Ai-Jen Poo: Be Connected and Powerful Together

My guest on today’s podcast is Ai-Jen Poo. She’s an award winning organizer, social innovator, author, and a leading voice in the women’s movement. She’s the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, co-director of Caring Across Generations, cofounder of Supermajority and trustee of the Ford Foundation.

Ai-Jen is a nationally recognized expert on elder and family care, the future of work, gender equality, immigration, narrative change, and grassroots organizing.

She is the author of the celebrated book, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America.

The conversation that we had focused around a theme of integrating healing and action. Ai-Jen told us the story of recovering from her own experiences of both harassment and assault and what an important part of her healing journey it was to get into action. She also talked about how important it was to have a community of people who could hear her story and believe her story and get into action with her to help change the conditions that so many workers like herself still face on a daily basis.

She listed for us a number of different healing resources that are available out there, whether you are a domestic worker or you’re anybody who is the survivor of workplace discrimination, harassment, or assault. – to get in touch directly with an organizer who can help you if you’ve experienced harassment or discrimination as a domestic worker 

The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund 

We also talked about a number of the different legislative actions that she is undertaking with the various organizations that she leads and which you can get involved in, helping to change the law to improve the lives of workers everywhere.

National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights 

The Be Heard Act 

Universal Family Care

So I’d like to jump right in talking about why it is that this topic of Solving #MeToo is so close to your heart. I met you a couple of months ago, right here in Chicago. you were doing an event for Supermajority together with two of your co-founders, Cecile Richards and Alicia Garza.

And after the event, I walked over to say hello and tell you how much I enjoyed it, and when I mentioned that I was doing this podcast and that I would love the opportunity to interview you, you said “Absolutely. I can definitely make time in my very busy schedule for doing that.” What is it about this topic and in what ways does this topic really touch your heart and speak to the work that you are doing in the world?

Sure. well, there’s a few different ways that, I have been really deeply invested in the #MeToo movement.

And, one aspect of it is because I’ve spent the last 20 years working alongside domestic workers who work inside of our homes as nannies, house cleaners and home care workers. And are incredibly isolated in the work that they do. and this aspect of sexual violence and vulnerability to sexual violence and harassment has really not broken through in terms of how people understand the vulnerability of this workforce. And yet it is so pervasive and so much a part of the experience of this work on part of so many women across and age and ethnicity, and it has been such a widespread, it’s almost an epidemic in this workforce. –

and also such profound silence and shame around it that the fact that, you know, the #MeToo moment went viral a couple of years ago and offered an opening for people to talk about it. Mainly the workers themselves has been this hugely cathartic moment of release and connection and truth telling that is so long overdue for this workforce.

The other piece is that I look around, and I feel like women are at the heart of so much change in our world, both in terms of how our workplaces are changing, our families are changing, our culture is changing, and our economy is changing, and yet still this aspect of being able to live free from violence – and the threat of violence – is still so, so rare. You know, so many women feel like they live inside of a constant threat of violence still in 2020. Even when we have women who are, you know, candidates for president of the United States and, winning elected office and driving so much change and leading companies and leading local governments. And yet still violence against women and gender based or sexual violence overall is still such a profound part of the experience of life in this country. Just feels like if we don’t crack that nut, we’re never going to achieve the kind of equality and freedom that we deserve in this country.

And then finally myself as a survivor of violence and harassment, , throughout my life I think, this issue is really deeply personal to me. I understand what it feels like to feel all of the emotions around having survived a sexual harassment and assault. The isolation, the shame, the regret, the self blame and self doubt. , all of the emotions that people have been speaking about so publicly in the media for the last couple of years. that experience has a new voice and a new platform is a profoundly redemptive and hopeful for me.


So I think a, a great place to start is with your personal story. let’s go right into the, most tender heart of these issues for you, which is your own personal experience with violence and harassment. please share with us what has been your experience.

well, first as a worker, in the restaurant industry. I waited tables and worked as a bartender for many, many years, as a young woman, through college. And, the kind of daily harassment, and that was both racialized and gendered. the kind of relentless onslaught of sexual harassment from customers, from coworkers, from your employers and your managers. And, you know. Having your whole experience really be defined by that, is, you know, is definitely something that I experienced.

I wonder if you can describe how that shapes you, how that impacted you, because that storyline of just constant sexually inappropriate words is so common to almost all of the women who I interview. And yet there are still so many people in the world, mostly men, but including some women who don’t yet feel it. They don’t yet get it. And so I ask every woman who I talk to to offer your description of how it was impactful, how it was harmful, how it was limiting, how it was shaming to experience those words in the hopes that maybe YOUR way of telling it will get through to the people that need to understand in their heart how that behavior is damaging.

an example is, there was, and this is an example from a customer in the restaurant, who was a regular, I used to work the graveyard shift, so it was late at night, from 9:00 PM to 9:00 AM in a 24 hour restaurant. And, um, he would say things like, , I had a dream last night that I had a geisha and she looked just like you and go into really graphic detail about the sexual things that she was doing. and so it was definitely, you know, equally racialized, for me and is almost always for women of color. And just very demeaning. And you know, I told my manager about it cause this person is a regular, and would routinely kind of harass me and follow me around. and the manager did nothing and just laughed it off and just said I had to toughen up

a male manager.

Of course.

Occasionally I hear stories about female managers who couldn’t have cared less about the harassment, but so go. Go ahead. So you told your manager.

Yeah. And just the response was. There’s nothing, I mean, it was kind of a joke and that I needed to toughen up and it’s just part of the job , to accept that kind of treatment. , and so, you know, at the time I kind of just assumed that was the way it was going to be, and that was my job, my livelihood. So, I had just kind of put up with it and I just did my best to avoid that person.

And that’s part of then how it starts to define you, is you end up spending so much energy trying to avoid, the people who are harassing and abusing you, and a lot of emotional and psychic energy, that, that goes into that. That can be incredibly depleting and lead to depression and, an a sense of isolation and kind of living in a constant state of fear kind of dynamic is, is not emotionally healthy.

it’s like death by a thousand cuts where you have these acts of aggression that don’t rise to the level where people take you seriously, and are just kind of assumed or taken for granted as part of the culture of how things work, the norm. you end up internalizing those dynamics in a way that do injure you internally and emotionally. but it’s very hard to articulate.

Yeah, yeah, it sure is. It’s very difficult. And I have conversations, with men, all the time, and , many of them want to understand and they just don’t. And I can see the struggle that they have because one part of them is like, I don’t get this at all. I don’t understand why you didn’t just slap the guy or throw a drink on him or tell him to shut up. I don’t get why you took it and I don’t get why this is such a perpetual problem and I don’t get why you don’t just make it stop and they genuinely don’t, and many of them want to.

But it’s like, I almost watch it kind of like, kind of like spinning around in their heads and they’re like, can’t compute, can’t compute, can’t compute, can’t compute. So it just like finally spits out and says, this can’t be right. This isn’t, this can’t, there must be something wrong with you. You know?

Cause I can’t figure out how this experience could possibly exist. Therefore it must not. Somehow you must be making this up or there must be something broken with you, or there must be something you didn’t do. And that’s with the men who are, you know, on the lighter shade of gray, as far as being allies. Forget about the men who have no thought of women’s equality being a goal to strive for.

and just frankly, there are a lot of deeply held narratives in our culture about, Asian women and, or, you know, every group of women of color has a story that gets told and reinforced over and over again in our popular culture that, Mm. Helps to, reinforce the idea that it is our fault, right? That we are somehow, you know, here to be objects of sexual desires of men , you know, there’s a long history, the sexualization of Asian women and in film and television and has a lot to do with our history, our military history in Asia and our role in that part of the world. So there’s a lot there culturally, that is underneath and helps to reinforce a culture where men blame the victim or the survivor, for whatever violations she or he has to endure.

I have this hypothesis that a part of it, it’s a, it’s a deeply concealed unconscious, outgrowth of a much more visible and accepted pattern – there’s a story in our culture and our history – our shared American culture I mean – that, the only expectation of men is that they go out and earn a living and that they protect their families. They provide and they protect, and that that’s all that a man has to do. And the narrative says that’s really super hard and he can’t be expected to do anything else. And therefore it is woman’s job – mother. Wife, sister, in some cases, even daughter – it is a woman’s job to take care of everything else for a man’s life.

