Local | Perspective
November 14, 2017 at 8:44 PM
We've done a brilliant job of cleaving our country in two over guns, golf, kneeling, pizza, the first lady's shoes and a few thousand other things.
Just in case there isn't enough to fight over, we now have Juli Briskman.
Briskman is the 50-year-old marketing executive who got fired from Akima, a government contracting firm, for flashing her middle finger at President Trump's motorcade. A photo of her went viral last month, but her name didn't surface publicly until last week, triggering a tsunami of attention for the single mother from Northern Virginia.
Early on Nov. 6, when I wrote about her, Briskman had 24 Twitter followers. Now?
Her name became a trending hashtag. She's sorting through scores of job offers and has around $90,000 in a "Thank You Juli Briskman" GoFundMe account she had absolutely nothing to do with starting but has been moved by. "Through your generous donations, heavy burdens have been lifted," she wrote on the page. "Thank you!"
"That's a lot of money! I am shocked by the support and generosity people have shown," she told me. " I greatly appreciate Rob, Steve and John setting those up and I sent a note of thanks to be posted in the campaigns today. I am sorting through the hundreds [of] messages and connections that have come my way since this all happened and I am not sure where I will land. It is definitely my plan to pay some of this forward once I get settled and can fully assess my financial situation."
Almost 13,000 people have signed a MoveOn.Org petition demanding Akima give her her job back.
She's not quite sure what to do with this.
" I just learned about the petition yesterday," she told me, in an email exchange. "The petition is meant to go to my former employer to ask for my job back or for compensation for the 'hostile and unwarranted termination.' As I am not sure what I will do in relation to Akima at this point, I asked MoveOn.org to pass along my sincerest thanks to the organizer."
She's been bombarded with interview requests from all over the world — TMZ even sent a reporter to stand in the pouring rain to plead for time with her. She was the topic of office and online conversations all over the country.
"At this point, it's bigger than me," she texted me last week, "and not about me anymore."
The divide over how people saw her was stark.
"Middle finger hero lady . . . "
" . . . an inspiration to us all."
" . . . a patriot."
That's what one part of America called her.
From the other:
I can't publish the profane and misogynistic words some people used to describe her. They believe she disrespected the president when she was out on her bike and the Trump motorcade whooshed by her on the way back from his golf course. She impulsively flipped the black cars off. Twice.
(If you have lived in Washington long enough, you may have done this anyhow, regardless of who was inside, because those motorcades are hell on traffic and are at the root of thousands of missed appointments all over the nation's capital.)
She chose to out herself to her bosses because she was worried someone might recognize her, though only her back — and the back of her hand — were visible in the photo.
Big mistake. That honesty was enough to get her fired because she violated her employer's code-of-conduct policy.
Even so, as she volunteered at the polls for Virginia's gubernatorial election, the voters hurrying by her to register their own protest of Trump didn't really recognize her.
Folks did recognize her former employer.
The Facebook page of Akima was carpeted with obscene gestures. Folks posted pictures and GIFs of middle-finger salutes, from photoshopped (Mr. Rogers, the Queen Mum, Jesus Christ) to real (Stephen Colbert, a gorilla).
Briskman took plenty of flak too. So did I. More than 9,000 people commented on my column. Because Briskman is a she, the deluge that blasted my inbox was a fire hose of misogynistic hatred. I was bombed by emails laced with sex and violence. Men — I would guess they were mostly older, given the Rogers and Franks who were taking time out of their retirements to spew words they'd never say in front of their grandkids — were issuing all kinds of judgments on Briskman's body too.
The discussion could have focused on civil liberties, freedom of speech, the appropriate control an employer should have over employees. These are definitely worth debating.
Instead, sadly, many of the arguments boiled down to the stale, knee-jerk, pro-Trump or anti-Trump, us-vs.-them that now taints most of our national conversation.
Dan Garnett, who emailed me from his Hotmail account, summed up the line of attack pretty well.
"You are one whiny lady. I'd like to send you a case of pacifiers and a blanket for your nappie time. Hate us all you want; we still won. We will continue to win. You are welcome to join us, by the way."
Like it or not, we are already joined, Mr. Garnett. We're all Americans, together. And we have to find a way to move beyond demonizing one another.
As for Briskman, she told me she was getting ready for a long planned vacation. She can't wait to get away.
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