“Every Hashtag is a Human Being”: Honoring the Five-Year Anniversary of #MeToo

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey y’all, it’s Brittany. We have finally arrived at the final episode of the season. I know, I know. I’m gonna be sad to leave y’all for a while, too. I mean, at least I hope that’s what you all are thinking. This season, really this whole year, has been a ride, child. In some ways this year felt like 2022 volume three since we entered and will end this year still in a pandemic.

Here on the show, we opened the season with voices like Dr. Uché Blackstock on how to fight pandemic fatigue. And we talked sports and racism with Jemele Hill and Cari Champion.  Student loan forgiveness with Senator Elizabeth Warren, something that we actually saw some traction on this year, y’all. And we talked to the hopeful next governor of Texas, Beto O’Rourke on exactly what the F is going on down in Texas.

We spoke to Maria Teresa Kumar on the voting rights fight of our lifetime. Michelle Colón  gave us insight on the last days of Roe v. Wade to Mississippi. Willow Eagleton walked us through what it’s like to be a trans girl in 2022 and George M. Johnson shared just what it’s like to have the second most banned book in America.

And of course this season I got real, real personal when the love of my life and I talked about the love of our lives, the harrowing birth of our sweet, sweet Baby M. 

Reginald Cunningham: Yeah, you have been amazing in this whole journey, like I just wanna make sure and honor that. I have watched you do the hardest thing that you have ever done and just shine at it.

Brittany: This year has been one of the hardest of my entire life. It changed me in ways that I am still discovering and it is such an immense privilege to be discovering it with all of you. We are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, we’ll be honoring the five year anniversary of the MeToo hashtag with playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, organizer Monica Ramirez, and the movement’s very own founder Tarana Burke. 

Tarana Burke: We’re going beyond the hashtag to look at what happens after you say MeToo. What do we owe the people who said MeToo? What do we owe the communities where these, where sexual violence is happening?

Brittany: That’s coming up, but first it’s the news. 

And we are gonna start in the world of beauty. So if you saw the words Ulta Boycott trending this week, here is why. Last Thursday, the chain cosmetic supply store, Ulta released an episode of its biweekly podcast called The Beauty Of. This particular episode featured an interview with actress, comedian, and overall TikTok legend Dylan Mulvaney, who also happens to be a trans woman; and Dylan joined a conversation with David Lopez, a gender fluid, Latinx celebrity hair stylist.

Now, both of them came together to talk about self-expression, identities, and obviously getting glam, right. 

Ulta Podcast: You know, I think somebody asking you describe your signature look question, might say to you like, No, but actually, like which one? And I would never ask you that because that’s the beautiful thing about your expression, is it changes.

Brittany: Now Ulta put a clip of the video up on Twitter, like all of us who host podcasts do. And yeah, the trolls were a blaze in the comment section. Sadly, unsurprisingly, many users complain that for a trans woman to talk about girlhood was. Quote, misogynist and they took offense at Dylan’s desire to someday become a mother and said the whole thing was woman facing, which they say is like blackface, where someone pretends to be a woman but isn’t.

Ugh, I can’t even keep up with the bullshit. But in the following days, there were calls to just straight up boycotts the company. Now Ulta has come forward in defense of this iconic episode, and the folks who started in it saying that they believe that quote, beauty is for everyone. I mean, isn’t that the point?

Obviously we love that. I’m gonna have to go fill up my shopping cart. I love Ulta. I love Sephora. Listen, I love anything that makes me feel good, and everybody should have that feeling. But y’all, this whole episode taps into a backlash that we’re seeing against trans people that is very real. And that goes far beyond Twitter.

That cultural backlash means real, physical, psychological, economic, and emotional consequences for trans and non-binary people. So I wanna take just a second to remind everybody that we control this discourse and that womanhood, like every other kind of identity, is not a zero sum game. My cis sisters, I’m here to tell you that holding trans woman back actually does not make us anymore free.

And just because someone else identifies as a woman that does not erase your rights, when another marginalized group wins, we actually all win. And our trans friends need our love more than ever right now, and they always deserve it. So to my sisters, trans and sis; to my siblings; to all my people across the spectrum, we love you and we won’t let anybody convince us that you’re not worth that.