And it’s her responsibility. And so if a man doesn’t have a clean shirt in the morning, it’s not his fault, it’s her fault. If a man doesn’t have anything to eat at night, it’s not his fault, it’s her fault. And I wonder if this sexual narrative that you’re describing is an a subtle unconscious outgrowth of that.

That if a man has a sexual desire that’s inappropriate, it’s not his fault. It’s her fault. Right?

Right, of course.

If anything,goes wrong for a man. It’s a woman’s fault. It can’t possibly be his fault because nothing’s his fault. What do you think about that?

Yeah, I mean, I think the way I think about it is that our world is, defined by hierarchies of power and privilege that value some lives. and contributions over others. That values the lives and contributions of men over women, of white people over people of color. and those hierarchies are shaping all of our cultural narratives, our economy, our institutions . They have structural and cultural implications. And , they essentially determine the rules. And there are written and unwritten rules that say what is appropriate and what is inappropriate for men and what is appropriate and inappropriate for women.

and definitely, , in instances , Where there has been sexual violence, did something , to deserve it or to bring it on or , to create that context or put themselves in that position. I mean, In every story. where a survivor comes forward to report abuse almost always. as a part of the process of seeking accountability, her own actions will be on trial first, and really scrutinized first and most. And that to me is a reflection of power and privilege , and a world where the lives and contributions of men are valued more than women.

Yeah. And I absolutely want to dive into the question of power because it relates to so much of the work that you’re doing in so many different ways.

and before we go there, I want to return to your story. you were telling and I interrupted you to ask, ask you to, you know, kind of define and clarify and, and, You know, give emotional depth to what you were describing as the harassment you experienced as a server, as a, as a waiter. and please pick up your story from there.

Well, I was just going to share that I think that when the #MeToo moment exploded and went viral a little over two years ago, that one of the things that was so powerful and resonant to me personally was just that it was women from all communities and survivors of all walks of life, all industries that sexual violence and harassment was so pervasive.

there wasn’t a single industry or community that was not touched by it in profound, profound ways. And so whether it was my experience in the restaurant industry or my work as a tutor at a community college where my supervisor harassed me, or just even being a woman on the street. You know, coming home from my job at a restaurant where I was physically assaulted by two men coming home at night.

That it is such an everyday experience for so many of us, to be surrounded by the threat of violence and actual violence. And the fact that we were finally, finally having a moment of cultural reckoning, was really profound. And I hope that it penetrates into every industry. And I know for domestic workers the truth telling has only just begun. And it is so profound to bear witness to. These days in almost all the meetings that we have, a survivor comes forward and shares her story for the first time. And it is – yeah, the process of breaking that silence of me sharing with our membership and my staff that I was assaulted on the street, coming home from work one day and that I know what it feels like to be a survivor of violence – and for all of us to feel the spaciousness and the community to be able to speak that truth , is definitely, Profound and cathartic and also very challenging. That’s a hard thing to do to face that reality and the depth of the human cost of violence. .

I, I’d like to talk a little bit about the sexual assault that you experienced fro through the lens of your healing journey from that, because that’s a big focus of this podcast is inspiring and awakening authentic personal power in everybody, but especially people who have experienced trauma. have experienced assault.

again, because I think that these are all personal journeys, it’s worth hearing how each individual person walked that path. And what were the ingredients for you in recovering from and healing from and finding strength from that experience of being assaulted on the street one night by two men.

well, I would say that the healing process is always ongoing. It’s not like there was one day I woke up and I was like, Ooh, I’m healed. certainly it’s something that, survivors live with and becomes a part of who you are, , and it is possible to heal. . you know, for me, a big part of it was community, right? Having a circle of friends and women, and other survivors who, were there to support.

So you were able to tell about what happened to you immediately.


That’s such an important part. It’s such an important part to be able to have the courage to tell your story, but embedded within that is having the belief that the people around you will believe you and will support you.

Right? And will honor you, you know, and, and, and hold you through that experience. Whereas unfortunately, so many people who are assaulted have the opposite experience. They feel as though they have to hide what happened because they feel shame or because they feel that they will be shamed or they won’t be believed, or because the man that harmed them is , an important beloved person in the community and how dare she speak against, or he occasionally, as you. Pointed out and not occasionally, men and others are assaulted as well. It’s not just women, but you know, how dare we speak out against this important person, right? So.

Yeah. And imagine if you’re an undocumented immigrant, and in this anti-immigrant climate right now, you are going to try to seek — I mean, one of the things that you’re going to immediatelask yourself is whether going to seek services or any kind of help support, or reporting a crime, a sexual crime What kind of vulnerability to deportation, or family separation that will put you in, and the risks, that immigrant women in particular and women of color, of all walks of life face. On top of just the challenge of actually coming forward and telling your story. all of that gets compounded, in these different situations.

So you said the first part of your healing was the community and your ability to tell your story and the support that you received from your community. is there anything else you can share or say that is instructive or helpful about additional steps that facilitated your healing process?

Yeah, absolutely. And the most important thing is, it’s a really big part of why I do what I do as an activist and as an organizer, you know, Tarana Burke . who is our brilliant leader on this front. She often talks about the relationship between healing and action. And the #MeToo movement, which she founded, is really reinventing how we understand the relationship between the two things.

Most of us think about healing as something you do over here as an individual by yourself and action maybe as something that you do over there as part of a community or taking on a system or an institution or engaging in the world. And the two things are not the same or connected. And in reality, taking action and being a part of a movement of everyday people who share your values and your goals and your vision for a world free from violence and abuse and injustice. Right? That that in and of itself is part of healing.

So action is actually part of healing and healing is also action. And that we have to, to break down the silos that have really, segregated those two steps that need to happen and actually see them as part of a whole process for survivors.

So let’s talk about breaking down those silos. And as you referenced earlier, one of the big problems with domestic workers, but with all women, all victims, survivors of assault, is, the, the, the, the tendency to not speak out. and, and you referenced in for some people who are undocumented, part of that is the fear that if I do anything to like, you know, stick my head up, you know, I’ll, I could risk deportation.

but let’s, how do we break those down? How I, I know you’ve. Put a lot of thought into and you’ve, you’ve done a lot of organizing around breaking down those silos and what are some of the key components of it? What are some of the things that you are doing with the work that you’re doing that is breaking down silos that can offer, you know, hope and, and, like a, a branch to hold onto you to the people who are listening like, Oh yes, people are out there doing this work and it’s succeeding, we’re making it happen. And to what extent can others then learn from this blueprint that you’re laying down. Like this is how you encourage survivors who feel disempowered and alone and therefore unsafe to find courage, to find power, to find strength, to speak out.

How do we do that? How do we break down those silos? What are some of the steps?

Well, I think, to create safe spaces where survivors are supported, to share their stories or not. , and I think in our movement, what we’ve done is actually really try to create a space where people are safe and free to share or not. and to get support or to just be. And, be in the context of a movement that’s trying to move forward real solutions.

And so, you know, we are part of a coalition that’s supporting a new federal bill called the Be Heard Act, which will address the anti harassment and discrimination laws that a that protect survivors in the workplace.

And so right now our anti harassment laws at the federal level only cover workplaces with 15 employees or more. And there are so many women and men who work in workplaces, in small businesses or in environments with less than 15 employees. In fact, the entire domestic works industry, the entire care sector, is effectively excluded from any kind of anti harassment protections in the workplace at the federal level as a result.

And so the Be Heard Act would address that and make sure that every workplace, regardless of the number of employees, would be protected. I the title VII anti harassment protections.

And then there’s over 200 bills at the state, local and federal level that move forward on different aspects of support for survivors of violence, in the community and in the workplace. They strengthen laws at the state level, human rights laws that protect survivors, and many, many others. And those bills are systemic ways of addressing our failure to create an environment where people can expect to live in safety and dignity, live and work and safety.

And so I would say that, you know either through my organization or through the national women’s law center, or the me too movement or justice for women, there’s so many organizations that are working on these policies all over the country that survivors can get involved in and can play a key role in. Our movement is set up in a way that really puts survivors, their stories and their voices at the center. you never have to share your story, but if you want to share your story and help move these bills forward with your voice driving that story, that solution forward, there many, many platforms for you to do that. And, and our organization is one for care workers and domestic workers in particular.

So I love what you’re describing, for those listening who are survivors of assault and who are still kind of in the beginnings of their own healing journey and maybe haven’t yet told their story at all and don’t feel any community where they even could if, like you said, there’s a choice to tell and also a choice not to tell. Right. and, But to even, even if you choose not to tell story, to be around people –

To be

in community, exactly.

Yep. That’s so powerful. I personally have never been physically, sexually assaulted. I’ve twice in my life, been in pretty scary circumstances. but I was not physically at risk, in either one. And also I have been lucky enough to have access to a tremendous amount of healing resources in the – I’m 49 years old, the first one happened when I was 15, so what is that 34 years? – so I’ve had a tremendous amount of healing resources in those 34 years to, for me to heal those.

But I’m putting myself in the shoes of somebody who’s listening, who has maybe not found their way to those healing resources. And, so what would be the first step? You said that there’s all kinds of resources, but I like to be very specific and explicit. can you offer, here’s an organization and email a website, you know, here’s where you can go if you’re feeling tender and needing to make sure that this first outreach is a supportive one. Here’s how you can do it, and for sure for sure you’ll be embraced and given the support that you’re craving

if you are a domestic worker or a home care worker, you can reach out to us at the national domestic workers Alliance and the website is And if you email an organizer will actually be in touch with you. And if you’re a survivor, regardless of any what community or what industry you work in, you can reach out to the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke’s organization, and they have a new web platform that is meant to be a resource for survivors. And it’s just And if you need legal counsel, and can’t afford it, the Time’s Up Legal Defense fund is there and they’ve been providing legal support to survivors, especially low income women who can’t afford representation.

I love that. That’s awesome. because after all this podcast is solving me too, right? We’re looking for solutions and, having these resources available, that are, you know, first places to start for people who need that. I, I love that. That’s fantastic.

So let’s talk about about, power structures. And let’s talk about, how Unequal amounts of power results in unsafety for people. And let me have you start by describing that through your lens, and then we will talk about how, a couple of the organizations you’ve founded and are working together with and the initiatives that you’re undertaking are seeking to remedy the power imbalances that exist.

Yep. so in the domestic work context, if you think about the industry, it’s base, it’s. It’s in our homes, which is already very unique. You could go into any neighborhood or any apartment building and not know which homes are also workplaces. Right? It’s unmarked, almost defined by invisibility in that way, and oftentimes nobody really knows that you’re working there. It’s not like there’s an official registry or anything like that. There’s no signs, there’s no indication. And so oftentimes it’s just you and maybe your family and your employers, the household that you work for, who know that you work there.

And it’s generally just one person per workplace. There are some very, very wealthy families that have a staff, but most people just hire one nanny or one house cleaner and one home care worker or , home care worker who works in shifts. And that work is incredibly isolating. It’s like definitely no water cooler or HR department or even a coworker to go to, to ask for advice from or support from.

And so already you’re in an isolated situation, and oftentimes the people who are doing this work are immigrant women or women of color, women of some form of marginalized social status. And they are working in an industry where the workforce has been systematically excluded from basic labor rights that most of us take for granted when we go to work every day. We’ve had to fight for domestic workers to gain inclusion and minimum wage laws even, right? basic basic rights and protections, the right to form a union. these have all been that never been available to domestic workers in terms of protection. So there’s already a systemic exclusion.

And culturally it’s work that’s associated with work that women do, right? As mothers, and it’s oftentimes taken for granted that women will do this work. It’s assumed. And as a profession, it’s always been associated with women of color. Some of the first domestic workers were enslaved African women, right.

And so there’s all of these ways in which power has shaped and does shape reality, and you’ve got an incredible amount of isolation. And in that context, just a cultural story that a home is a man’s castle. And if you think about how long it took us as a culture to even acknowledge that domestic violence was a reality, imagine the leap then to understand that domestic workers – people who work inside the home – have rights and are real workers who should be treated with dignity and respect, as opposed to some just profoundly subordinate, person, who is in a servant-like position.

And so all of those layers of power and privilege are at work. so it’s, it’s. It’s a heightened state of vulnerability to abuse by people with more power, especially the men in the household.

And I’ll add one additional layer to everything you already described, is that domestic work doesn’t generate any revenue. And you alluded earlier to the, economic, factors in , the challenges that face domestic workers specifically, but across the board, right?

Well, it technically does generate trillions of dollars in revenue, but it’s all invisible under the ways that we understand value in our economy. In that if it weren’t for the work that domestic workers do every day, millions of working families could not go to work and do what they do. That’s why we call it the work that makes everything else possible. If all the domestic workers went on strike in New York city, there’s not a single industry that wouldn’t be profoundly shaken, ,

i see what you’re saying. So because I am able to hire a nanny I’m able to go out and work. Exactly. Because I’m able to hire a caregiver for my aging parent, I’m able to go out and work.


Because I have a housekeeper. I’m able to work longer hours because I don’t have to worry about doing all my own house car and all the other, I understand you’re saying

your productivity in the marketplace is directly a result of the value that gets created by domestic workers.

That makes a lot of sense. Yep. I get that. I get that.

You don’t, we don’t, I’m culturally, we don’t even recognize that. Right.

So, no, we don’t. And, and I think, I think part of the reason why it’s hard to see that is because it is the individual that is being helped by the domestic worker in their home. And in our economy as we know, the pace of worker’s compensation has not kept up with the pace of inflation. And workers increasingly are not being paid enough to even keep house and home together, much less live the, idealized middle-class lifestyle, say nothing of upper-class lifestyle. And so most workers feel as though they’re just barely making enough to get by. And so the idea of basically carving out a piece of their revenue to go to this person who is staying at home it like, it feels like I already don’t have enough. how am I now also supporting the person who’s at home giving me the opportunity to go and work at this shitty job?

to me it all goes back to the same hierarchy of power that values the lives and contributions of men over women. Because historically that work inside the home was assigned culturally to women. we were the default care infrastructure, that enabled everything else to happen. It was assumed that women would somehow stay home and take care of the family, or if they decided to work outside the home, they’d manage both. Right? That was, that was the assumption.

And we’re today in the 21st century, that is simply not a sustainable reality. We need a really strong workforce to take care of this huge and growing older population that we have in this country. Especially as the baby boomers age and people live longer and the millennials are starting to have babies at a rate of 4 million babies born per year. There is no way that we can take care of our families in this country without a major investment in our caregiving systems, including this workforce. But we are not at all culturally predisposed to that because of the way that we just haven’t valued this work. Because it’s work we’ve assumed women will do, right?

Yes. I agree with you 100% and also what you just said, we need to make an investment in the caregiving. Well, who has the lion’s share of the money that is available to invest in anything? It’s not individual workers, increasingly, right?

No, I agree. Individual workers don’t have the money solution.

Okay, so, so yes. Now let’s talk about what is the solution to this? What is it that you are advocating to rectify this solution that we have?

You know, politicians out there talking about different things, right? We have a, we have Andrew Yang talking about a, a universal basic income that every single American citizen should receive, over the age of 18 should receive $1,000. specifically, part of his reason for advocating for this plan is for this kind of thing, because then somebody who is staying at home and taking care of whoever it is or taking care of is at least being given $1,000 a month as, as acknowledgement from the federal government.

We have Elizabeth Warren, who’s plan includes a universal pre K so that now families aren’t having to figure out who’s going to provide for the, the, the nanny or the, you know, how are we going to care for the child right there. And there’s, there’s many more. I don’t want to go into all of the candidates, but please speak to this.

Our contention is that in the 21st century in this country, that none of those plans go far enough, and that what we need is what we call universal family care. Which is one social insurance fund that we all contribute to from the time we start our first job, that we can all benefit from. That helps us cover the cost of childcare, elder care, and paid family leave and if we have someone in our lives with a disability, also support for that person. and it’s basically everything we need to take care of our families across the lifespan while we’re working. And $1,000 a month, I just don’t think that that cuts it. You know?

I mean, talk about the reality that 70% of American workers earn less than $50,000 per year. And then we look at the fact that the average cost of a room in a nursing home is more than a hundred thousand dollars per year, and the average cost of childcare is at least $10,000 per year. The numbers just don’t add up. And so I think we need to be looking at a much bigger solution that these risks around the cost of care are too great for any family to bear alone. And the only way to do it is to pull it into a social insurance fund.

And we have a whole bunch of social insurance experts that have done a bunch of research that you can look at on our website, and they all agree that the best way to do it is for us to do it together. And that when we do it together, it’s actually really manageable. Whereas right now, the way we’re paying for it is so inefficient and expensive and unsustainable.

