The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund which began 60 days ago has already heard from 1,700 women across this nation from over 60 industries — from a hotel cook to a security officer, military, first responders, cosmotologists, farm workers, prison guards, steelworkers, and workers in Silicon Valley, to name a few. By next week, money from the Legal Defense Fund will start being dispersed next week with the National Women’s Law Center administering the fund.
Some key members of a movement that started in earnest on the red carpet at the Golden Globes earlier this year said that it will continue with “a moment” in the Oscar show. A number of members of the group met with journalists tonight to discuss the first 60 days of progress. Participating in the talk in a conference room in West Hollywood were Tina Tchen, Hilary Rosen, Ava DuVernay, Tessa Thompson, Shonda Rhimes, Katie McGrath, attorney Nina Shaw and Laura Dern.
Tomorrow a key partnership will be announced between Time’s Up and StoryCorps, a non-profit founded by David Isay which records the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs to create a historical archive. The first three stories will be from Ashley Judd, Jane Fonda and America Ferrera. And it will go well beyond sexual harassment. Shonda Rhimes is also recording a story.
“Sexual harassment is a symptom of a system and a culture, so the stories become very important” said DuVernay who noted how significant it was to hear stories from what people experienced with HIV. “In our lifetimes, we saw pools being drained … we saw the segregation for people with HIV and AIDS and that changed because of the stories.” She pointed to how the movie Philadelphia or Angels in America changed perceptions. “It’s a vital record in a quest to change culture” and to put a human face on things.
Time’s Up is not only the Legal Defense Fund, however. The mission of the group is clear: address the core structural issues of systemic inequality in the workplace which include promotion policies, pay equality, paid leave, sexual harassment, diversity and safety. Basically, overall fairness and equality in the workplace — and it is those stories that will be recorded by different women in different industries via StoryCorps.
The organizers of Time’s Up said they have heard from those in the U.K., South Korea, Pakistan, Kuwait and even in Kenya. While the group’s Legal Defense Fund is only for the U.S. a similar Justice and Equality Fund followed suit in the U.K. And after the Globes where Time’s Up became a cause celebre, 100 calls came in for help from women across America.
The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund “has just exploded,” noted Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff who is leading the Fund. Since launching on Jan. 1, they have received $21M from 20,000 donors from all 50 states ranging from $5 to $2M. “That momentum has just continued and grown but so has the need.” Of the 1,700 who requested help, the fund has been able to meet the needs of 1,250 — finding them lawyers (500 attorneys volunteered to help, many doing it pro bono).
Surprisingly, a small percentage have come from the entertainment industry, said Hilary Rosen who has been helping on the Fund. As of next week, the funds will start to flow and they hope that the Fund will be able to cover some lawyer fees for the cases whether be civil suits or criminal cases (a full range of cases). The focus of the effort of the Fund are to help the wage workers.
While the Time’s Up movement may have been born on the red carpet, “it was never intended to live on the (red) carpet,” said Katie McGrath. “This was a movement and a sisterhood that was undeniable … women around the globe — and men, too — have started to coordinate and network with each other around their shared experience.”
What’s interesting is that they said they are forming in a 501(c)4 of which the Legal Defense Fund then becomes one of the beneficiaries. The differences between a 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 are significant. Under the latter, unlike the (c)3, the organization can lobby, donate money or time to political campaigns and endorse/oppose political candidates. Donors do not get a tax deduction for donating like they would with a (c)3.
The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is housed within and administered by the National Women’s Law Center, which itself is already a 501(c)3 so donations are tax-deductible (so there is no separate 501(c)3 organization for the Legal Defense Fund itself). Separate and apart from that will be Time’s Up as a 501(c)4 which will also likely have a 501 (c)(3) arm.
“We are going to stay focused on creating policies and structures that will help promote a (safe) environment,” said McGrath.
They also gave us a glimpse into the structure of the group, which consists of a number of working groups inside the umbrella Time’s Up movement like WOC (an acronym for Women of Color). “There are a bunch of different groups so people can come in and out of and there is a flexible leadership structure,” said DuVernay. The issues that WOC faces is different than, say, Caucasian women and some of the issues facing women in the workplace disproportionately affect women of color.
Among the working groups, for instance, is a production/crew/below-the-line alliance — and then a bigger meeting once a month that now numbers about 200 people. There are a number of men involved as well. In fact, about 180 men came to a meeting at UCLA, out of the eye of the media.
“This is about how we can stand togetther and how we can help other women from other industries,” said Dern. One very surprising fact came from Dern in talking to the group about attending the Globes with farmworkers’ rights advocate Mónica Ramírez and that is that children are allowed to legally work in the farm working field at only 12 years old.
The members also dispelled the idea that you need to be invited into the Time’s Up group. They said there is no exclusivity. The culture of Hollywood is such as it is a very invite-only mentality, they noted and activism is anything but that.
“You just show up and you do it,” said DuVernay who began activism in Compton at a young age. She said activism really goes against the construct of Hollywood. “The spirit of activism … it’s not an invite thing … that narrative ‘this is something that I wasn’t invited to’ speaks to the inconsistent nature and tenure of what we’re doing … it’s an open call.”
Rhimes agreed, noting that, for instance, during the Obama political campaign, it grew organically out of the excitement and passion voters had. “Hollywood is a place that breeds a feeling of exclusion, and this is very counter to that. So I think that for a lot of people there this a feeling of ‘it must be something that you are invited to’ because everything else in this town builds on the idea of you with your nose pressed to the glass … this just doesn’t work that way.”
Lastly, asked about Ryan Seacrest at the Oscars and if he would be avoided because of sexual harassment allegations, DuVernay said: “We support people who are bearing witness to what has happened to them but the bottom line is if you are on the carpet, you make your individual decision about it, and we’re trying to build something that is sustainable, long-lasting and serious.” It is about the big picture.
Added Dern: “A revolution for the next generation is occurring where everyone’s voices being loud and true are inspiring the next generation right now to ask for their safety and well-being (in the workplace) — it’s extraordinary, so if we all resonate this message together and work together, it’s a (thing) that we haven’t seen in this country in a very long time and that’s inspiring.”