It was a nearly empty Senate floor when Elizabeth Warren, democratic senator of Massachusetts, stood to criticize the nomination for attorney general, republican senator Jeff Sessions. She began to read a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr., in which King voiced her own concern about Sessions’ controversial statements.
Senate republicans invoked an old rule prohibiting senators from using previously discussed material to slander other senators. Warren appealed, but after a majority ruling, she was kept from speaking for the rest of the session.
To justify the ruling, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stated, “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech.” McConnell then added that “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Warren left the Senate chamber, whereupon she read the remainder of King’s warning against Sessions on Facebook Live.
Immediately, minority rights advocates and Warren’s followers took to social media, seizing upon the closing line of McConnel’s statement. In minutes, Twitter transformed his freezing indictment into a badge of honor for women and minority groups nationwide.
Trisha Posey, associate professor of history at John Brown University, sees this as one more step in a long line of protests against unfair treatment of women and other minority groups.
“It is ironic that they are taking this statement, ‘she continued speaking when we asked her not to,’ and then saying, ‘we claim this as our own,’” Posey said.
“There is a lot going on in our society that has been going on forever,” Posey added. “My students and I were reading Mary Wollstonecraft last week – “Vindication of the Rights of Women” – and what she was saying in the 18th century is what a lot of women would say today.”
Women are even getting tattoos of Session’s remark, developing “Nevertheless, She Persisted” energy bar recipes and creating original artwork centered on the statement, all to raise awareness for Senator Warren and the minority group she represents.
Patty Kirk, writer-in-residence and associate professor of English at JBU, has what she calls a complex opinion about Warren and the burgeoning women’s movement. Kirk’s family has discussed Warren’s recent controversial claim of Cherokee status, from which Warren benefitted without legally tracing her lineage.
Kirk still found Session’s nomination debate outrageous.
“How could anyone be rebuked for reading a letter relevant to a nominee? Wasn’t that the sort of thing senators were supposed to do at such debates?” Kirk said.
Kirk recognizes Warren’s political strength in to say, “I’d vote for her if she ran for president.” However, Kirk qualified her support. “I’m not much into movements or bandwagons. Or tattoos.”
Posey posits the tattoos and tweets as an attempt to communicate the call for stronger legislation supporting women.
“Legislation related to equal pay and equal work, which we have at the federal level, but which might be strengthened. Legislation for maternity leave policies that provide for women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Protection of women on issues like rape and sexual assault,” Posey said.
Posey also thinks legislation is only part of the solution to the persistent political cry of women worldwide and said that broader societal change should the larger solution.