If you were one of the thousands of panicked politics dorks watching C-SPAN 2 last night, you witnessed something remarkable: Sen. Mitch McConnell, along with 48 other Republican senators, voting to temporarily but formally silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
It was a spectacularly theatrical and of course, devastatingly sad moment in our recent traumatic political history. McConnell invoked an arcane senate rule to silence Warren, at the precise time she was reading a letter from civil rights hero Coretta Scott King. And it wasn’t just the actions of one senator either 48 senators, 44 of whom are male, joined along with him.
While the event sparked multiple hashtags and a swell of anger online, the moment particularly resonated for the millions of women who watched Warren then read aloud that same letter outside the senate doors shortly after. Warren broadcasted her full speech on Facebook Live, using the platform to take back her voice.
For the women watching online, far away from the senate floor, it hit home. They knew this feeling.
The feeling, that of a coalition of powerful men silencing a strong woman who played by the rules of her job, stuck. On social media, women came forward who identified with the overarching emotional narrative. They had never attended a senate hearing, but knew exactly what it was like to be told to leave it.
Silencing Elizabeth Warren for breaking an arcane senate rule was simply a more genteel way of telling a woman to sit down and shut up.
shauna (@goldengateblond) February 8, 2017
Oliver Willis (@owillis) February 8, 2017
Women have been told to shut up and sit down long enough, it infuriates me that McConnell did this to Senator Warren #LetLizSpeak
Linda Taibi (@Bellalindafox) February 8, 2017
CORINNE FISHER (@PhilanthropyGal) February 8, 2017
Warren could have easily left the floor and gone home, leaving Twitter and her kindly male senators on the floor (including Senator Sherrod Brown, who read King’s full speech without reproach) to clean up the mess. Instead, she did what women in these situations are so used to doing: She found another way and went straight to Twitter and Facebook Live.
In just under 12 hours, Warren had more than 6.5 million people listening to King’s letter.
When the traditional platform of the senate floor didn’t want to hear it, and a traditional media source didn’t have enough cameras to broadcast it, she just went somewhere else.
What’s shocking is that this isn’t even the senator’s most-watched video. On Facebook, a video of her grilling Betsy DeVos has more than 7.4 million views, which increases by the minute. The time she went to Logan International Airport in Massachusetts to speak out against the Muslim ban? That has 13.6 million.
For the millions of people who watched it, however, it doesn’t even matter.
Voice of Reason (@raggapegs) February 8, 2017
Last night could have been become yet another occasion for grieving in this endless, crushing political trauma cycle. Here was Sen. Warren, reading the words of a legendary civil rights hero and woman of color, protesting into the night against the appointment of a man who’s known for silencing them and who will soon be in charge of guarding them, only to have her voice taken away, too.
Instead, the senator did what so many of the women who watched her speech are used to doing closed the door, unfolded her pages, turned on her phone and found another way to be heard.