This week, the #MeToo movement that rippled through Hollywood over the past few months has taken hold in Washington, D.C.: Senator Al Franken of Minnesota announced he will resign on Thursday after multiple women accused him of touching them inappropriately.
Franken, who himself started in the entertainment industry as a comedian and Saturday Night Live cast member before entering politics, was first accused of groping news anchor Leeann Tweeden in November. Tweeden wrote that the Senator forcibly kissed her in 2006 and published a photo of Franken appearing to grope her while she slept. Since then, a number of other women have come forward with claims of experiencing similar treatment from Franken, the most recent one coming from a former congressional aide who claimed Franken also tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006.
A group of female politicians called for his resignation at a news conference on Wednesday. “Enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is okay, none of it is acceptable. We as elected leaders should absolutely be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard, and we should fundamentally be valuing women. That is where this debate has to go.”
Franken isn’t the first politician to be accused of sexual misconduct. U.S. Representative John Conyers, who was accused of sexually harassing staffers in his office, resigned from Congress this week. Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore has faced several serious allegations of sexual misconduct toward minors, and our own president has been recorded bragging about sexual assault and faces accusations of harassing and/or assaulting over 16 women.
Franken didn’t shy away from mentioning Trump’s comments in his speech Thursday.
“There is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.
Franken’s resignation comes in the midst of the increasingly widespread and recognized #MeToo movement, which even earned its participants the Time ‘Person of the Year’ Award on Wednesday. Of course, activists have been speaking out about sexual harassment and other forms of abuse in the workplace and elsewhere for decades — from Anita Hill’s groundbreaking case against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, to Tarana Burke’s initial #MeToo Movement launched ten years ago. But the movement gained new momentum when Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, and a number of other women told the New York Times about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s outrageous, even violent behavior in October. Since then, numerous women have named dozens of other powerful men in many major industries who have acted similarly.
While Franken acknowledged his inability to ethically serve as a Senator any longer, he ended his speech on a call to action.
“Every time I would get tired, or discouraged, or frustrated, I would think about the people I was doing this for, and it would get me back up on my feet,” Franken said of his political career. “I know the same will be true for everyone who decides to pursue a [career in] politics that is about improving people’s lives. And I hope you know that I will be right there fighting alongside you, every step of the way.”