I want to tie this back around to the beginning of the conversation, which was how these various multifaceted mechanisms for disempowering workers creates opportunity to take advantage of workers.

And we’re talking about take financial advantage, but then also take sexual advantage, the harassment and the assault. And so, in addition to what you were just describing, I want to go back to the Be Heard Act and if I’m not mistaken, also the Domestic Workers Bill of rights cause that that’s still going forward as well, correct?


Both of these, if I’m not mistaken, have specific aspects to them , that protect workers from sexual harassment and assault and provide support for survivors. And can you talk a little bit more about that with both or either of those pieces of legislation, how they’re different, if that matters?


So just having universal family care doesn’t necessarily address the epidemic of sexual violence and harassment in our workplaces. , and what the be heard act does is ensure that Workplaces across the country and across all kinds of industries are protected by our Title VII anti harassment protections. and that there is capacity and resources to investigate claims of survivors.

and then what the national domestic workers bill of rights does is it offers a whole new framework for rights and protections for this workforce that faces, as I said earlier, really unique challenges to exercising those rights, as a really isolated workforce in a really unique workplace. and included in it is the kinds of protections that are in the be heard act, but also all kinds of resources and support for survivors, a sense of community, and services, that are available to survivors.

oftentimes people think about community and support in one bucket, and then they think about activism and movement building in another bucket. But all a movement is, is a community that tries to get as large as it can in the service of a vision or a common goal. And our movement to try to end sexual violence and harassment is a movement that is inclusive of everyone and is trying to turn that experience of violence into a community with real power to change laws and systems. Like with the Be Heard act and the domestic workers bill of rights, and the only way we’re able to do that is if our community grows.

And so just knowing that that experience is key to us achieving the solutions that we need, and that the link between your sense of community and our ability to win is actually pretty fundamental.

And so I want to wrap up by talking about super majority. that is a new organization, if I’m not mistaken, it was formed in 2019.


and my understanding is that it’s founded by yourself, Alicia Garza and Cecile Richards. Are there other founders in there in the mix of,

there are, there are just Miralis for kedo Dierdra shuffling Catherine Granger, a bunch of great organizers who basically saw all of this energy out in the country among women to do more, to get more involved, to be a part of the solution, right? To be solutionaries in this moment when our country is in crisis on so many levels. And that the challenge wasn’t that we had any lack of energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, or resources, but really that we had an organizing challenge. That we needed a way for us to come together and feel a part of the super majority that we are, right? When we’re the majority of everything, including voters, how come we still don’t feel powerful, right? How come we’re not in charge? how come we’re still dealing with inequality on so many levels, including violence? ? so super majority is an effort to create a new home for women’s activism that helps us feel connected and powerful, like the supermajority that we are, and we’re going to be mobilizing voters to get out to the polls and vote, in unprecedented numbers. Our hope is to train at least 2 million women to turn out millions more to vote in 2020. And over and over again, what we heard from women is that sexual violence and harassment is a huge motivating factor, is a huge indicator to them that we have not achieved equality, and we’re far from it. And the only way to address it is to organize and do it together.

So for the people listening, saying, hell yeah, I’m in, I want to get involved with super majority. talk about like, what does that mean? Are, do you do local meetings that people can show up at? Are there webinars that they tune into? Are there online trainings? what does that mean? What does that, you know, actually on the ground mean to be a member of super majority to join that coalition.

Great question. And it’s all of the above. if you go to super and sign up to become a member, there will be a survey – a membership form -for you to fill out and a way that we can then understand where you are and what kind of issues you’re interested in. And we’re gonna try to connect you to local resources and other women who are in your same boat, who you may or may not already be connected to. And then we’re going to be offering off a whole training and educational series that will support women to be their most powerful selves in the 2020 context and to turn out millions more to join our movement.

That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. Cause yeah. Women, we are the super majority. And, what I personally really, like about super majority is that it is diverse women. there are a bunch of other political action groups out there, many of which at this time are dominated by women. and, they generally – in my knowledge of them – are not terribly diverse. There’s some groups that attract the white women. There’s some groups that attract black women. There are some groups that attract immigrant women. And Sort of, we’re all on the same page. We’re all fighting for the same thing, but we’re doing it in silos. That word again and super majority, you all are, you know, you all who are organizing it are diverse. And so the group that you’re coalescing around you is diverse and there’s such terrific power in that. I think that’s very exciting.

Yeah, I mean, I know for sure. I’ve been organizing with women of color who work as domestic workers for more than 20 years, and they want to be a part of a movement that is multi-racial and as big and bold and powerful as can be. and I think we’re in a moment where that’s true for lots and lots of women. We just want to be connected and be powerful together. Hmm.

What a great note to end on. Be connected and powerful together. I love that. That is what we are all about.

Thank you so much Ai-jen I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.

I appreciate all of the work that you’re doing in the world, the inspiration that you are, the container that you’re holding for others to live into their greatest selves. it’s all just wonderful stuff.

Thank you. . Great conversation.

Great. Have a great rest of your day.

You too.

Kevin Quinn

Name: Kevin Quinn

Age: 41

Role: Former Aide to IL House Speaker, Mike Madigan

Accusations: Quinn was accused in a Federal lawsuit of inappropriate texting by a female campaign worker.

Consequences for his actions: Quinn was fired by Madigan on Feb 12, 2018. Quinn was additionally arrested for violating violating a protective order because of texts and calls to another person,

Quinn’s Response:

Lee Ann Tweeden

Lee Ann Tweeden

Name: Lee Ann Tweeden

Age: 44

Man she accused: Al Franken

Date of Accusation: Nov 16, 2017

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Tweeden says Franken forced an unwelcome kiss on her during their first rehearsal of a 2-week USO tour in Kuwait and Afghanistan in December, 2006.  She also published a photo of Franken’s hands hovering over her breasts while she appears to be sleeping.

She further describes petty and demeaning actions Franken took toward her after the first alleged incident. Actions she believes were some kind of payback or retaliation for having rebuked him.

Her Own Words: Tweeden published her story, “Senator Al Franken Kissed and Groped Me Without My Consent, And There’s Nothing Funny About It,” in this KABC blog post, on November 16, 2017.

Tweeden also gave many interviews telling her story. Click below to watch them.

Tweeden's Interviews +

Tweeden's press conference, live-broadcast on Fox News, Nov 16, 2017

Tweeden on "The Lead with Jake Tapper," Nov 16, 2017

Tweeden on The View, Nov 17, 2017

Credibility of accusations:

Many have questioned Tweeden’s story because:

1. She was formerly a model, including in Playboy.

This is an invalid reason to question her. Every woman has a right to say no, in every moment. It doesn’t matter if she’s drunk or scantily clad or works as a hooker. No means no.

2. A rumor about the photographer circulated online that the person who took the picture of Franken playing with Tweeden's breasts had surfaced and admitted that the photo was staged, and that Tweeden was in on the gag.

This has been proven false. Read more about it on Snopes.

3. A photograph of a kiss between Tweeden and Franken surfaced shortly after Tweeden published her allegation. In the picture, you can see Tweeden's arms wrapped tightly around Franken's neck.

So how can it be true that he forced himself on her?

(Spoiler alert: it can't. Which is extremely disheartening for those of us whose rallying cry is, "Believe the women!")

More about the kiss allegation +
Tweeden's explanation is that the photograph is of the live performance; whereas the forced kiss happened backstage an hour earlier.

But that explanation doesn't hold water either. In her allegation, she not only describes the forced kiss she says happened, she also describes the actual kiss that she says took place shortly after the alleged forced kiss during rehearsal. She writes, "I performed the skit as written, carefully turning my head so he couldn’t kiss me on the lips." But n the photo above, she is most certainly not "carefully turning her head."

Unfortunately for those of us who insist we must "Believe the women!", the photograph of Franken and Tweeden engaged in a big old lip lock just doesn't line up with Tweeden's account of what happened.

3. A video also surfaced, which showed Tweeden playing grab-ass with the guitarist on the same USO trip.

So if she had just done it to the guitarist - why couldn't Franken do it to her??

Here's why not. (and watch the video) +

This is where this question of CONSENT comes into play. 

It is in fact completely plausible that Tweeden was happy to play grab-ass with the guitarist, but felt revulsion at the idea of Franken playing bobby-grab with her. 

The lesson to be learned here gentlemen is that just because a woman is willing to do something with some other guy, doesn't mean she's willing to do it with you. So for you to do something to her, even if she just did the exact same thing to someone who's not-you, is only setting you up for a potential harassment allegation. 

