Al Franken's Resignation Gives Democrats a Chance to Make Things Right

Following weeks of speculation and debate, Al Franken announced that he would be resigning from his Senate seat today after over half a dozen women had accused him of unwanted sexual advances, including groping during photo ops and trying to forcibly kiss them at public events.

There’s no doubt that the Franken case is complicated. Here we have a man who’s used his political position to vote in favor of legislation that has helped women and other marginalized communities. And yes, as many people have said countless times, he hasn’t done anything close to what Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is accused of. We have the seats in the chamber to think about, as well as the votes and the people most affected by our current political and cultural hellscape. And we had someone who was considered an early viable contender for the 2020 presidency at a time when Democrats couldn’t be more divided on who that should be. All of this makes it hard to let Al Franken go.

But here we also have at least seven women whom Franken reportedly took advantage of when he was in various positions of power, and we have a party trying to take some moral high ground at a time when half the country seems to lack souls. We should be angry, however, at the alleged perpetrator for not living up to what he campaigned as; that’s the true shame in all of this. We shouldn’t be throwing our rage at the victims who chose to come forward and say that there was a different reality. And we can’t pretend that Democrats as a whole aren’t responsible for getting us here.

The fact of the matter is, we’re at this point because the party did a lot of terrible shit in previous decades, and our past has truly come to haunt us. It’s about how people, including women and feminists, defended Bill Clinton and how our Democratic lawmakers — for example, Joe Biden — treated women like Anita Hill. It’s about decades of supporting men who were “womanizers” or who kept their depravity behind closed doors, without stopping to think how even that could be damaging in the long run. We heard lecture after lecture about how getting into formation was about the longevity of the party and that there were certain things (which turned out to be a lot of things) that we should overlook. But at what cost?

It’s sobering to realize that actions — some of which took place decades ago and before many of us were born or politically conscious — have consequences.

All of that said, here’s one thing I’m looking forward to as Al Franken makes his exit, and it has nothing to do with Al Franken himself: While Minnesota’s Lt. Governor Tina Smith is expected to replace Franken leading up to a special election, the fine people of Minnesota then have the chance to elect a woman who practices what she preaches to that seat. As a state, Minnesota is full capable of doing this; after all, its residents have elected numerous Democratic women who are making waves nationally, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, who’s Minnesota’s first elected female senator, and state representative Ilhan Omar, who’s the first Somali-American Muslim legislator elected in the U.S. (Plus, who’s to say Omar couldn’t nab that seat herself?)

Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina Smith

And that’s not the only opportunity to show that Democrats have some moral backbone.

Over the next year, in local elections and in primaries and in the general election next November, Democrats have the choice to start righting this wrong. In case you haven’t heard, women are running for office in droves, and they’re from every background imaginable. In fact, there are four times as many women who’ve filed to run for the House of Representatives compared to this time in 2015.

And in the Senate, twice as many women are running compared to 2015, and 10 times as many are running compared to the numbers in 2012 and 2014. And if what we saw during the 2017 elections is any indication, Democrats are totally down to give these women a shot and hand them their votes.

Instead, imagine what would happen if we had lawmakers whose personal histories didn’t contradict their votes. We can have it all, and no, it isn’t too much to ask for. We don’t have to be silent for the “greater good” of the party. We are the damn party. And what we say, goes.

Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.

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