Alyssa Milano did not start the #MeToo movement. She’ll be the first person to tell you that.
At every chance she gets, the actress and activist honors Tarana Burke, the civil rights activist from the Bronx who coined the phrase that changed gender politics forever. But Milano, the unstoppable advocate whose tweet “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet” redefined viral and relaunched the movement.
And she plans to do it again.
“I don’t look at anything as backlash,” Milano tells The Advocate. Fresh off of her tireless fight against the confirmation of accused sexual abuser Brett Kavanaugh, which was even noted on Saturday Night Live, she's not a smidge exhausted or defeated. In fact, she's speaking this Thursday at TheWrap Power Women Summit, where 1,000 of the most influential women in entertainment, media, tech, sports, and entrepreneurship will gather to inspire and empower one another.
“Every time criticisms arrive against the movement, I look at that as an opportunity to discuss it," she says.
Criticism of it is easy to find. The president and a Republican-led Congress are increasingly attempting to portray #MeToo not as an effort to empower the survivors of sexual misconduct across all genders but as an attack on men. There is an admitted predator in the White House while accused ones sit on the Supreme Court. Countless think pieces claim the movement has gone too far. Even one of its original leaders, Asia Argento, was accused of sexual misconduct, leading to additional fallout.
“There’s no movement that’s perfect,” Milano explains. “I think that the most powerful change and conversation comes out of criticism. And I look at things not as setbacks.”
This month, Milano made headlines regarding a confrontation with her own critics. While discussing how #TimesUp is moving the conversation further on a panel at Politicon, a Los Angeles political event, she was confronted by Laura Loomer, a far-right reporter and conspiracy theorist who has been long entangled with Project Veritas.
“My question is for you, Alyssa Milano. You are friends with Linda Sarsour, and both of you ladies have positioned yourselves as speakers and representatives of the #MeToo movement,” Loomer asked Milano, referring to one of the cofounders of the wildly successful Women’s March who is also a Muslim rights activist.
“I want to ask you right now to disavow Linda Sarsour because she is a supporter of Sharia law. And under Sharia law, women are oppressed, women are forced to wear a hijab,” Loomer probed. “My question is, will you please disavow her because she is advocating for Sharia law?”
“She’s not,” Milano responded at the time. “She’s not. But thank you so much for your question.”
“I don't even want to give that moment a second breath,” Milano tells The Advocate. “Just the fact that Laura Loomer is being considered a journalist to me means that she’s been given enough airtime.”
But Loomer was on the hunt for more. After security escorted the increasingly disruptive reporter out, she took to the internet to call Milano a "liar and fraud."
However, Milano is disavowing Sarsour. But not because of the Islamophobic conspiracies Loomer would like readers to believe.
“Any time that there is any bigotry or anti-Semitism in that respect, it needs to be called out and addressed. I’m disappointed in the leadership of the Women’s March that they haven’t done it adequately,” Milano says now, referring to leaders of the Women’s March who've refused to denounce Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitic, homophobic, and transphobic statements.
Women's March cochair Tamika Mallory sat in the audience while Farrakhan gave a hateful speech in March in which he said, "The powerful Jews are my enemy," She also received a shout-out from him and posted about the event on social media.
"I don’t think these people have our best interests at heart to make us better people or to disrupt misconceptions or anti-Semitism because trashing a strong black woman and holding her accountable for the words of a man is not the way to bring people together," she commented on Facebook, referencing the Nation of Islam. "What work are we willing to do and are we willing to be open to the true idea that members of the NOI are not all anti-Semites? Are we cool with broad brushing a whole group?"
The recent mass shooting in which a man who vocally targeted Jewish people on social media took the lives of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue has deepened the wound of Farrakhan’s remarks and the Women's March leaders' refusal to condemn them. A week earlier, Farrakhan tweeted out a speech in which he announced, "I'm not an anti-Semite. I'm anti-Termite."
Milano has noticed the silence from the Women’s March regarding Farrakhan’s hatemongering and won’t stand for it; nor will she speak at the next Women’s March if it’s still led by Sarsour or Mallory, if asked to make an appearance.
“I would say no at this point. Unfortunate that none of them have come forward against him at this point. Or even given a really good reason why to support them,” she says.
Instead, she intends to devote her time to helping migrant children separated from their parents by immigration services.
“When I met politicians or have meetings with them, one question to launch our conversation which is always ‘What is one thing that keeps you up at night?’ and for me, the one thing that keeps me up at night are those children,” Milano says. “Don’t forget about the children behind bars.”
Staying up at night in the agony of today’s world has not slowed Milano down. In fact, it fuels her, and she believes it can fuel everyone.
“When we are able to really harness our collective pain and transform that into collective power we’re able to change things," she says.