4. Evidence of a smear campaign. It emerged that prior to the publication of Tweeden's allegation, Republican dirty-tricks operative Rodger Stone had orchestrated a massive and coordinated online campaign to promote Tweeden's story and thus destroy Franken, a powerful Democratic Senator.

This raised the questions, How did Stone know about Tweeden's allegations before she made them public?

{Need to fill in the details about how Stone knew. }

5. A juicy book deal. It was alleged that Tweeden had just signed with Sinclair Broadcast Group, as a reward for having gone along with the smear campaign.

This has been proven false by some seriously hard-core investigative journalism by Maracat. Daily Kos published this article, The Making of  Rumor: Does Tweeden Have a Book Deal? on Nov 22, 2017, which explains how the rumor got started.

We should still believe Lee Ann


Why she's telling her story now:

Tweeden says that at the time of the incident, she was fearful of career repercussions if she said anything. Fears she says her now-husband agreed with at the time. But now a decade later, she says she feels on much more solid footing, professionally.

She also wrote, in her original allegation, that she had been inspired by the interview she conducted with Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Ca) a few weeks earlier. In that interview, Speier told her story of having been sexually assaulted by a Congressman when she was a young aide.

The incident sounded to Tweeden like exactly what Franken had done to her. She decided that now was her time to finally tell her story. Both for herself, and for other women:

“Maybe I have a platform to speak out, because if he did this to somebody else or if anybody else has stayed silent or anybody else has been the victim of any kind of abuse, maybe they can speak out and feel like they can come forward in real time and not wait a decade or longer,” Tweeden said in an interview with Good Morning America.

Franken's Response:

Franken made a public statement, and also wrote Tweeden a letter (which she read on the air of The View), saying that while he apologizes for the fact that his actions left her feeling violated, he "remembers that rehearsal differently."

Tweeden's Interviews

Tweeden's multiple interviews on the subject are compelling and credible. Not only the way she describes the allegations; but also the way she talks about small ways that Franken demeaned her throughout the trip. She also riffs on the negative repercussions she fears she might encounter in her career, if she brought her allegations to the USO or the trip's sponsor.




Cristina Garcia

Name: Cristina Garcia

Age: 40

Role: Assemblywoman, California State Legislature; chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus

Accusations: Garcia is accused of making drunken passes at 2 male subordinates, and grabbing the crotch of one

Consequences for her actions: Garcia announced on Feb 9, 2018 that she would be taking unpaid leave from her position in the Assembly

Garcia’s Response: Garcia initially said she had “zero recollection” of the alleged incidents. The following day, Friday Feb 9, 2018, she said she was now certain she had never done the things she was accused of. Read her full statement here.

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Cristina Garcia, a Democratic assemblywoman in California’s 58th District, has been an outspoken leader of the #MeToo movement – even appearing in Time Magazine’s Person of the Year story for 2017, The Silence Breakers. She has said that she has frequently experienced sexual harassment in her career. So it’s especially interesting that she is now accused of sexual harassment herself.

As first reported in Politico on Feb 8, 2018 by Carla Marinucci, Garcia has been accused by two young male staffers – one anonymously and one on the record – of having made unwelcome sexual advances toward them.

The formal report to the California Assembly about the allegations was made by Assembly member Ian Calderon (D-Whittier). In an interesting twist, Calderon is the nephew of Tom Calderon, a former Assemblyman and the Democrat who Garcia defeated in the 2012 primary, before Garcia went on to win the seat. According to the Los Angeles Times, the two Calderons are not on speaking terms.

Garcia announced on Feb 10, 2018 that she would take an unpaid leave from the Assembly, beginning immediately, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Editor’s Note: While there has not yet [Feb 11, 2018] been published any journalism that questions the credibility of Garcia’s accusers, The #MeToo Exchange finds some of Daniel Fierro’s statements cast doubt on the credibility of his allegations. Read more on the Accusers tab.

Garcia’s Twitter feed is where she’s most active

Here is Garcia’s Facebook page.

Daniel Fierro

Fierro, who was 25 at the time of the alleged incident, says Garcia came up to him at the end of the annual Assembly softball game while he was cleaning up the dugout. He says she was drunk and got handsy – stroking his back, squeezing his butt and even trying to grab his crotch before he managed to extricate himself from the situation.

#MeToo movement lawmaker investigated for sexual misconduct allegations,
by Carla Marinucci
Feb 8, 2018

But is Fierro telling the truth?

That’s a fair question to ask of any accuser. One thing that adds instant credibility is contemporaneous corroboration – did he or she tell anyone at the time about the incident?

In Fierro’s case, he passes this test, at least on the surface: according to Politico, Fierro told two Assembly staffers who were colleagues of his at the time about the incident. One of them, Lerna Shirinian, is quoted as saying, “I remember it very clearly, he told me as soon as it happened.”

But then, Politico goes on to say, that Shirinian “[noted] the admission was in confidence and she had to respect her friend’s decision not to report it.”

Huh? That’s a bit odd. We here at The #MeToo Exchange have read a lot of these stories, and we’ve never read about a corroborator offering a built-in reason why they didn’t say something before. That sounds to us like what someone would say if they were making up a story, and just weren’t very good at making it sound real.

Another thing about Fierro’s allegation strikes us as odd, just because in all the stories we’ve read, we’ve never heard another accuser say it. And that is that he told Politico he “would not be surprised if Garcia does not even remember the groping incident, [because] she was so intoxicated.” Really? You felt the need to mention that she probably wouldn’t remember it? That’s a pretty good way of preempting an “I have no recollection” rebuttal. But even as good of a strategic move as it is, you just don’t read other accusers saying it. Which makes us wonder – just wonder – if perhaps this story isn’t more strategic calculation than truth.

And finally, Fierro’s accusation as reported in Politico includes this tidbit: “Fierro said he felt the same doubts that women have expressed in similar situations. “I thought, ‘What did I do?’” to bring on the sexual aggression.” “

And while it may be true – if the allegations are true – that Fierro felt self-doubt as a response … isn’t that a weird way to say it? He’s not saying, as women accusers typically do, “I blamed myself for what happened, wondering what I did wrong.” Rather, he’s saying, “My story is just as worthy of attention as any woman’s story, because I felt the same things.” And that just strikes us as an odd thing to say.

Bottom line, we are eagerly awaiting additional journalism on this allegation, as the investigation is reported to be moving along at a brisk pace.

Anonymous Accuser #1

A lobbyist from Sacramento says that Garcia had repeatedly asked him out on dates, which he had declined. Then one night at a fundraiser in May 2017, Garcia got drunk and approached him as he was leaving, saying she had set a goal for herself to fuck him. She also at that point she tried to grab his crotch.

She looked at me for a second and said, “I’ve set a goal for myself to fuck you.”

#MeToo movement lawmaker investigated for sexual misconduct allegations
by Carla Marinucci
Feb 8, 2018

Scroll back up to the tabs to read more

Sen. Connie Leyva called for Garcia to step down, saying, “As a vocal ally of the #MeToo and #WeSaidEnough movements, I am shocked and disturbed at the very troubling allegations related to California Legislative Women’s Caucus Chair Cristina Garcia,” she wrote. “… Anyone proven to have sexually harassed or assaulted another person, regardless of their gender, should be held accountable for their actions.  I commit to continue fighting to rid the Capitol and our state of the pervasive culture of sexual harassment, assault, and overall disrespect.”

California Assemblywoman and #MeToo Champion accused of groping, Mercury News by Katy Murphy, Feb 8, 2018

Garcia made an initial statement on Thursday Feb 8, 2018 saying she had “zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior.”

She updated her statement on Friday to say “Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of.  However, as I’ve said before, any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability.”

Read her statement here.

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Tim Murphy

Name: Tim Murphy


Role: U.S. Congressman (R-Pa) & staunch antiabortion lawmaker

Accusations: Pressured his mistress to have an abortion. Repeat: the guy who’s always been a staunch antiabortion lawmaker, pressured his mistress to have an abortion.

Consequences for his actions: Resigned his seat in December, 2017

Murphy’s Response:


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Donald Trump

Name: Donald Trump

Age: 72

Role: President of the United States

Accusations: As many as 20 women have accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault, including 4 contestants of the Miss Teen USA pageant who said Trump walked in on them naked in a women’s dressing room while they were young teenagers, and stayed there to ogle them.

