Last week Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was silenced on the floor of the Senate by its majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KT). He evoked Senate Rule 19 while Warren debated the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general.
The incident occurred this past Wednesday when Warren wanted to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King in 1986, opposing the appointment of then U.S. attorney Jeff Sessions to a federal court district seat. The nomination was made by Ronald Reagan, but ultimately did not go through.
After the incident occurred, McConnell gave reasons to evoke Rule 19 without imagining that what he was about to say would go viral and become a slogan for women’s rights.
McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, #ShePersisted." The history of progress for women, summed up in 11 words.
— Cecile Richards (@CecileRichards) February 8, 2017
As much as we want to make this an isolated incident or reason around the legitimacy of Rule 19, we cannot miss the fact that women are used to this from interactions around the workplace, school and even relationships. We are used to being silenced. We are educated to only raise our voices when instructed because we don’t want to seem “rude” or “bossy.”
This cannot be excused any longer. Women deserve to use their voices when it is necessary, when there are clear facts that need to presented. Because our opinion matters, and having one should not disqualify you from doing your job.
Warren was not speaking out of turn. She was presenting clear evidence for the refusal to confirm Sessions as attorney general, the letter serving as testimony for his past stance on civil rights.
This latest incident serves as a window to the necessary work we need to do. We need to teach young girls to feel empowered by their opinions, to make them feel that ambition and striving for individuality and education are not bad things.
Throughout history we have seen incidents like this, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Wendy Davis, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Dolores Huerta and Gloria Anzaldua. There are too many cases to list, too many women labeled as difficult or angry. And all were victims of efforts to delegitimize them by taking away their power.
But as we have seen countless times before, silence can serve a bigger purpose. In an effort to dismiss Warren, what McConnell really did was give her a bigger stage.
He was right about one thing: she persisted. As many women know, instead of feeling defeated and occupying the place men have carved out for us, we must always keep fighting and making a path for ourselves.
Warren did not back down. She finished reading the letter on Facebook Live and the morning after the incident she was on multiple morning news show talking about the importance of the letter. She got more people engaged and interested in the letter.
As a woman, this was no surprise, but the response it got helped me feel empowered. It showed me how dedicated we are to achieving equality in all fronts – politically, economically and socially. We still have a long way to go, but let’s show every person who ever tried to silence us how persistent we can be. Let’s raise every girl to be a boss.
Because as Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, once said: “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice and now that I have it, I’m not going to be silent.”
Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins