Female Democratic lawmakers are working to keep the spotlight on the issue of sexual harassment by inviting their colleagues to wear black to President Trump's State of the Union address at the end of the month.
Led by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the protest seeks to call attention to abuses of power in the workplace that affect women and other vulnerable groups. It draws inspiration from the recent Golden Globe Awards, where women wore black to highlight the problem of sexual harassment in Hollywood.
"This is a culture change that is sweeping the country and Congress is embracing it," Speier said in a written statement.
Capitol Hill also was inundated late last year with allegations of sexual harassment by lawmakers and senior aides, prompting a debate over how best to hold offenders accountable. Speier is the author of a bill to strengthen victims' rights in the reporting and mediation process, and lawmakers are in talks about how to pursue policy changes.
Seven male lawmakers have resigned or said they would not seek reelection since October over allegations of sexual harassment or other misconduct. The most prominent example was former senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), whom several women accused of inappropriately touching them before he entered politics. Franken, who denied some of the accounts, resigned Jan. 2.
Sexual misconduct was a significant issue in the recent special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions's former Senate seat. Several women in Alabama accused Republican candidate Roy Moore of pursuing them romantically when they were teenagers; one said he touched her sexually when she was 14. In a stunning victory for the left in the Deep South, Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones by 21,924 votes.
Trump, too, is implicated in the debate over sexual harassment since facing allegations of misconduct from more than a dozen women during the 2016 election. In December, three women reasserted their allegations in a bid to renew pressure on the White House. Spokesmen for Trump have said the claims are false.
Speier urged on Twitter that members of Congress from both parties join her protest on
Jan. 30 and show "solidarity w/ survivors of sexual harassment/violence in Hollywood, politics, the military, academia, etc." Members of the Democratic Women's Working Group will wear black, and Speier's office expects many other lawmakers to follow suit.