Consequences for his actions: Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States on November 8, 2016. Despite having lost the popular vote by some 3 million votes, he secured an electoral college victory. Trump is being sued for defamation by some of the women he has accused of having made false allegations about him.

Trump’s Response: Complete denial of all the accusations. Trump has also threatened to sue the women who have made the allegations. None of those threatened lawsuits have yet been filed.


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Roy Moore

Name: Roy Moore


Role: Judge twice removed from the Bench by the Alabama Supreme Court, for violating the Constitution of the United States. Ran unsuccessfully for Senate in Alabama in the 2017 special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat when he was appointed Attorney General.

Accusations: 9 women accuse Moore of inappropriate sexual behavior, including coming onto them when they were teenagers and he was a man in his late 20’s and early 30’s.

Consequences for his actions:

Moore’s Response:


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Al Franken

Name: Al Franken


Role: Former U.S. Senator (D-MN)

Accusations: Franken has been accused of “butt-groping” and other unwanted touching by a total of 8 female constituents and colleagues.

Consequences for his actions: Franken’s Democratic colleagues called for his resignation on Dec 6, 2017, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and including Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Franken announced his resignation on Dec 7, to take effect before the end of the year.

Franken’s Response: Franken’s responses have been numerous. Immediately after the first allegation came out (leveled by Lee Ann Tweeden), he posted a response to Facebook that got a lot of blowback, so he posted a revised statement a few hours later. Franken then issued statements in response to each of the subsequent accusations that came out over the course of the next 2 weeks. And finally, on the day he announced his resignation from the Senate, he made a speech on the Senate floor that was effectively a summary statement regarding the allegations against him.

Franken’s Accusers

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Summary of Events

Franken was first accused on Nov 16, 2017 by radio show host Lee Ann Tweeden of “groping and forcibly kissing” her while they were on a USO tour together in the Middle East in 2004.

A second accuser came forward a couple days later, saying Franken had “groped her butt” in a photo opp at a Minnesota State Fair when he was first running for Senate.

This was followed by a number of other accusers, both named and anonymous, who alleged Senator Franken had committed similar acts of inappropriate touching in the years prior to being elected to the Senate. All in all, his total accusers came to 9.

Franken issued a statement in response to each new allegation that all basically took the position that he was sorry for ways that his behavior had made women uncomfortable, but that he largely remembered the events differently than they were being reported.

Calls for Franken to Resign

While he resisted calls for his resignation for weeks, he finally gave a speech on Dec 7, 2017 on the floor of the Senate, saying he would be resigning. This was in response to a chorus of his Democratic colleagues, led by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who all came out en masse on Dec 6, calling for his resignation.

Franken’s forced resignation added a huge log to the already raging fire of controversy over sexual harassment allegations of elected officials in this country.

Republican vs. Democratic responses to Sexual Harassment Allegations

As Franken noted in his resignation speech, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, a Republican, has been credibly accused of sexually harassing and assaulting as many as 20 women; and a man running for Senator of Alabama Roy Moore (who was later defeated in that race by Democrat Doug Jones) had been accused of assault and inappropriate conduct with 9 women, some of whom were young teenagers when the 30-year-old Moore came onto them.

Both of these men vehemently denied all accusations against them, and their party and most fellow Republicans were standing staunchly by their side.

Other lawmakers were grappling with accusations of misconduct at the same time:

  • Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa) had resigned in October, after it became known that the staunch anti-abortion conservative, also a married father of one, had been pressuring his girlfriend to have an abortion.
  • Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich) announced on Dec 5 that he would be resigning, more than a week after a female colleague accused him of years of sexually harassing her
  • Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz) announced on Dec 7 that he would be resigning, several days after 2 staffers had accused him of repeatedly asking them to serve as surrogates for his wife
  • Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev) announced on Dec 15 he would not seek re-election, after accusations of sexual misconduct with female colleagues had been published on Dec 1
  • Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tx) was caught up in a sex scandal that broke on Nov 22, causing him to announce on Nov 30 that he would not seek re-election in 2018.
  • Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tx) had settled a sexual harassment claim from a staffer back in 2014, but on Dec 1 it was revealed that he had used taxpayer money to pay her off
  • Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa) is the only lawmaker whose sexual harassment troubles came to light after Franken had announced his resignation, in January 2018.

Yet here was Senator Al Franken – a staunch progressive ally of women, and a powerful force to be reckoned with in the Senate – being forced to resign his seat, just because he had touched a few butts more than a decade ago?

How did this happen? 

Political Gamesmanship

It’s been suggested that Democrats in the Senate were gearing up to make the case that Roy Moore was unfit to be a Senator; and that if he won the Alabama Senate race (as he was favored to do) they planned to try and unseat him, as a way of shrinking the Republican majority in that body.

In preparation for that move, Democratic lawmakers were eager to present themselves as holding the moral high ground on this issue. If they were going to insist that Moore was unfit to hold office on grounds that he was a sexual predator, then they’d be hypocrites if they didn’t demand that Franken (along with Rep. John Conyers, the other Democratic lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct) step down as well.

Never mind the fact that of the 10 national political figures accused of sexual harassment and assault in 2017, 7 were Republicans; and only 2 (Trent Franks and Tim Murphy) immediately resigned their seats.

It should be noted that Al Franken was widely rumored to be considering a Presidential bid in 2020. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Senator who led the call for Franken to resign, is also said to be considering a Presidential bid. This has led many to speculate that Gillibrand’s call for Franken’s resignation was heavily tainted by self-interest.

Lessons Learned

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), in her speech calling for Franken’s resignation, said, “when we have to start talking about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation.”


Especially when it comes to appropriate consequences, that is the most important conversation to be having.

  • There is a difference between putting your hand on a woman’s butt in a photograph and asking a female subordinate to stroke your penis.
  • There is a difference between doing sexually inappropriate things a decade ago, before you were elected to office, and doing them a month ago while sitting in your Congressional office in D.C.
  • There is a difference between insisting that all your accusers are liars and shame-facedly taking responsibility for your bad behavior, while apologizing to them over and over again.
  • There is a difference between being a staunch progressive ally for women’s rights and being a misogynistic 1950’s throwback who wants to treat women as second class citizens with less earning power than men.

Scroll back up to the tabs to read more

Tweeden’s Twitter image

Lee Ann Tweeden

For more detailed information about Lee Ann Tweeden’s accusations and their credibility, click here

Franken’s first accuser was radio host and former model, Lee Ann Tweeden. She published her story, “Senator Al Franken Kissed and Groped Me Without My Consent, And There’s Nothing Funny About It,” in this KABC blog post, on November 16, 2017.

Accusation: Tweeden’s accusation against Franken is that during rehearsal for their first show in Kuwait at the very start of their 2-week USO trip together in 2006, Franken forced an unwelcome kiss on her. Tweeden also published a photograph of Franken’s hands hovering over her breasts, while she appeared to be asleep.

Many have questioned the veracity of Tweeden’s allegations, as well as her motivations for lying about a strong Democratic Senator. Those stem from the fact that Republican operative and Trump ally Rodger Stone tweeted that Franken was about to be accused of “grabby” behavior, hours before Tweeden published her accusations.

It should be noted that a whole slew of people attacked Lee Ann Tweeden’s credibility on the grounds that she used to make a living wearing next to no clothing. But that is a completely inappropriate attack on her. ALL women – no matter how much clothing they might or might not wear, or the sexual behavior they might willingly engage in from time to time – have the right to say NO to any sexual behavior that is not welcome.

Lindsay Menz

The country had spent the weekend whipping itself into a froth over Tweeden’s allegations against Franken, with many people on the left concluding that Franken was innocent and that Tweeden was a liar (using the argumetns I outlined above), while many on the right insisted that liberals were just defending one of their own in a grotesque display of hypocrisy.

Then on Monday we got the bombshell: a second Franken accuser!!

Accusation: Menz said Franken groped her bottom during a photo opp at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, in an interview with MJ Lee on 11/20/17 for her story, Woman Says Franken Inappropriately Touched Her in 2010, in CNN Politics.

Then on Nov 22, 2017, just 2 days after the Menz accusation, the Huffington Post published an article by Jenavieve Hatch and Zachary Roth, reporting that 2 more women had accused Franken of inappropriate sexual behavior – but these 2 were anonymous.

Anonymous Accuser #1

Accusation: During a photo opp on June 25, 2007, at an event in Minneapolis hosted by the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus, Franken grabbed her butt.

