Op-eds, Opinions

Metz ’20: Sen. Al Franken: Step down

op-ed contributor
Sunday, November 26, 2017

After Leeann Tweeden revealed that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, had groped and kissed her against her will during a comedy tour in 2006, many commentators wasted no time accusing Democrats of hypocrisy amid the emerging Roy Moore scandal. Too often, they were right.

Far too many on the left — including some of those who most vehemently condemned Moore — have remained silent when asked about Franken. That silence, like the Senator’s behavior, is unacceptable. Now, with Lindsay Menz telling CNN that she was groped by Franken while taking a picture with him at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, that silence is all the more deafening.                    

Tweeden’s and Menz’s revelations seem shocking, to be sure. Franken has made a name for himself in Congress by fighting to protect and expand progressive programs from Obamacare to the Violence Against Women Act. On the other hand, Franken’s actions are far from surprising to the millions of individuals who have grown up in a society that is far too tolerant of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence at home and in the workplace. If Democrats wish to demonstrate their dedication to women’s issues, it is critical that elected officials and voters alike urge Franken to resign.

If Democrats turn a blind eye to Sen. Franken, they do so at their own risk. The year since Donald Trump — a man caught admitting to sexual assault on tape — was elected president has seen American women mobilize on an unprecedented scale. Just this past January, more than four million women turned to the streets to fight for their rights. They represent real electoral power and champion vital issues, but far too many Democratic politicians have taken it for granted that they will be the beneficiaries. So far, though, many Democrats in Congress and around the country have shown that they are more willing to condemn predators in the GOP than in their own ranks. During an interview on Sunday morning, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — the highest-ranking Democrat in the country — declined to condemn accused harasser John Conyers (Mich.-13), the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee. Pelosi’s hedging broadcast to predators in both parties, and to their victims, that Democrats are willing to turn a blind eye to self-declared progressives like Conyers and Franken. If her fellow Democratic office-holders give in to the worst impulses of political expediency by treating accusations against their own differently from allegations against their opponents, they will have willingly ignored the realities that half of their constituents face.

By responding to allegations of sexual harassment with partisan defensiveness and bickering, Democrats will reinforce a culture that silences survivors. This silence is already especially profound for marginalized groups, such as immigrants, people of color, gender-non conforming and trans people and those with disabilities.

It is not enough that Democrats be better than the other side. It is not enough that we merely point out abuses in the GOP to earn the votes of the millions of Americans who every year face sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. It is not enough that we condemn predators in the Republican party while merely slapping those in our own on the wrist. It is not enough to call for an Ethics Committee investigation, even after Sen. Franken has admitted to groping an unconscious woman. It is not enough to ask for women’s votes if we do not truly represent their interests. We cannot change the country from the top down. But we can start by setting a positive example — by calling out sexual abuse in the other party and in our own; by electing women to offices around the country; and by listening to, and standing with, survivors.

Sen. Franken has distinguished himself in Congress, but for the sake of the growing movement for women’s equality, it is time for him to go. As Franken steps back into his office today, we call on Democratic office-holders around the country to join us in urging Sen. Franken to step down immediately.

John Metz ’20 can be reached at john_metz@brown.edu. He is writing on behalf of the Brown Democrats. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.