So next up, I wanna call attention to an issue that has been, shall we say brewing, for the past couple of weeks. Three members of the Los Angeles City Council face calls to resign from President Biden after a recording service of a now not-so-secret meeting that they had about redistricting. 

So in the recording, city council president Nury Martinez along with council members, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, all Democrats mind you, are heard talking about how to divvy up the city politically. And here’s a quick rundown of what was said and trigger warning, it is not pretty. Martinez is heard to have described white Councilman Mike Bonin’s son who is Black as quote looking like a monkey.

And then she goes on to describe Indigenous immigrants from Oaxaca as so ugly. And then when speaking about another LA County District Attorney, Martinez was heard as saying, F that guy, he’s with the Blacks. Glaring racist comments aside, this recording revealed who schemy and premeditated behind the scenes political redistricting can be, and yes, it is often wildly racist, whether they use slurs or not.

This exposes a blatantly intentional effort to marginalized Black voters. It’s not just offensive, it’s immoral, and it needs to be illegal. Now, as of the moment, we are recording, some but not all of the council members have resigned. And it’s unclear if President Biden’s urging will make a difference.

But I wanna take this moment as an opportunity to clear something up. Just like the last story, say it with me y’all. There is no progress without—yeah, y’all know the words. It’s like the basis of this whole podcast—intersectionality. Nury Martinez was the first Latina to be appointed president of the city council.

Something that the folks in the UNDISTRACTED world would celebrate, and that would’ve been even more of a victory if she had stood in solidarity with her Black neighbors. Anti-Blackness is global and it roots so many other isms. We get absolutely nowhere in dismantling systemic oppression if we’re not uprooting anti-Blackness and championing all marginalized voices. Period.

Representation is nothing without justice. I wanna close our news rundown by following up on the Iran protests, which are emerging as a truly historic event led by young people. It started roughly a month ago when Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by Iran’s morality police, died in custody. Now, y’all remember since then, protests against the repressive regime have grown across the country.

Young women have been posting videos of themselves removing their headscarves. They’ve demonstrated inside of schoolyards, they’ve even cut their hair on camera chanting “Women. Life. Freedom.” As we said, the last time we talked about this, this is not about being pro or anti-hijab, it’s about being pro agency and bodily autonomy. 

And these young folks’ displace of rage and solidarity are so hopeful, but the consequences have been absolutely devastating. The Iranian government has made mass arrests, cut the country’s Internet, and instituted deadly violence. In fact, the nonprofit Iran Human Rights just revealed that of the at least 215 people killed since protests began, 27 of them were children. 

For context, these kids are protesting a regime that has made its best efforts to indoctrinate them with absolute loyalty for essentially their entire lives. In a music video published by the Iranian media earlier this year, thousands of boys and girls are seen singing a song called Salute Commander.

The lyrics literally say, I’m a child, but the life of my family and I all belong to you.

Brittany: Now the Iranian government is detaining what they call defiant children in mental health facilities, aka glorified detention centers in an effort to reform them. This regime has already proved that it does not care about women and the same clearly goes for children. It’s our job to make sure this story does not go away and to reach out in solidarity across the globe. 

So, for more information on organizations, you can support in solidarity with Iran, please see our show notes this week. And lastly, I wanna wrap up our final news rundown of the season with a small request. Just like that last story, it’s really easy for the things that are most important to go under reported.

And y’all know that here on UNDISTRACTED, we are committed to taking those stories. Those stories that sometimes fly under the radar or simply don’t get the attention they deserve are talked about. So over the next few months while we are on hiatus, getting a great season three together for you, more and more un trending news stories will surface.

And without enough eyes and ears on them, they might not receive appropriate action and recognition. So please, please, please pay attention to bipoc and LGBTQ news. Pay attention to grassroots political candidates and to the protests happening around the globe. Talk about them at dinner parties, elevate them on your socials, and keep the mission of our show alive while we take a little production breather and plan for season three.

Coming up, I’ll be talking to three phenomenal women, including MeToo founder Tarana Burke, about the fight to address sexual violence and what the world owes us when we say #MeToo, right after this short break.

And we are back, and most people think of MeToo as an explosive viral moment in 2017 that coincided with the rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein and really the domino effect of sexual violence accusations across all industries. We’re gonna talk about that moment and everything it did for the world in just a sec.