Role: constituent

Response: “I’m someone who, you know, hugs people,” Franken told Minnesota Public Radio. “I’ve learned from these stories that in some of these encounters I have crossed the line for some women.”

Anonymous Accuser #2

Accusation: Franken cupped her butt during a Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis in 2008, and then suggested they visit a bathroom together.

Response: “I can categorically say that I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom,” Franken told Huffington Post.

Franken responded to these 3rd and 4th allegations on November 26 by giving a series of interviews (see the Response tab, above) in which he repeated his apologies, but affirmed his desire for an ethics investigation, implying he felt that he would be found more or less innocent after such an investigation. He also stated unwaveringly that he intended to hold onto his Senate seat.

Ten days had passed and the dust seemed to be settling when news broke of two more accusers, one named and one anonymous. Their accusations were similar to the previous ones – an unwelcome kiss and a photo opp in which the Senator got handsy.

Stephanie Kemplin

Accusation: During a photo opp in Kuwait in 2003, Franken groped her breast from the side.

Role: Military Police Officer serving in Kuwait when Franken came to visit with the USO in 2003

Reported by CNN on Nov 30, 2017

Anonymous Accuser #3

Accusation: Franken gave her an unwelcome, “wet, open-mouthed kiss” during an event. In their reporting, Jezebel confirms that the woman told more than one person about the incident at the time.

Role: She was an elected official who appeared on a guest of Franken’s radio show when they taped in her community in 2006.

Response: Franken made no specific response to this allegation.

Reported in Jezebel on Nov 30, 2017 

Then a week later two more accusations became public. And even though these were the least credible or serious of the bunch (one accusation was that he squeezed a woman’s waist, and another was that he tried to kiss her insisting it was his right as an entertainer) they were clearly the straws that broke the camel’s back. That same day is when Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for Franken to step down, followed in rapid succession by a majority of Senate Democrats (see more on the Consequences tab, above)

Tina Dupuy

Accusation: “He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice.” Dupuy writes in The Atlantic, “I believe Franken’s accusers because he groped me too,” by Tina Dupuy, Dec 6, 2017.

Relationship: a budding journalist working for Media Matters, whose inauguration party (Obama’s 1st) Franken attended

I believe lot of people didn’t even bother to learn the details about this accusation. It was just another accusation, and that’s all people really cared about. Including even those who had been supporting him up until that point.

Which is unfortunate, because the accusation is that he squeezed her waist?!?! In what world is that sexual harassment? She leveled it for one reason and one reason only: so that she would get more people to read the story she wanted to tell about this moment in sexual harassment history.

She all but admits it in the final paragraph, when she says that a cryptic tweet she sent – one in which she did NOT accuse a Senator of groping her – only got one retweet. And this “story” of hers presented her with a chance to get thousands more eyeballs than anything else she’s ever written. 

Because she’s not just a fan, or someone looking for a financial settlement. Rather, she’s just a journalist who’s tired of writing interesting pieces that no one ever reads, and she saw her moment in the spotlight.

Further evidence for this is that her “story” is only tangentially about her own experience with Franken. Mostly it’s her journalistic perspective on everything that got us to this #metoo moment. It’s a decent piece, I don’t blame her for wanting more people to read it. But throwing a good Senator under the bus in pursuit of her own 15 minutes of fame? No bueno. 

Anonymous Accuser #4

Accusation: Franken tried to kiss her at the end of the taping of his radio show one day. She claims he said, “It’s my right as an entertainer.”

Role: former Democratic congressional aide

Response: “This allegation is categorically not true and the idea that I would claim this as my right as an entertainer is preposterous. I look forward to fully cooperating with the ongoing ethics committee investigation,” he told Politico.

Reported in Politico , by Heather Caygle, Dec 6, 2017

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On Dec. 6, 2017 a wave of Democratic elected officials, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for Franken to resign. Here is the full list, with their individual calls for his resignation, as published by Politico.

“I think when we have to start talking about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation. You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is okay.”

Franken gave an 11-minute speech on the floor of the Senate on Thursday morning, December 7, 2017 in which he announced he would be resigning within the month.

Read the full transcript, with annotations, on the Washington Post, by Amber Phillips. Or watch the video below.

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Franken’s initial response to Tweeden’s allegations was brief, possibly written by a staffer: “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

Al Franken’s 2nd official statement in response to the Lee Ann Tweeden accusations, after his first apology earlier in the day had been very poorly received.

After 3 more accusers came forward, Franken sort of went into hiding, and wasn’t seen publicly for a couple weeks. Then on November 26 he decided to tell the world he wasn’t resigning in a couple of interviews in Minnesota – one with WCCO’s Esme Murphy and another with MPR’s Cathy Wurzer.

Franken talks to MPR’s Cathy Wurzer on Nov 26, 2017

Two more accusers came forward on November 26, that Franken didn’t really respond to.

When news broke on Dec 6 that there were two more accusers, that’s when Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for him to step down, followed quickly that same day by a majority of Democratic Senators. That led to Franken’s resignation speech on Dec. 7.

See both Gillibrand’s and Franken’s speeches on the Consequences tab, above.

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Panel Discussion on Bill Maher with Chelsea Handler, Max Brooks, Carl Bernstein, Rebecca Traister

I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign, by Kate Harding in the Washington Post, Nov 17, 2017.

SNL Women Offer Solidarity in Support of Franken – statement signed by 36 past and current female employees of SNL

Female former staffers come to his defense, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Nov 19, 2017.

“Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.”

Signing the statement were Katherine Blauvelt, Lianne Endo, Alexandra Fetissoff, Rachel Friedlander-Holm, Jessi Held, Anna Henderson, Lisbeth Kaufman, Natalie Volin Lehr, Jamie Drogin Lehman, Rachel Pike Norton, Karen Saxe, Charlotte Slaiman, Bethany Snyder, Ashley White.

136 female community leaders including current and former elected officials, non-profit board members, community leaders, and members of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party released the following statement in support of Franken on November 26, after his interviews announcing he’d be fighting to regain Minnesotan’s trust and to stay in his Senate seat:

“We are longtime supporters of Senator Franken, and our support is rooted in the core values that we share. During his time in the Senate he has been a champion for these values and a steadfast supporter of women’s rights. While we are disappointed by these allegations, we appreciate that he has apologized and is committed to regaining the trust of Minnesotans. We believe a Senate investigation into these allegations is the appropriate course of action and will continue to support the Senator throughout this process.”

As published by on Dec 3, 2017 – including the names of all the women.

After Franken resigned, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the senior senator from Franken’s home state of Minnesota, released this statement.

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Big Picture Response Commentary

Blake Farenthold

Name: Blake Farenthold


Role: U.S. Congressman (R-Tx),  leads the House Oversight subcommittee on the interior, energy and environment

Accusations: A former employee has accused Farenthold of sexually harassing her, and then retaliating against her when she filed a complaint about his behavior. He settled her claim for $84,000, a sum that was paid out of taxpayer funds. It was one of 6 settlements of various kinds paid out by the Congressman since 2013.

Consequences for his actions: The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into Farenthold’s behavior. Farenthold not seek reelection. Read the House Ethics Committee’s statement.

Farenthold’s Response: Insists that he’s done nothing wrong.

Plaintiff Lauren Green’s original complaint:


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“Representative Blake Farenthold, Republican of Texas, used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim, one of six settlements for workplace issues ranging from veteran status discrimination to age bias that were paid out by a secretive congressional office since 2013. The six settlements for malfeasance in House offices totaled $359,450.”

Taxpayers paid $84,000 to end Sex Harassment Claim Against Texas Lawmaker, The New York Times by Yamiche Alcindor and Gay Stolberg, Dec 1, 2017

Lauren Greene, Farenthold’s former communications director

In 2014, the congressman’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, accused him of regularly making comments to gauge her interest in a sexual relationship, including saying he was having “sexual fantasies” about her. Ms. Greene accused Mr. Farenthold and his chief of staff, Bob Haueter, of retaliating after she complained about a hostile work environment.

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Ruben Kihuen

Name: Ruben Kihuen

Age: 37

Role: U.S. Congressman (D-Nev)

Accusations: Four female colleagues have accused Kihuen of relentlessly persistent verbal sexual harassment, as well as inappropriate touching and requests for sex.

Consequences for his actions: Will not seek reelection in 2018, after being pressured to resign by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) and others.

