By Jessica Valenti
Senate Republicans seem to be under the mistaken impression that having elected a notorious misogynist as president means that they can stifle women’s voices without anyone noticing or caring.
That’s the only explanation I can muster for why they thought that it was acceptable – or strategically sound – to silence Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday night during a debate over Jeff Sessions’ nomination as attorney general. Republicans really must have thought it was in their best interest. They really must not be paying attention.
After claiming that Warren broke Senate rules by reading from a 30-year-old letter from Coretta Scott King opposing Sessions for a federal judgeship, majority leader Mitch McConnell said: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
It’s a familiar refrain for most women – we’ve all had men try to shut us down and get frustrated when we dared to “persist”. So it should come as no surprise that Wednesday morning, #LetLizSpeak, #ShePersists and Silencing Elizabeth Warren were all trending on Twitter.
In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s loss and the massive Women’s Marches across the country, American women simply won’t stand for Republicans trying to shut us up.
What was especially loathsome about the Republican’s move was that they didn’t just silence Warren – they silenced Coretta Scott King, activist and widow of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. During Black History Month, no less.
As writer Broderick Greer tweeted out: “Tonight we saw that folk will go to great lengths to silence black women, even after they’ve died.” Donna Brazile, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said: “It’s a sad day in America when the words of Martin Luther King Jr’s widow are not allowed on the floor of the United States Senate.”
Especially when those words are so pertinent to the issue at hand: Sessions’ suitability for the position of US attorney general. This is a man who was denied a federal judgeship amid accusations of racism; a man who, according to a former colleague, called organizations like the ACLU and NAACP “un-American”; a man who also reportedly referred to a black man as “boy”, an allegation he denies.
In a recent letter signed by more than 400 human rights organizations opposing Sessions’ nomination, the Leadership Conference on Human Rights wrote: “Senator Sessions has a 30-year record of racial insensitivity, bias against immigrants, disregard for the rule of law and hostility to the protection of civil rights.”
While these may be uncomfortable truths for Republicans to hear, they don’t get to stick their fingers in their ears or drown out the words of women who have real and substantive criticisms of Sessions. (And if you think this isn’t about women, consider that Senator Jeff Merkley read from the same letter later Tuesday night and was allowed to finish without interruption.)
After being silenced, Warren took to Facebook Live to read the letter instead; at last check it’s been watched more than 6m times. The censure by Republicans only served to shine a spotlight on Warren, and Scott King’s, message. It was a reminder that no matter what Trump does, no matter what measures Republicans make take – women will persist.