A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.
Everyone from Steve Bannon to feminist theorists is asking, “What’s next for MeToo?”. Oscar winner Mira Sorvino, attorney Noreen Farrell, and their coalition of actors and advocates have a plan. It’s what they’re describing as the strongest slate of anti-sexual harassment bills in the US.
Sorvino was among the first high-profile actors to go on record with sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
While shedding light on the harassment was important, for Sorvino, action is the imperative next step of the MeToo moment. “Talk is hollow and can almost hurt the situation,” she explains, “When there’s a loud clamor, the public can assume something’s being done about it.”
She intends to harness the groundswell. “Naming and shaming have their place,” she says, “But that will die down. We have to take the awareness we’ve built and turn it right away into something concrete.”
Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), the organization helmed by attorney Noreen Farrell, has been litigating sexual harassment cases for four decades. She’s leading a coalition of over 50 organizations and coalitions from communities across California fighting for the economic security of working women and families.
“The revolution is really in policy reform that goes after the systems and structures that profit from abuse and exploitation,” Farrell explains.
To leverage the MeToo and Time’s Up moment, ERA identified the policy gaps that leave workers vulnerable to harassment and violence. They helped identify legislation to close the gaps and launched an advocacy campaign, #TakeTheLead.
Among other things, the bills
- Extend the amount of time workers can file harassment and discrimination claims from one to three years.
- Clarify that individuals can be held personally responsible for retaliating against an employee who files a claim.
- Expand the sexual harassment protections to other working relationships like investors, elected officials, directors, and lobbyists.
- Strengthen anti-sexual harassment training requirements to include all employees.
Sorvino highlights SB 224, which focused on dramatically increasing training requirements. She hopes it will “Turn uneducated bystanders to whistleblowers and empower workers to understand their rights to a safe and meritocratic (not sexual politics-based) workplace.”
Designed to promote the coalition’s legislative agenda, the #TakeTheLead campaign “Helps California take the lead in the nation in enacting strong laws against sexual harassment and violence.” The plan is that the rest of the nation will follow.
Celebrities like Patricia Arquette and Debra Messing have shared the hashtag to encourage people across country to show support for the legislation. According to Farrell, their willingness to leverage their platforms to support people in other industries has helped elevate the conversation and expand it to parts of the country that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
“I’ve been tremendously moved by advocacy of people of all genders in the entertainment industry,” Farrell says, “I applaud Hollywood and those within it who are intent on reaching women who are even more vulnerable – those in low wage industries.” She describes everyone from construction workers, to gold miners, to teachers, to janitors.
Farrell also recognizes the power of coalition. “I love and credit Hollywood for their support,” she says, “It’s truly also a community, ground-up movement that’s supporting this slate. It can be replicated in other states because of that.”
A self-described policy geek, Farrell explains that California is home to 12% of the nation’s women and is a progressive influencer, so it makes sense to start there. Sorvino echoes the sentiment that California legislation often becomes the model for other states.
“We’re not gonna stop until every state in the country has the same protections as California,” Farrell says, “Your rights shouldn’t depend on your zip code.”
Both Sorvino and Farrell see the suite of legislation #TakeTheLead promotes as a vital element of ending the culture of harassment across the country. Sorvino says, “We have to follow this awakening with clear action that institutionalizes the changes we want to see.”