But first I wanna take us back, like back to 2006 when the movement was actually founded. That’s when survivor and activist Tarana Burke decided that we needed a space for those who had experienced sexual violence to connect with others who could relate. Tarana has been doing this work for literal decades, recognizing the magnitude of this crisis before so many cultural institutions did the same.

Then fast forward to 2017 when the hashtag went viral and millions upon millions of people, mostly women, showed up online to say, Yes, this happened to me. Two. And over the past five years, we’ve seen an increase in sex crime reporting by about 13% nationwide and hundreds of toxic executives have been ousted.

Though we obviously know plenty of others remain, but just like violence occurred long before 2017, it continues to persist long after. We still struggle to believe women and survivors, especially those who are far removed from the public. Addressing sexual violence means more than calling out just bad men.

It’s an entire cultural reframe, one that Tarana Burke is more committed to now than ever, and we are so honored to bring Mary Kathryn Nagle, brilliant attorney playwright and champion of Native Rights and legendary organizer and attorney Monica Ramirez, who’s advocating on behalf of farm workers and migrant women onto the show today in conversation with me and Tarana.

Tarana, Monica, Mary Kathryn, it is really powerful to be with you all on today, especially giving the conversation that we’re having. Thanks for joining me. 

Mary Kathryn Nagle:  Thanks for having us. 

Brittany: So I kind of wanna start with a speed round. Take us back to the early days after the #MeToo hashtag started going viral, which is of course much later than MeToo began.

What do you all remember about that time and what has changed in your life since then? Tarana, I wanna start with you as the person who literally launched the MeToo movement in 2006. 

Tarana: Well, I can get people to listen to when I talk about sexual violence. That’s probably the number one way my life has changed.

I think that before this, it was really, really difficult to get sexual violence on people’s agenda. To get it on the radar, to get people to think about it as a social justice. You know. I’ve been known to do work around racial justice for a long time and was, you know, moved in those circles. And every time you bring up sexual violence in relation to racial violence, when you bring it up in relation to any kind of violence, it was silenced, pushed to aside, and not thought of in the same way.

And now we have been having a sustained dialogue about sexual violence. In the same breath as these other issues for five years. And that is a huge change. A huge humongous change. 

Brittany: Yeah. Monica, how about you?

Monica: Well, I remember thinking when everything was breaking open, like first of all, I knew that it was not gonna be the same again.

You know, me and the farm worker movement and lots of folks around the country, we’ve been trying for so long to get people to pay attention and to get people to treat it like a serious issue that people needed to fund and support. But the other thing that happened that I thought was really odd was that people around me started talking about like what to do and like, where should we go now with MeToo?

And I kept thinking, Was anyone asking Tarana, like, you know, like, who are we to be deciding where to go now? And, and I feel like one of the things that has changed in Toronto, you might disagree with them, but I feel like one of the things that has changed is that we held so strong about pushing back to say to folks, No, like it, Tarana created a movement and we are honored to be part of it.

And she helped us all understand the way forward and in a really important way. I think that we all sort of stood by each other to say, We’re gonna make sure that people are gonna respect our leadership. No one else gets to decide for us the way the work should be moving. And I feel like that was an important show of not only of solidarity, but also of power.

Brittany: I am coming with the same question to you, Mary Kathryn, what do you remember about five years ago and what’s the kind of major change in your life in the last five years? 

Mary Kathryn: Well, I think for, you know, as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and as an attorney that works with organizations like the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and Illuminative, you know, we have been working to address just the rampant sexual assault native women and children experience throughout Indian country in the States. 

And one of the huge issues we’ve always been focused on is invisibility, is just that survivors have no visibility to share their stories. They aren’t believed. But I think one huge shift I have seen is that following the hashtag #MeToo movement is it is much harder for especially men in positions of power to completely silence survivors and more people are responding to survivors stories saying, Let’s listen to her or them.

Let’s hear what they have to say. Let’s believe them. And that just didn’t happen five years ago. If you were someone who was victimized, especially by someone who had any kind of fame or celebrity, you were you demonized or further victimized, right. If you tried to tell your story. And you know, I think it’s been really empowering, especially for some of our youth, to know that it’s okay to speak your truth. 

