This story has been updated to include a tweet from Hillary Clinton.
Twitter has turned a Republican senator’s words into a feminist rallying cry.
On Tuesday evening, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was formally silenced by Republican senators during a debate on President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). The GOP said Warren was “impugning the motives” of the Sessions by reading a letter from Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Martin Luther King Jr., that dated to his failed judicial nomination 30 years ago.
King wrote that when acting as a federal prosecutor, Sessions used his power to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) invoked an arcane rule against fellow Senators criticizing one another and described Senate’s censure of Warren as follows: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
The incident and McConnell’s words have since gone viral, with users using the hashtags #LetLizSpeak and #ShePersisted to protest the muzzling of the Massachusetts senator and draw parallels between her and other women who have “persisted” despite attempts to silence them, such as civil rights icon Rosa Parks and suffrage movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst.
A number of Democratic senators threw their support behind Warren. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) wrote that by not letting Warren read King’s letter on the Senate floor, they were doing a disservice to the civil rights activist’s memory. Sen. Kamala Harris’s (Calif.) call to social media users to “retweet if you think it’s wrong for the GOP to silence” received nearly 40,000 retweets at the time of publication.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also weighed in, quoting McConnell in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon and responding to his words with, “So must we all.”
Outside the political arena, social media users commented that silencing Warren was representative of the sexism endemic to U.S. politics (and beyond). “Let’s be real, what happened to [Warren] is not a new phenomenon, and every woman watching knows EXACTLY what is going on,” wrote one user.
After being forbidden to speak for the rest of the debate, Warren read King’s letter outside the Senate floor, and then posted the video to her Facebook page.
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