser came out, Lindsey Boylan first, and then Bennett, who were inspired by fellow accusers' courage and angered by their attempts to discredit them.

Katz stated, "What you had were women supporting each other, because in this #MeToo moment and possibly because of the (younger) age of these complainants... they were just no going to give him any pass."

Most crucial, said Katz and others, was what they called the exhaustive and thorough investigation into Cuomo's behavior conducted by New York Attorney General Letitia Jame s -- a huge contrast, they said, to that conducted into Kavanaugh's behavior by the FBI.

Hill stated that the transparency and breadth of the New York investigation into harassment allegations against 11 women was something she had never seen before.

She said, "It was an example, I believe, of how we can move forward" and addressed these issues in government, corporations, or the legal system. She was like Katz and decried Kavanaugh's investigation. Kavanaugh was confirmed despite Ford’s accusations. Thomas was also confirmed in spite of Hill's testimony.

Cuomo and his attorneys have attacked the report of the attorney general, claiming it ignored gaps in the evidence, left out facts that were in his favor, and accepted without proof unsupported allegations against Cuomo. Although he acknowledged some incidents with women, he said that he didn’t know he was making anybody uncomfortable. He also denied the most serious accusation against him -- that he groped a female aide -- as it was fabricated.

Tarana Burke, the activist who gave the #MeToo movement its name, noted that many had been disturbed by the fact that Cuomo, who presented himself as a strong ally of the #MeToo movement, is accused of engaging in harassing behavior at the very same time. She stressed the importance of focusing on the accusers and the courage they show in coming forward, which is a positive sign for the future.

Cuomo's actions were "the fact that he would do that lets me know that power can be just insidious," she stated. I don't know how much progress we're making there. However, we are making progress in another area where women are coming forward. That's a huge victory.

She said that she thinks it was a great thing to see the young people accused by Cuomo. Bennett is 25, for instance. "This movement must remain young and fresh. When people think about #MeToo they should think of 22-year old college students... (people who think bigger, brighter, braver and more boldly than me).

Burke believes it is dangerous to see each case as a win, or loss. Because satisfaction with one case can easily lead to disappointment with another, like when Cosby was released. She said that she wouldn't lie if she said she didn't feel intense satisfaction hearing from her mother over the phone that the governor was stepping aside.

She said, "I cursed, which is something I try to avoid in front of my mother, but I was still excited." "And my excitement about, can't you imagine how incredible that must have felt to these 11 women whose lives could have been destroyed? These women could have been silenced, blackballed, or worse. It's a great feeling for them to have some relief and accountability.

Hill, like Burke, has always maintained that no case should be used as a referendum against the movement.

However, she seems to be able to see one point: Five years ago the Cuomo case results would have been different. She said, "I don’t know if the public would have pushedback so strongly." "I don’t know if the party members would have called for a resignation."

Hill said that there is still much to be done, particularly in the area accountability. Hill also chairs the Hollywood Commission which works towards eliminating sexual harassment within the entertainment industry.

Hill noted that a recent commission survey found a strong belief in the industry that sexual harassers will not be held accountable.

She said that the Cuomo case was "just" one example. There are likely to be people who don't believe that someone in power will have to face up for workplace violations. We need to ask ourselves: "Is this an aberration or can this be the start of a trend if we do it correctly?"

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