Brittany: When the hashtag first started to take off, I think a lot of people in the media, especially a lot of power brokers in media, had trouble wrapping their minds around the fact that so many people have had this experience.

Right. They just were, I think overwhelmed by the onslaught of folks raising their hands and saying, Yes, MeToo. And I think that their response in a lot of ways was to be fascinated by the individual stories, right? So they would pick up the stories of people who already had a degree of privilege, celebrities, politicians, white women, et cetera.

They started getting a disproportionate amount of the attention. Monica, you work extensively with migrant women and farm workers and undocumented folk. Are you seeing the effects of the movement in spaces where there is historically less attention given to these issues? 

Monica: Yeah. Brittany, thanks. I mean, I come from the farm worker community.

You know, I am a good community and I think that initially there wasn’t much of a conversation when things were breaking through about farm worker, women and domestic workers and others, and we made it so that the conversation was more inclusive and I think, you know, there was this period of time where there’s a lot of tension on people from different backgrounds who were experiencing sexual violence. 

And then it sort of faded away. And I think our job is to just continue to bring it to the surface. Bring to the surface. Because we also have to make sure that we’re not only talking about the problem of sexual violence against farm worker women and others who are not as visible, but we have to make sure that the solutions are centered on them.

And also the change that’s being driven, that we’re showing the way. People from community who are thought of as quote unquote, powerless. Our communities have been the biggest drivers of change historically, not just on this issue. And so it is our work to make sure that people understand it and that whenever there is a win that it isn’t only the privilege to our making those wins possible.

Brittany: Yeah. Yeah. You know, Mary Kathryn, you spoke to this a little bit, but when we talk about these issues of invisibility, disproportionately hitting certain groups of people, we’re absolutely talking about Native women. Sexual and gender-based violence against native women is happening at far higher rates than in the larger population.

We know that according to the Center for Health Progress, Native women are at least two and a half times more likely than non-Native women to experience sexual assault and rape. So, you talked a little bit about how it’s different. I’m curious what your work is now to continue to fight against that invisibility.

Mary Kathryn: I really appreciate that question and it’s so important and I think that, you know, if you look at before hashtag MeToo, if there was ever. A film or a show that tried to touch on this issue, Native women really only entered into it as the victims. They weren’t characters that got developed. They weren’t people that you  grew to know and love.

They just showed up at the point that they were to be killed or raped or both. And were seeing a shift. And that part of that is getting Native content creators into creative positions where they have authority to write these stories. And I think it’s just, that’s why it’s so important, right? I think too, you know, seeing how the hashtag MeToo movement changed the conversation even outside of Hollywood, right?

We’re talking about in politics, the United States Congress, things happening where all of a sudden individuals who are in positions of power who had no accountability, were being held accountable for their sexual assault actions. And I think when I think about Native women and visibility, I think about the shift, we still have a ways to go.

You know, today Native women are more likely to be murdered than any other population in the United States, and on some reservations, our women are murdered at 10 times the national homicide rate. And yet when we go missing or are murdered, the FBI who has jurisdiction refuses to investigate. And you know, I just think about the Harvey Weinstein film that was made several years ago where the FBI was shown in Wind River as these amazing heroes that come in and investigate this film where the Native women were just victimized.

That was the only, their only role in the film, and the FBI was shown as these heroes when on the ground. In real life, the FBI does not investigate the murders and homicides of Native women. I know as an attorney who represents those families, we’ve been writing letters and making phone calls to the FBI for years.

They’re not investigating a single one of the cases I work on, even though they could investigate each one of them. We’re still living, like as you said, the most vulnerable of vulnerable are different communities of color who experience disproportionate rates of victimization when they’re victimized. In many ways, they’re still left and visible and our institutions of power that should be doing something about these crises are still not, not arriving on the scene and doing what they need to do.

Brittany: Absolutely. You know, Tarana, when we met for the first time, you didn’t know me for a can of paint, but you were getting an award and I went and found you and I just thanked you for starting this movement and for speaking up for so many of us who hadn’t yet spoken our truth. And I was very specifically talking about myself because up until that point I had not said out loud in public that I am a survivor of sexual assault.

Fast forward to last year on our last season close, we were talking about your book, and so it’s been another year since then. You’re doing a campaign this month in October called Beyond the Hashtag. Where is that taking us? 

