Dear Al Franken: I’ll Miss You, But You Can’t Matter Anymore

Posted by in Commentary, Rights

Go to the profile of Ijeoma Oluo

Right now, many would have you be another reason why we wait. You would be another reason why we harbor abusers.

Dear Al,

I don’t know if you remember me, but I snapped this selfie of us a little over a year ago. I was at the airport, waiting to board a quick flight from Seattle to Portland, when some middle-aged soccer-dad-looking white dude started waving and pointing frantically at his wife.

“Look!” he tried to whisper as loudly as possible as he pantomimed at a row of chairs a few feet away. His wife looked up at what he was pointing at, then looked at her husband and shrugged, disinterested. In absolute desperation he turned to me, since I was…there and obviously eavesdropping.

“SERIOUSLY. LOOK OVER THERE!” He mouthed at me and I looked where he pointed and right across from me, about 10 feet away, there you were. Al Franken. In real life. I just about lost my shit.

You saw me staring at you like I might actually explode and you kindly waved me over. I don’t know what it looked like to you or anyone else there — a 6-foot-tall, fat, black, 35-year-old woman blubbering like a dork about how much she loves you and how she’d had copies of your books since she was 15 years old, and how you kept her laughing through a Political Science degree — but I didn’t care. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a few celebrities in my life, but meeting you — even thinking about it today, it makes me feel a little starstruck.

When I finally got up the courage to ask for a picture, as we were waiting for our luggage to be unloaded after the flight, you smiled and said, “sure.” You looked like somebody’s really nice dad. As we took a picture you said, “I really don’t like Mike Pence.” It was such a simple, yet weird, and yet completely accurate thing to say, and I thought I would die from happiness. I immediately changed my profile picture to the selfie of us and basked in the jealousy of all my political nerd friends.

Al, I’m so very sad at you. Is that a thing? I mean, I’m mad at you too, but mostly, I’m very very very sad at you. How fucking stupid and selfish of you to ruin yourself for us like this. We really needed you.

Al, I’m so very sad at you.

When the first allegations against you came out and your name started popping up on social media, I started googling, while a voice inside me was repeating a prayer of, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no.” When I saw the picture of you groping a sleeping Leeann Tweeden with a smile on your face, I closed my laptop and just said, “Fuck.”

I wasn’t shocked. I’m a woman in America. I stopped being shocked at finding out that men I admired and respected were capable of being predators by the time I graduated from second grade. I was…embarrassed. I have spent much of my adult life around the comedy crowd. My brother is a former comedian, and some of my dear friends are comedians. Your behavior didn’t seem at all shocking for the world of comedy — a world where today if you were to have a beer with just about any comedy dude, he would eventually tell you that he doesn’t think that anything Louis CK did was a big deal. In a profession that is seething with its hatred of women, you would have been considered one of the good dudes. One of the safer dudes. But these dudes are assholes. Young, gross, assholes.

I look at the smile on your face as you grope a sleeping woman like you are a 13-year-old misbehaving boy and she’s a cardboard movie cutout and not an actual human being, but you aren’t 13 in that picture, you’re 56 years old. And she’s a person. A person whose body you are using for a shitty joke. You were a 56-year-old man gearing up to run for U.S. Senate, and you still felt perfectly safe treating a woman like shit.

I’m not surprised you felt so safe doing it. I’m not surprised you also felt safe trying to kiss other women without permission, or grabbing their asses or boobs. I’m just deeply disappointed that you wanted to. I thought you’d be good enough to not want to.

I live in Seattle. Right now I’m surrounded by good liberal men who are lining up to say how much they believe women. Who are clamoring to express their outrage at the horrific stories they are reading as so many women say #metoo. But some of these men — a lot of them — are abusers themselves. A lot of them have taken advantage, forced kisses on unsuspecting women, groped women, exposed themselves to women, tried to manipulate women into having sex with them. While they are expressing their outrage, they are secretly hoping that their name won’t show up in a woman’s story. They have an opportunity right now to start to make things right. To come clean, take responsibility, and begin the work of growth and redemption. But they opt for just playing the role of a hero instead. They collect praise for saying all of the right things while kicking aside their victims.

