When Karen Levine traveled an hour by train into Manhattan from her home on Long Island Saturday, she was carrying a poster-sized photo of herself at 12 years old. That was the age, she said, when her doctor began sexually assaulting her.
The pediatrician, whose face was displayed on the other side of Levine’s poster, continued to molest her until she was sixteen, she said. The doctor was eventually stripped of his license in 2000, when six women came forward to accuse him of assault when they were children. Levine, now 56, was not among them because her mother and then-husband didn’t support her, she said.
“He said it was too long ago to matter,” Levine said, her voice ragged. “I feel bad that I couldn’t speak out then, but I am now.”
Levine, who is now remarried, came to the city to speak out at a rally for the #MeToo movement held outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower Saturday.
The rally, the first #MeToo event in New York, coincided with the first major snowstorm of the season. And it was a heavy one. Posters were soaked and pink pussy hats were caked with ice. But organizers and dozens of attendees – roughly 50 to 60 people, most of them women – were resolute. They had come to speak and to be heard and did not allow weather to stifle their voices or their message.
The rally featured speakers from a variety of advocacy groups and a brief performance by feminist band BETTY. As a final act of assertion, organizers urged attendees to write their stories of harassment or assault and post them on a wall of the 59th Street subway station.
The event was organized by two women who met on Twitter, Annmarie Haubert and Connie Vasquez, with support from the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and EndAbuse4Good, a domestic violence treatment center. Haubert, an EMT instructor, said she met Vasquez, an attorney, after expressing dismay on Twitter about missing the #MeToo march in Los Angeles on November 12. Haubert lives in New York but said she would have happily flown to California for the march. Vasquez reached out to say she was organizing an event in New York.
“We wanted something here on the East Coast,” Haubert told TheInk.nyc.
Similar events expressing outrage over the continuing revelations about male public figures abusing their power have been organized across the country. The rallies began after reports about film and television mogul Harvey Weinstein that outlined detailed charges of harassment, rape, and what The New York Times called a “complicity machine” in which Weinstein muzzled those around him with non-disclosure agreements and used the gossip media to disgrace and humiliate victims who tried to speak out.
By coming together to show their numbers, participants said, the rallies and marches demand recognition for those who have been made invisible.
“It’s exactly the opposite of what abusers want,” said Asher Lovy, 25, the director of Zaakah, an organization that raises awareness about sexual abuse in the orthodox Jewish community. Zaakah has a lobbying arm, and Lovy heard about the event from an email listserv.
“Every abuser depends on their victim being shamed into silence,” Lovy said. “The #MeToo movement and this protest in particular is flipping that on its head and saying, ‘No, we’re not going to be silent anymore.’ ”
Rally organizer Haubert said that was an intentional goal for the event. “I want people to take away the feeling of solidarity, that feeling of ‘I’m not alone. I see this person and they see me,’ ” she said.
A coup for the #MeToo movement’s visibility came on Wednesday when “The Silence Breakers” were named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Tarana Burke, who started the #MeToo hashtag and is featured in the Time piece, tweeted support for Haubert and Vasquez Friday night.
“We’re thrilled about that,” Haubert said.
Organizers conceived the rally as a challenge to abuse of all kinds by all perpetrators, but its location outside of President Donald Trump’s hotel in Columbus Circle suggested a connection to the president. At least 19 women have accused Trump of sexual assault or harassment.
Some onlookers dismissed the rally’s anti-Trump message. Sisters Taylor and Christy Gibson, 21 and 39, were in New York from Cincinnati to celebrate Taylor Gibson’s 21st birthday. They both said they voted for Trump.
“I think that he’s for the American people,” Christy Gibson said when they stopped to take a photo in front of the hotel. “Go Trump,” she added as the first round of applause went up on the rally’s stage behind her.
Some at the rally carried signs denouncing the president. One woman who held a sign with the phrase “Mein Trumpf,” declined to be named but said that she came seeking catharsis and community. She regretted that more men did not attend.
“The problem is that men see this as a women’s issue,” she said.
Haubert said that she and Vasquez decided during the rally to host another event in early 2018 in coordination with NOW.
They are likely hoping for better weather next time. When the rally’s second speaker, Aryn Quinn, the founder and president of EndAbuse4Good, addressed the rally, she spoke with conviction, but her voice was muffled by a plastic covering organizers had placed over the microphone to protect it from the snow. Members of the crowd yelled out from under snow-laden umbrellas that they couldn’t hear.
“I’ll just speak as loud as I can then,” Quinn said.