“I didn’t tell anyone.”
Sol Flores looked at her newly minted campaign staff, recounting her story of sexual abuse as a child.
Why didn’t you tell anyone, they wanted to know. Who was he? How long did this go on?
“I was only 11,” recalled Flores.
It was odd to be speaking in such specific terms about the abuse, something that had defined her life and career as a social worker and advocate. She’d revealed it in general, but the details were hard to talk about.
“It was 1984,” said Flores, as she remembered the school art project that became a child’s first line of defense.
She decided to build a large wooden chest. Flores remembered how vividly she painted it — purple and yellow with flowers. She could see them as she closed her eyes and talked.
Flores would fill the chest at night with all the books and toys she had and lodge it against her door. While her mother worked at night, a man who was living with them would slip into her room and lift her clothes. The box would scrape against the carpet when he opened the door and startle Flores awake. At age 11, Flores would bolt up and fight him off.
That’s it, said Flores’ staff. That’s your opening campaign ad.
Standing in the hallway of her childhood home, Flores, now a first-time Democratic candidate for Congress, stared into the camera and told voters of Illinois’ 4th congressional district about her abuse. She ends the ad with the rallying cry of the #MeToo movement: “I’ll fight as hard for you in Congress as I did to protect myself.”
From Chicago to Miami to Detroit, Democratic women running for state and federal office in 2018 tell CNN that the #MeToo movement is the rallying cry fueling their candidacies.
What began as a hashtag generally against abusive men in power, moved into political accountability for alleged assaulters, and is now propelling some political candidacies in a historic year for women as record numbers run for local, state and national office in 2018.
For progressive women now running as Democrats, the election of President Trump, who has denied accusations of sexual assault, was another spark and the Women’s Marches that followed his inauguration fanned the flames. They tell CNN they cast the President as both a symbol and perpetrator of the sexual harassment the #MeToo movement rallies against.
Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and services to homeless families in Chicago, said Trump’s election crystallized to her how little parity exists in the American political and power structure.
The #MeToo movement, said Flores, is borne out of the frustration that power won’t shift unless government looks more like the people it’s supposed to represent. The Trump White House, said Flores, certainly bears little resemblance to Flores’ life or the life of her district.
“We need to change the face of Congress,” said Flores, running in an open seat created by the retirement of Rep. Luis Gutierrez.
“I want voters to know I’ve been there. I’ve struggled just like them. I fought my way out. I will fight for them just as hard.”
In Detroit, Democratic Michigan attorney general candidate Dana Nessel calls the #MeToo movement the singular, driving force for women candidates like her in 2018.
“I think that’s a big part of why women are running for office. Because they know that part of ensuring that sexual harassment does not take place in the highest levels of government by making certain we have more women there.”
Nessel unapologetically and pointedly made #MeToo the centerpiece of her campaign. Nessel’s opening campaign ad was recorded in her living room on a shoestring budget, as she looks squarely into her phone camera.
“When you’re choosing Michigan’s next attorney general, ask yourself this,” said Nessel. “Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so.”
To her surprise, the ad landed on Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel that night. Nessel has no regrets, she said. “I was making a serious point,” said Nessel. “What considerably contributes to the problem of sexual harassment is when you don’t have enough women in positions of power.”
Nessel, a lawyer who has spent her career as a sex crimes prosecutor and civil rights defender, looks to the Trump White House as her “Exhibit A.”
“We view Donald Trump as potentially one of the worst offenders,” said Nessel. “That sort of tone deafness, that complete lack of understanding of why that would be troublesome to the women who live in this country is exactly what we’re fighting against.
“In November of 2018, we are going to see a cataclysmic push back to what we’ve seen through the Trump administration. We’re fighting back against the notion that women are something that you can grope, you can abuse or harass, but not to be taken seriously. We’re going to take back our state offices. We’re going to take back our federal offices and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
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