A moment and movement of courage in America

With both the outing of sexual predators and the call for a cessation of violence in Baltimore catching fire as movements, one must marvel at the courage on view before us — even as the naysayers and the doubters and the haters vie for attention.

Whether one is stepping into the light about painful and embarrassing matters that have generally taken place in private or offering a rather simple solution to a situation too daunting for experts to resolve, the same obstacles have had to be overcome: fear and inertia. The women and men in the vanguard of these efforts had to muster courage and then brace themselves for the sort of backlash unheard of before the advent of social media.

For the ceasefire movement, which has been underway since spring, there are those who say the organizers focus too much on symptoms and not enough on systems. For the survivors of what may have been abusive conduct that took place decades ago or just last year, there are those who question motive and timing and wonder why it took so long to complain.

As though, in either situation, the doubters know of which they speak from the comfort of the sidelines.

You know an issue has arrived at a critical point as a serious matter when the writers at “Saturday Night Live” can cull some humor from it.

“Well, it’s a good weekend to stay inside, since it’s 20 degrees out and everyone you’ve ever heard of is a sex monster,” Colin Jost deadpanned in the “Weekly Update” segment Saturday night as a montage of faces popped up on screen: the Hollywood contingent of comedian Louis C.K., actor Kevin Spacey and producer Harvey Weinstein, and the GOP senatorial candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. Mr. Moore is now caught up in accusations that he was “inappropriately” involved with underage girls some years ago.

None of these men, including Mr. Moore, has been formally charged with anything, and all but Louis C.K. has professed some degree of innocence. The best Mr. Moore has come up with is, “I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.” One of his top defenders, Alabama’s state auditor, has tried to offer precedent. “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner.

Just like the notion of the “casting couch” had become entrenched in the world of show business for nearly a century, so in Baltimore had been the notion that people killing each other is just the way it goes in certain parts of town. But Erricka Bridgeford, Ellen Gee and other organizers of the Baltimore Ceasefire were moved to do something after years of hesitation. For Ms. Bridgeford, who works in the field of conflict mediation, there came the realization that “we had gotten used to something that is not normal — for people to just be murdered on a daily basis.”

We’re seeing new normals developing before our eyes.

On the eve of the most recent ceasefire weekend, Nov. 3-5, the organizers knew their efforts had paid off when a woman wrote in to the lively Facebook group, Baltimore City Voters, questioning the naivete of a call for people to lay down their arms for 72 hours in a city where, by one often cited statistic, someone is killed about every 19 hours. A deluge of responders respectfully schooled the poor woman, converting her in the process — before the ceasefire organizers had uttered a word in the social media version of a town hall meeting.

Those now emboldened to speak out about sexual improprieties could mark a similar milestone in the efforts to be heard when Sen. Mitch McConnell actually tore himself away from blind partisan loyalty to weigh in on the Moore situation. “I think he should step aside,” the majority leader told reporters. “I believe the women, yes.”

Body counts and numbers of accusers offer a way of measuring the gravity of what is now underway. But of greater significance is the fact that we are looking anew at workplace environments and power dynamics and causes of violence — and our own complicity, however unwitting, in any of this.

There has been a shift in our sense of what is doable in the face of great odds. And we have a vanguard of courageous women and men to thank for that.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: ershipp2017@gmail.com.

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