Kihuen’s Response: Kihuen denies that he did anything wrong. He even went so far, in an interview with ABC News on Dec 5, to accuse the DCCC and Nancy Pelosi of having already investigated the claims of his first accuser and found them baseless – claims that are untrue. See the video with ABC in the tabs below.

In the statement he issued when he announced his resignation, he maintained his innocence. Read Kihuen’s full statement on NPR


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Rubin Kihuen is a man who simply doesn’t get it that relentlessly pursuing subordinates who have repeatedly told you they aren’t interested isn’t fun and flirty – it’s sexual harassment.

We know Kihuen is clueless, not only because he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing (so unless he’s an outright liar, which is always a possibility, he thinks his behavior was okay), but because one of the hundreds of unwelcome texts he sent to a lobbyist said,

“I apologize…Can’t talk to you like this anymore, I’m officially a congressional candidate again,” shortly after announcing his Congressional bid.

He apologized?!?!

Clearly, he was laboring under the mistaken belief that this woman was enjoying the attention from him – when in reality she felt uncomfortable, annoyed … harassed.

A total of four women have now reported this kind of relentless and unwelcome pursuit by Kihuen, and their stories are detailed on the “Accusers” tab.

After the allegations from his first accuser, Samantha, came to light thanks to Buzz Feed, not only did the Congressman not agree to step down, he chose an interesting counter-offensive: spreading the blame around. 

In an interview with ABC News, Kihuen suggested that not only did the DCCC and Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) know about Samantha’s allegations previously, they looked into them and found them to be baseless – and then supported his campaign with millions of dollars.

Accused sexual harasser Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev), spreading the blame around instead of taking responsibility for his behavior

Turns out, that’s completely false.

As ABC News reports, the DCCC didn’t look into Samantha’s claims at the time, because they weren’t given the detailed account that has been brought to light by Buzz Feed. 

An ethics committee investigation was opened on Dec. 10, 2017, as reported by The Nevada Independent by Riley Snyder on Dec 15, 2017.

Kihuen announced on Dec 15, 2017 that he would not seek reelection.

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A 25-year-old woman named Samantha, whose last name has been withheld for her privacy, was Kihuen’s finance director during his campaign from December 2015 – April 2016. During that time Kihuen frequently asked her out on dates and propositioned her with unwelcome and repeated statements like,

“‘You look really good, I’d like to take you out if you didn’t work for me”
“We should get a hotel room here.”
and asking her if she ever cheated on her boyfriend.

She firmly told him no several times, but the harassment continued. He even laughed at her when she turned him down, leaving her feeling humiliated.

She quit his campaign in frustration in April, 2015. She didn’t want to deal with his advances any longer, but also didn’t feel she had any recourse.

She told a staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the time that the reason she was leaving so abruptly is that Kihuen made her “uncomfortable.” That DCCC staffer told a colleague at the DCCC, who in turn told Kihuen’s campaign manager, Dave Chase.

Chase confronted Kihuen, who told him nothing improper had occurred. After the Buzz Feed story was published, Chase said, “I believe Samantha and wish I had known her specific allegations when I confronted Ruben after she left the campaign or in time to stop what took place.”

Her story was brought to light by Buzz Feed on Dec 1 2017:

She says she quit her campaign job after he harassed her. Now he’s in Congress
Buzz Feed News
by Kate Nocera & Tarini Parti
Dec 1, 2017

Anonymous Accuser #1

Another woman, a lobbyist, came forward to say that Kihuen relentlessly harassed her over a period of years – sending her hundreds of unwelcome text & Facebook messages, touching her thighs and her butt, playing with her hands or feet during meetings, and even twice asking for her address (she gave him fake ones both times) – all this, despite having told him no, firmly and repeatedly, on several occasions.

She told her story on condition of anonymity to Megan Messerly of The Nevada Independent on Dec 13, 2017: Second Woman Accuses Kihuen of Persistent, Unwanted Sexual Advances in which they report that the text messages sent by Kihuen included:

“What color are your panties?”
“[kissy emoji] How was your weekend?”
“You should come sit on my lap. I have more cushion than those seats.” 
“Not sure why you’re so scared of me”
“You didn’t come lobby me today [sad-face emoji].”
“I need a trophy date! Haha.” – after inviting her out to a Carson City bar
“You’re absolutely beautiful and unbelievably sexy”
“Love your dress”
“You looked so beautiful tonight…irresistible”
“So beautiful”
“You look fabulous in black”
“But I’m sure you look even better naked.”

As far as how she reacted (or why she didn’t react more strongly), the Nevada Independnt reports these comments from the woman:

“I was uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to think and I didn’t know how to react”
“You don’t want to bring attention to it, right? You’re trying to slightly, like, just kind of turn your body and shift your weight away from it.”
“Okay, this is kind of what my life is like now, I guess.”
“You don’t really know what to say when a [state] senator tells you, like, ‘Nice ass. You’re just like, ‘Thank you, bye, hi-de-ho.’”

“I was uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to think and I didn’t know how to react”

These allegations were also reported by NPR:

Democrat Ruben Kihuen Won’t Seek Reelection Following Sexual Harassment Allegations
by Brakkton Booker
Dec 16, 2017

Anonymous Accuser #2

A 24-year-old D.C. businesswoman accuses Kihuen of having made unwelcome sexual advances toward her in the fall of 2017 while the Congressman’s campaign was a client of her firm.

The Nevada Independent reports, “The woman described conduct [to us] that she said made her feel flustered and uncomfortable, including Kihuen asking at the office why she didn’t have a boyfriend, asking if she lived alone and offering to help her move up in her career — something she interpreted as a possible suggestion for sexual favors. At one fundraiser, she said, he rubbed her lower back and kissed her face several times.”

She said some of her friends have asked why she didn’t reject him, outright.

“I’m not in a place to yell at a member of Congress and say ‘stop touching me’ because I just started my career,” she said. “He’s a member of Congress and a client of my firm … there’s just such a power dynamic that makes it so you can’t, really.”

He’s a member of Congress and a client of my firm … so you can’t, really.

Women in DC says Congressman Kihuen made unwelcome overtures toward her this fall
The Nevada Independent
by Michelle Rindels
Dec 16, 2017

Anonymous Accuser #3

A woman who worked at the front desk of Kihuen’s condo building, who was 19 or 20 at the time (2014 and 2015), said she was initially flirtatious with Kihuen and gave him her number. But then the texts started coming late at night, and were increasingly inappropriate. He also would routinely comment on her clothes, and her butt.

The woman asked him to stop texting her 2 or 3 times, and when he wouldn’t comply she just blocked his number. She also made it a habit to try and hide from him whenever she saw him at work, which was the condo building in which he lived.

Reported in BuzzFeed, by Tarini Parti and Kate Nocera, Dec. 15, 2017

Pervasive Misconduct

As part of their investigation, Buzz Feed spoke to more than 30 men and women who had known Kihuen for years in Nevada politcs. They all reported that his penchant for being a playboy – relentlessly pursuing lots of women – was an “open secret.”

While some excused that kind of behavior in a young, single guy, many observed that Kihuen was now a U.S. Congressman in his mid-30’s who needed to grow up and start acting more responsibly.

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Kihuen announced on Dec 15, 2017 that he would not seek reelection in 2018.

“In Congress, no one should face sexual harassment in order to work in an office or in a campaign. The young woman’s documented account is convincing, and I commend her for the courage it took to come forward,” Pelosi said in a statement after talking with Kihuen. “In light of these upsetting allegations, Congressman Kihuen should resign.”

Not only did Kihuen deny the allegations, he tried an interesting counter-offensive: spreading the blame around.

In a Dec 5 interview with ABC News, he suggested that he couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because the DCCC and Nancy Pelosi had looked into it already. And besides, if he was guilty, so were they – because they gave his campaign millions of dollars even after finding out about the allegations.

Accused sexual harasser Ruben Kihuen, spreading the blame around instead of taking responsibility for his behavior

All of that, according to reports, is complete hooey.

As reported by ABC News, “Congressman Kihuen’s statement is not true,” Meredith Kelly, DCCC communications director, said. “We were presented with these disturbing facts for the first time last week, and the chair immediately called for his resignation.”

A Kihuen spokesman did not respond to a request for documentation supporting Kihuen’s claims about the DCCC, Pelosi and Lujan. – ABC News, Dec 5, 2017

Read Kihuen’s full statement, as printed on NPR.

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