Tarana: As somebody who, you know, started this work, of course beforehand, I absolutely am grateful for the hashtag I want that to be said, right?

We would not be here if not for that moment, for that viral moment, but what we mean by beyond the hashtag is that it also has been taken and co-opted in so many different ways. Over the last five years, people have taken the hashtag and turned it into a verb. People have stopped at the hashtag also, right?

And what we wanna do is take people beyond the hashtag, because I also think that people don’t realize that every single hashtag is a human. They are real people with real lives and real stories, and so we have to move beyond just looking at them on the screen and thinking of them as a statement or a hashtag, and think about the material lives of survivors.

We’re going beyond the hashtag to look at what happens after you say, MeToo. What do we owe the people who said MeToo? What do we owe the communities where these, where sexual violence is happening and that’s the work of MeToo International. There is so much that needs to happen on the ground. There’s so much that needs to happen beyond just in Hollywood. Beyond just in, you know, the halls of Washington or in the government. We, you know, we are releasing our framework this week and it’s, as I describe it, in the beginning, it’s like all the words that I could, that we could collectively gather to describe. What we are as a movement, which is we are a movement about healing and action.

But also when you have 12 million people, and I know you have heard me say this and I will continue to say it over and over again. When you have 12 million souls that cry out in a 24-hour time period and say that this horrific thing happened to me too, what do we owe them? We have to owe them something. 

There has to be a response, and I don’t think there has been an adequate enough response in the last five years to the people, to the survivors. These are citizens. These are non-citizens. These are human beings. These are people who vote. These are people who stand up for all kinds of other things in this country.

When do we stand up for them, right? That’s really what beyond the hashtag is. You would think that there would be massive studies. You would think that there would be massive resources being poured into this as an issue, and there is not. And so what happens when people don’t do what they’re supposed to do?

We organize, that’s what we’re trained to do as a response. And so as an organization, this year-long campaign is not just about celebrating this day, you know, we’re gonna commemorate that day. We’re gonna talk about that day, but we’re gonna spend the next year really digging into what the response is to the people who said MeToo.

Brittany: I mean, when you talk about what we owe survivors embedded in that is the acknowledgement that saying MeToo can be and has been very costly for people. 

Tarana: Oh, absolutely. 

Brittany: It has not come without blowback. Talk something about that. 

Tarana: Absolutely. I don’t think that people truly understand the cost of just saying MeToo.

And there’s several, there’s layers to that cost. You know, it was one of my first fears when I started seeing people say, MeToo. It’s like, there’s no container to hold these people. I know what it’s, what disclosure, you know, and it sounds real clinical, but what’s saying MeToo is really, is disclosure, what we call in the field disclosure.

And typically when a person discloses, if you are in clinical work, we wrap around a person who discloses, right? There are systems in place to help a person who discloses, whether it’s therapeutic things in place, or there are a set of friends in place, whether there’s a peer to peer situation in place, none of that exists.

When you disclose on the, and so there is a mental and emotional cost that happens. There is a cost that is related to, like I said, social status and all the rest of that, that somebody has to pay, and it always lands in the lap of a survivor, and it’s not our debt to pay. Not particularly. It is definitely not our debt to pay a loan, but we have been left to pay it a loan over and over again.

This studies have come out as say it costs on average $122,000 a year and over the course of your lifetime for people who survive sexual violence. That’s if you can afford it. Native women have the highest rate of sexual violence in this country, followed by Black women who have the second highest rate of sexual violence in this country. 

Then you think about a third thing, Native women, Black women, and other women of color, and I’m just using women for this moment who have the lowest economic status in this country. You think they can afford an additional $122,000 over the course of their lifetime, so they’re not the one spending that $122,000 for healing resources or what have.

Over the course of their lifetime, which means that they are finding other ways to survive. But then we are the ones who blame those Black and native and Latinx and other women of color when they go to drugs or alcohol and other things, right? This is all inextricably linked. These things are all deeply linked together.

But we look at them separately, and this is all about survival. If we don’t take survival seriously and look at it as a social justice issue, we don’t take sexual violence seriously and look at it as a social justice issue that is linked to mass incarceration, that is linked to gun violence, that is linked to economic injustice, that is linked to all sorts of injustices that we are fighting, then we are making a big mistake.