Al, you could have done the right thing so many times. When you were condemning Trump for his abuses against women, you could have held yourself accountable as well. When you were offering support to women at the beginning of the Weinstein allegations and encouraging them to come forward, you could have decided to save your victims the pain of coming forward against you. The path to redemption then might have looked different than it does now. But you didn’t, and that really sucks. So now, it’s harder. Now, we all pay a little more.

Because you were elected to represent the people of Minnesota, and in your power and fame you represent so much more. You are a part of the story of sexual abuse and assault in this country now. And as much as so many of my friends want to blame the “political operatives” of the right for your demise — you did this. You and your hubris and your feelings of entitlement to the bodies of women did this. You did this to yourself and us.

As the reports surfaced last night that you were planning to resign, I was trying to explain to my 10-year-old son why I was so sad about this. I explained that I had really admired you and had for most of my life, and I thought you were a really great Senator. But you had really mistreated some women, and you hadn’t been honest about it. And because we need Senators who respect women, and Senators who are honest and take responsibility for their wrongdoing, you had to leave. And now we all had to pay. We had to pay because as a society, we had been so permissive of the violation of women that even you — yes you, Al — thought that it was okay to treat women like objects.

My son asked, “So….is it a good thing that he’s leaving? Or bad?” And I answered, “There’s nothing good about any of this. But if he didn’t leave, it would be worse.”

When I was sexually abused, nobody believed me, because they preferred to believe that I was a liar than to believe a man was an abuser. When I was sexually harassed, people believed me, but they preferred to see me suffer in silence than to hold a man accountable. My humanity would need to wait for a more convenient time. So often women are told that when you look at the big picture, their humanity is just too inconvenient. When Donald Trump, a man with multiple sexual assault accusations against him — a man who admitted on tape to assaulting women — was elected president, tens of millions of Americans decided that the humanity of all of the women of America would have to wait until their guy wasn’t running for office.

And now Al, many in my own party are trying to convince me that the humanity of your victims needs to wait until a more convenient time. It needs to wait until we get the Senate back. It needs to wait until Trump is impeached. It needs to wait until Roy Moore is defeated. There will always be a reason to wait until a better time to do the right thing. And right now, many would have you be another reason why we wait. You would be another reason why Democrats don’t live their values. You would be another reason why we harbor abusers. And I would have never wanted that for you, but more importantly I do not want that for your victims.

You have an opportunity now to be a part of a new story, a story of justice and accountability and growth, and I’m glad that you are taking it.

Many in my own party are trying to convince me that the humanity of your victims needs to wait until a more convenient time.

You are not falling on your sword. You are not a martyr. You are not being heroic. And you are certainly not a victim. You are facing consequences for your actions. Consequences that hurt us all a lot. Not because they exist, but because you were able to rise all the way to U.S. Senate without facing them. So maybe this is what we, as a society and as a party that has always pretended to be better than this but never actually was, deserve. I’m sure you will not be the last hard loss on our path to redemption.

I don’t hate you. I haven’t deemed you trash and discarded you. I’m not getting rid of that picture of us. I’m not throwing out your books. But you can’t matter anymore. You can’t be a priority anymore. Your career and your power and what you could have been in the Senate cannot be the focus anymore. This last, long essay will be the last time I place you — and my feelings about you and my hopes for you — at the center of this. Because we’ve centered men like you for too long. There are women who can pick up where you left off. There are women who can go even further. And maybe now, now that we’ve shown that it might actually be possible to hold men accountable for their abuses against them, they will be more encouraged to do so.

I’m going to really miss who I thought you were, Al. And I really hope that one day you’ll be that person — I certainly think it’s possible, even probable. But right now, it’s time to see what women can be.