Open Letter to Al Franken

Senator Franken:

When news of Leeann Tweeden’s sexual harassment accusations broke, my heart sank. Though I live in Los Angeles now, you have long been one of my favorite U.S. Senators, because of your ability to ask incisive questions on important topics, because you represent my home state and I voted for you twice, and because from the moment he died, you stepped up to be a champion for Paul Wellstone’s memory and the progressive values for which he stood.

I believe Ms. Tweeden’s claims. I also believe that a good number of men and women in America were likely jolted by that photo, not because it was so terrible but because it was so familiar. You are not the first comedian or man to think a photo like that is funny. Nor are you the only man who has thoughtlessly written a script that calls on women to carry out uncomfortable or demeaning acts for the sake of someone else’s entertainment. Finally, I believe that there are varying levels of severity in the realm of sexual harassment and assault, just as there are for any other harmful or criminal behaviors.

What none of those beliefs change is how you made Ms. Tweeden feel at the time, and what your decision to remain in the Senate means for our country. I am calling on you to show that you understand the seriousness of this moment and the weight of your position. Senator, please resign.

I am confident you are surrounded by friends, family, and colleagues telling you to stay. It is clear from the defense raised by former colleagues and staff that you are beloved of many, and it is also clear that you are one of the most compelling, cogent, and sincere representatives currently serving in Congress. In the case of Ms. Tweeden, even your accuser has not called for you to resign.

But you are also a man whose voice and moral authority have been compromised. Can you persist in your position? Yes. Can you be re-elected? Quite possibly, once the furor dies down. But by staying in office, you force your supporters to defend against actions that, if carried out by their opponents, they would never tolerate. Your continued presence in the Senate (and on the Democratic fundraising circuit) weaken every argument your party can make against men like Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

We have seen, with Trump, and Ted Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas, and Bill Clinton, what happens to political parties when they ignore moral imperatives in service of political power. You may earnestly believe that whatever good you can do in office outweighs whatever harm you will do to your party’s integrity and standing. But what message does it send to young men and women when there is never a sexual offense important enough to merit a loss or surrender of political power? What hope do survivors have when even the sponsor of a bill supporting survivors’ rights believes he is more essential to government than justice is essential for victims?

You have become the bulwark other men in Congress use to explain why they, too, should stay. If you settle for an inconclusive ethics investigation for something you have already admitted to doing, you cannot credibly demand that other workplaces meet harassment with real consequences. Already, women and men who should be speaking out on these issues are undermining themselves by remaining quiet or reacting tepidly out of respect for you and your place in progressive politics.

No representative in a democracy is irreplaceable. There are others already in office in Minnesota who can serve as a powerful voice for progressive values. If stepping down costs you pride, then as the sister and friend of sexual assault survivors, I would tell you your pride is not as important as your example. Show Minnesota and the country that you understand the impact of your past behavior and the power of your current position. Remind everyone that when someone is granted power, they become more accountable for their values and actions, not less.


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Everybody loves a trier

This year has opened a new and interesting chapter in my life. For the first time in a long time, I have almost complete freedom to pursue my own passions, with few obligations outside of my job. At the same time, the Trump administration is inspiring a greater level of activism and engagement from people across the political left, and there are a multitude of new organizations and movements to support and join.

In theory, I should be on cloud nine. After all, politics:me what college basketball:the South, YouTube:teenagers, and the State Fair:Minnesotans. This could be my moment to really get involved, make a difference, and create the kind of change I’ve been longing for – this is not an exaggeration – for most of my life.

In practice, however, this year has been a quiet lesson in the distance between our ideal selves and our actual selves. Yes, I have gotten involved, trying to flip CA39, registering voters, canvassing, and calling my reps to protest bad policy and legislation. I even briefly tried starting a coalition of sorts (of which this blog was one of the original tools). But what I’m learning, as I endeavor to become a paragon of political engagement, is that what I wish I was good at doing is not, sadly, what I am actually good at doing.

Here is what I wish I was good at:

  • Engaging the masses in a deep-probing exploration of policy.
  • Writing persuasive blog and fb posts that people want to post and re-post.
  • Organizing ordinary people to effect positive social change.

Here is what I am actually good at: Continue reading

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Let’s Call It… The Redirect

I have a rallying cry for people who living in opposition in the US. Whenever the president goes out of his way to incite racial hatred, demean private citizens, or stir false controversy, let’s turn away. Rather than posting and re-posting what he said, rather than losing sleep and focus or feeling defeated, rather than analyzing and arguing over his specious bullsh**, let’s practice the difficult art of differentiation, separating what he wants to be important from what we know truly is. Let us elevate the things that matter most, the things that make a difference, and the things that lead us to greater power, justice, and well being.

I am not saying this man’s toxic personality should be ignored. If you need to lose your sh** from time to time, then go on a good rant. Lord knows, I do. But I have been reflecting a lot lately on what we lose when we amplify his issues (racial divisions, religious bigotry, and, um, racial divisions) on his timetable. We have important work to do (including on those very issues), and where we can, we should exercise control over the narrative. No, we can’t change where the media puts its focus, but we can change Continue reading

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