Monica: I just wanna take a moment to honor Tarana, because in all the years that I’ve done this work, and I am a survivor too, and I come from a family of folks who are survivors, and in all the years that I’ve done this work, there has never been as much of an emphasis on healing as Tarana has placed on it.

You know, for many, many years, the emphasis was on punitive measure. Right. What were the, what was going to be the cost to the perpetrator? Right? And that was the only kind of justice that people could really focus on. And, you know, I remember early in my legal career when I was representing a farm worker woman who had been sexually assaulted at work.

And I remember, you know, talking about the situation in an event and someone came to me afterwards because she was an immigrant woman, migrant woman. And they said to me, shouldn’t she have to give something up? This idea that this undocumented woman should have had to experience this violence because she had the luxury and privilege of being in this country, and that should have been what she had to give up.

And I remember being so struck by that. Like it felt like I had been slapped. Right? And it’s because this dehumanization has happened over and over and over again. And for so long, you know, as survivors, we were taught that we had to just put up with it. Toronto has called us all over and over again to place the humanity of survivors at the forefront.

And I think, you know, thinking back to your first question about what has shifted in the past five years, I think that has been one of the greatest shifts and one of the most important shifts because now there are more tools to talk about what it is that we need to try to find healing. When we all know that it’s a lifelong journey.

Brittany: That’s right. When we talk about those healing spaces and people wrapping their arms around me, this is what that looks like, right? Honoring one another’s labor, honoring one another’s struggle, honoring one another’s survivorship, honoring one another’s thriving. Tarana, I know that your next book is about grace and this an interesting shift, I think, for a lot of people because to Monica’s point, this conversation has gone so quickly from hashtag #MeToo to punishment, punishment, punishment. And here you are talking about grace. Why this book right now? What is, what does grace mean in the context of MeToo? 

Tarana: I’m so nervous about the book, by the way, Right?

Because I think it’s gonna be a big shift for a lot of people and we are not accustomed to talking about things like grace or like hope. But I do think that when I look around and at the work we’re doing, and I think about movement work and, and especially in this, in this conversation, when do we get grace?

The book is not about Christianity, but I think about, you know, obviously when you think about grace, you think about it in the Christian context for a lot of people and how like the right wing has really taken over the conversation about Christianity and tried to own Christianity in that way. And I’m like, if y’all really Christian and think about grace, when do you extend grace?

To folks like me who look like me, right? You don’t really understand grace. Where’s the space? Where’s the space for grace for my rage? When you see me, when somebody, something happens like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, you see me raging in the streets and you see where’s the grace for that, you know?

So, who actually gets to have grace in this moment? Those are some of the things I’m looking at, but also I’m thinking about the way we work. I’ve been in this work a long, long, long time, right? I’ll be 50 next year. I started doing this work as a teenager and one of the things I really believe in, I believe in liberation politics.

But I believe that we are not going to be successful in anything we do if it’s not accompanied by a politic of grace, because whatever this thing is that we are fighting for and working towards when we get there and we look around and think about how we fought to get there. If we don’t do that with a politic of grace, what are we fighting for?

Those, some of the things that I’m talking about: who deserves grace, who gets to have grace, but also how do we incorporate a politic of grace in our liberation work? My vision for how we work to end sexual violence might be wildly different from yours. But as long as yours is detrimental. The book is called Revolutionary Grace because it’s more than just what we’ve been taught about grace.

You know, cuz again, there’s some folks who I am not extending grace to, right? Like the folks who are trying to kill my people. I don’t think you deserve grace, and I’m okay with saying that. I’m okay with saying that if you trying to kill my folks, I don’t think you deserve grace.

And I think we are asked to extend grace all too often. Those of us who are pressed and pushed to the margins. I think we are asked to extend grace all too often. We, when we are never extended grace, so you know, it may kick up some dust. I don’t know. We’ll see. I gotta get some more writing now.

Brittany: I mean, when we talk about living in a world where sexual violence is fully a thing of the past, it requires restorative justice, right? It requires space for growth cuz there’s a whole lot that people need to learn and understand differently than what we may have been taught or what we moved through before. You know, Mary Kathryn, you work as an attorney, right, so in one way, you’re connected to a very traditional pathway of what accountability looks like for those who have harmed someone.

