Several members also wore red pins reading “Recy” in tribute to Recy Taylor, the African-American woman who spoke out about her 1944 rape by a group of white men
The #SOTUBlackout came in full force.
Democrat women led by California Rep. Jackie Speier, who has led the charge to reform how Congress responds to harassment complaints, wore black to President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday in protest of sexual misconduct and in solidarity with survivors. The spectacle came on the heels of several lawmakers, including Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), announcing their retirement or resignation after allegations of impropriety — and amid an ongoing national dialogue on sexual abuse.
Several members wore red pins reading “Recy” in tribute to Recy Taylor, the African-American woman who spoke out about her 1944 rape by a group of white men; the late Taylor’s niece, Rose Gunter, attended the address. Time’s Up pins — a nod to Hollywood’s new gender-equality campaign — also studded the crowd. Lawmakers tweeted with the hashtag #SOTUBlackout.
“We are wearing black because we believe the survivors, because we want better for all Americans, for our children and future generations; and because we are dedicated to addressing Congress’s own indefensible failure to ensure a safe workplace for countless women and men for far too long,” Speier, herself a sexual assault survivor, told Moneyish in a statement two weeks earlier.
“We are working together to send a clear message that we will no longer tolerate this abhorrent behavior, which seeps into all professions and breeds other forms of discrimination and disrespect — such as lack of equal pay, childcare, and flexible work schedules. And we are making it clear that Democrats and Republicans are working in a bipartisan fashion to clean our own House, so that we can serve as an example on this issue — rather than a cautionary tale — for the country and the world.”
Color has long served as a powerful political visual: Republicans claim red and Democrats claim blue; Hillary Clinton married the two in her purple concession-speech getup. Suffragettes in the UK wore purple, white and green; New York City suffragettes painted on bright red lipstick. After Clinton favored suffragette white during pivotal moments of her ceiling-shattering campaign, women in Congress donned it for Trump’s first joint address to Congress. For her husband’s first State of the Union, First Lady Melania Trump also wore white.
So what does the color black, most recently on show at the Golden Globes, really say? And can it have its intended impact? Here’s what experts predicted to Moneyish in mid-January.
Black, known for its “psychological aspects of being powerful, sophisticated, elegant,” is also easily accessible since people often possess it in their wardrobes, said trend forecasting consultant and creative strategist Roseanna Roberts. “It’s not like everyone has to wear chartreuse.” Its inextricable link to mourning can be “a nod to those who have lost something and had something taken away, as in the case of harassment and abuse,” she added, citing innocence and feelings of worth as examples. Those factors, taken together with its composition of all the colors (the “ultimate symbol of unity”) and reclaiming a color historically cast as evil, make for a modern, “dynamic” interpretation, she said.
“I think given the content of the demonstration, black’s appropriate because it’s reflecting the somber mood regarding how women are being treated in society and in politics and by this President,” Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women & Politics Center, told Moneyish. “If they said they were going to wear purple or green or some kind of upbeat color, I think that suggests … sort of a sense of moving forward. And I think that the black is to really call attention to how bad things are right now.” The all-black will stand apart from the fuschia or red female lawmakers typically sport at the President’s annual message, she added.
An honor to meet #RecyTaylor's niece today and use the #SOTUBLACKOUT to remind the world of her aunt's story and the far too many marginalized women who have spoken up and have long been ignored. #TimesUP #SOTU pic.twitter.com/w9GNIYzIBu
— Carolyn B. Maloney (@RepMaloney) January 30, 2018
But while “you cannot go wrong with black,” said interior designer and former art historian Annie Elliott, CEO of Bossy Color, “at some point we’re going to have to look forward.” “If people leading the movement feel that we haven’t yet spent enough time on the mourning part and on the acknowledgement of loss and the gravity of the situation, then I don’t think black is a bad choice,” she said. “I just wish we could come up with something a little more original.” Movements need momentum, she said, and their color should reflect action and hope that the status quo can change. Plus, she pointed out, black is ubiquitous.
“I think at some point — and I would argue that it could be at the State of the Union — we’re going to have to find another color that could maybe be associated with the cause on a longer term,” Elliott said. “And I would love to see something that has a little bit of optimism.” As an alternative, she raises green: “the color of optimism, rebirth, renewal, hope, fresh start.”
Color won’t be the be-all and end-all, Elliott added: “I think the movement itself is gaining enough momentum that I don’t think it matters,” she said. “A cause can be successful without necessarily having a color.” But it can still serve as an helpful entry point, said Roberts. “It elicits a reaction. It stays with you. It’s not a slogan that you might forget; it really sinks in. It’s also accessible: If you feel strongly about a movement and … you’re not in the trenches of it, you can still buy in.”
The Democrats’ plan drew plenty of criticism. “The culture change that’s sweeping the country has nothing to do with fashion. If lawmakers from either side of the aisle were truly interested in embracing #MeToo or #TimesUp, they’d do a heck of a lot more than wear black,” conservative commentator S.E. Cupp wrote in a recent Daily News column. “If you’re a truckstop waitress or migrant worker who’s been sexually abused by her boss, why does what Barbra Streisand or Kate Hudson wore to the Globes matter to you? Likewise, if you’re a staffer whose boss in Congress touched you inappropriately or repeatedly propositioned you for sex, will you feel comforted by Nancy Pelosi’s black pantsuit?”
Townhall editor Katie Pavlich, acknowledging on Fox News’ “Outnumbered” that it was “a good thing that they’re bringing victims of sexual assault to show that this does happen and there are real people who are at the basis of these stories,” decried Hollywood’s and the Democratic Party’s “unbelievable” hypocrisy. “I’m glad that they maybe have decided that they want to make this an issue, but just a couple weeks ago they were regretting that maybe they jumped the gun with Al Franken and asking him to resign,” she said. “So what is the end goal here? Is there going to be a solution to this problem, or are we just going to dress up in different colors and act like we care?”
The administration will likely seize upon this show of sartorial resistance “to try and make the way that the Democratic women are demonstrating seem somewhat superficial,” Lawless projected, while Trump and his base won’t be influenced by the protest “at all.” But it could send a message to vulnerable, POTUS-friendly Republican lawmakers — “at a time when Democrats are well positioned to take back the House” and there are several House races in Clinton-won districts currently repped by Republicans — that their jobs could be in jeopardy.
“Coverage of the State of the Union, which will be very extensive, will likely now spend at least a little bit of time addressing what these Democratic women decided to do,” Lawless added. “It’s a very quick and easy way for them to ensure that their concerns make their way into the media coverage of the event — regardless of whether (the President) addresses any of the issues that are on their agenda.”
This article was originally published Jan. 15, 2018, and updated following President Trump’s first State of the Union address.
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