And yet, as you’ve already shared your citizenship of the Cherokee Nation and you do this work committed to and with fellow Indigenous people, I’m curious if there is wisdom from your own cultural background that you feel like we could be turning to as we have these conversations about accountability and justice?

Mary Kathryn: Absolutely. Different tribal nations have different traditional practices, but, you know, before sort of the western model was kind of shoved onto us a lot of different tribal nations, what it’s now being called restorative justice. Right. You know, as a lawyer, when you look at the law, you know, the United States and the Western model is very much, if someone sexually assaults someone, it is the state versus that perpetrator in the terms of the V that goes into court, right? 

It’s the United States versus Jones, or Oklahoma versus Jones. But traditionally for our tribes, it wasn’t seen as the sovereign versus the perpetrator. It was the victim and the victim’s Klan, their family, that everyone’s affected by a trauma and a violation like versus that individual and their family, How is that family going to atone for the trauma caused by this person’s bad deed? And so it wasn’t. Oh, we’ve got to make this person write vis a vis the state or the sovereign. It was, we’ve gotta make this person write vis a vis the victim and the victim’s family.

And the justice that was in it that was traditionally enacted sometimes would be by leaders of a, you know, clan, mothers or different leaders of a particular clan that would say, okay, the perpetrator is going to go hunt for this family, or perform this role or this function, or, you know, it wasn’t necessarily, Oh, let’s go incarcerate them and that will solve the problem.

And you know, I’m where I’m not a hundred percent opposed to any system of incarceration, you know, work very hard to restore tribal criminal jurisdiction over and non Indians who come onto our lands and rape our women. And sometimes I do think people need to be put in jail, but I think that’s a piece of a much larger solution that we’re often overlooking. 

It is true that, you know, Native women are more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than anyone else in the United States. The Department of Justice has reported that the vast majority of those crimes are being committed by non-Indians. But I know in our own communities ] when people in our own communities commit them, we’re looking at intergenerational trauma, right?

We’re looking at people who were, whose parents or themselves were taken away to a boarding school where they were sexually abused or other traumas and we do know if we wanna stop this cycle of violence, we can’t just throw people in jail, right? We’ve got to talk about other forms of healing and that’s where, think restorative justice and these other things, lessons to be learned from tribal nations that had those systems in place.

Brittany: Yeah. Monica, a similar question because I think when Tarana has said, a lot of people have stopped at the hashtag, what I’ve seen a lot of people do beyond the hashtag is one thing, right? And it’s just to cancel toxic people, often men, but you just, I’m canceling you. It’s I’ve unfollowed you, I’ve blocked you, and that’s it, right?

How do we get to this place of restorative justice so that we can create not just lasting accountability, but a truly changed society. Right? Cuz fear-based punitive measures don’t get us there. 

Monica: Well, I mean, I think that we would all agree that survivors have to be in the lead, and survivors need to say what is needed and how do we get there?

And how do we show grace? How do we demonstrate love? How do we love and lead differently like survivors have? And we just have to continue to make space to allow survivors to be able to tell us, right? For us as survivors to speak and for other survivors. And, I think that, you know, this notion that there’s one solution, like we have to do some unlearning there.

There is not one solution, and justice looks different for everyone, and healing looks different for everyone. And so this, like cookie cutter, one size fits all solution, it isn’t there. It doesn’t exist. And so we have to continue to gather, to learn, to educate, to make space, to lift up. And so we have got to be fiercely committed to doing the work of non-violence and of justice, even amongst each other. We’ve gotta be fiercely committed to that and I think that is how we will find a new way forward. 

Brittany: Absolutely. I mean, you talk about us learning and growing, our understanding of all of the possibilities for the solutions because publicly we’ve got a pretty tried, true, narrow approach to ending sexual violence, if that’s even the public commitment, which I think is, is arguable right Tarana? 

I know that you dream of a world where we truly take this seriously as an issue, as a social justice issue. You know, in the same way that we have a moonshot approach to ending cancer, and that people every single year commit their time, their talent, their treasure, to making that possible, having that same level of commitment to ending sexual violence.

Are we getting closer to that?

Tarana: I wanna say yes. I never thought I would see a day where we would take to the streets to march against, you know, sexual violence around the issue of sexual violence. I think the last five years we took a leap ahead in this work that would’ve taken us probably 20 years.

And I think I can say that pretty confidently. It’s we still have a tremendous amount of work to do, but I think the work that has happened in the last five years, the progress that has happened in the last five years without this viral moment that really sort of propelled things forward would’ve taken a tremendous amount of work and a longer period of time.

So yes, I do think that we are moving closer, closer than I thought that I would see in my lifetime. I always say my assignment is to do everything I can with what I’ve been given while I’m here so that I can tell the soul for whoever’s coming next. I think that there is some brilliant young person right now who is watching us and who is plotting and planning on how to do whatever they see us doing much better in saying, Ooh, I wish they would do this, and I can’t wait for that young person to get their moment to come in, right? 

We have to start now talking to young people at school age about consent, about bodily autonomy so that they’re second nature, so that those things, those ideas are second nature to young people coming up. I always use the analogy around cigarettes. You know, kids nowadays, even though there’s still cigarettes, people still smoke and they use the electronic cigarettes.

They have no idea what it was like 25, 30 years ago that people could smoke in airports and, you know, walk down the street smoking cigarettes in restaurants, right? Cause there’s been, there was so much work, there were multiple interventions that happened. There were cultural and legal and medical and community interventions that happen that shifted the norm away from what we all grew up with.

And so what we have to do is shift the norm so that young people looking at me like, Oh my God. What are you talking about? Date rape? Who does that? You know, like, Oh my god, Consent. Of course we ask for consent. You don’t touch people without asking. Like, it’s just like a no brainer. So we just, we wanna shift culture in a way that young people are thinking about it so differently that the next generation after that are just like, this is not even done.

Yeah. And I think that’s how we get closer and closer. 

Brittany: And that feels like the perfect note to end on. Monica, Mary Kathryn, Tarana, thank you so much for all you do for us and for the world. Thank you for closing out season two with us. 

Tarana: Thank you. 

Mary Kathryn: Thank you, Brittany. 

Monica: Thank you.

Brittany: Mary Kathryn Nagle is a playwright and partner at Pipestem Law, a firm specializing in the tribal sovereignty of Native Nations. Monica Ramirez is an organizer, activist, attorney and founder of Justice for Migrant Women. Tarana Burke is an author, activist, 2017 Time person of the year, and founder of the MeToo movement.

Y’all, movements like MeToo are built by everybody who dares to imagine and to fight to raise their hands and reclaim their stories. But it’s not just about them. It’s about every one of us. And we don’t get to this moment five years later, and we certainly don’t get to a world free of sexual and gender-based violence without each and every person playing whatever role they choose.

But we all have to choose, like, what can I do to help at my job in my life, on my street, on my block with the people I know, that I pray with, that I see every day at daycare. If the whole world’s a stage, then the play cannot go on without you saying the lines and playing the role that you were born in. We all lose the plot with each actor who bows out.

So now is the time to think seriously about what next right thing we can each do to inch toward liberation and then go do it with sincerity and urgency and commitment. So much has happened in those five years. So much has happened in this year, and as much as things have changed, let me tell you exactly the same. 

My deep, deep gratitude for this UNDISTRACTED community of ours. For y’all’s grace and your curiosity and candor for the power of your word of mouth advertising and your very thoughtful reviews and tweets and DMs and comments. We read all of them for our incredible team of producers and researchers, engineers, and correspondence, especially as they helped steer the ship while I was at home learning to breastfeed among other things. 

And for this seriously dope collective that is the women and femmes who make up The Meteor, our amazing partners at Pineapple Street and our committed and brave advertisers. Y’all make it a whole lot easier to stand UNDISTRACTED. So we’ll be back shortly and I’ll talk to y’all real soon.

In the meantime, Let’s go get free.

That’s it for today and for this season, but never for tomorrow and definitely not for next season. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 


Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producer is Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Hannis Brown, Raj Makhija, and Davy Sumner.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media including TikTok now. And you can follow our fantastic team @TheMeteor. There’ll be plenty of content to hold you over until the next season starts. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED, catch up on those episodes you missed, rate and review us, and share these with your friends. You can find us on Apple podcasts and most places you check out your favorite podcasts.

Thanks for listening, thanks for being, and as always thanks for doing. Y’all know what it is. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Once again, let’s go get free.