It’s February 7th, 2017. United States Senators are debating whether to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren argued against the confirming Sessions and quoted the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., saying Sessions is a “disgrace to the Justice Department.”
Warren then read a letter, from 1986, by Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In the letter, King called out Sessions’ fitness for the office sighting Sessions “has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.” Sessions did not win confirmation for the judgeship but was later elected to the Senate.
However, in the middle of reading the letter Warren was silenced by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who cited the arcane and rarely invoked Rule 19, which states that “no Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” She continued to speak out despite before being forced to remain silent for the rest of the debate.
“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” McConnell told his fellow lawmakers. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Warren proceeded to read King’s letter live from outside the Senate chamber. The hashtag, #shepersisted, ended up alongside photos of people like Rosa Parks on social media. “Nevertheless she persisted” became the feminist rallying cry of 2017, inspired the title of Chelsea Clinton’s children’s book and fueled the progressive message of a 2020 contender.
The Month of March is National Women’s History Month, which “is about recognizing the courage and contributions of women everywhere who are breaking down barriers, raising their voices, and fighting for what they believe in,” Warren said in a statement to TIME. “Nevertheless she persisted” also became the theme for this year’s National Women’s History Month.
The message has resonated beyond the Senate chamber. It has inspired many women to run for office, to speak up, and it has continued the movement toward change and equality. It has become bigger than a phrase. They have become words of encouragement to be used in the wake of adversity.
“‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ is really about every woman who really had to use her tenacity and courage to accomplish whatever she set out to accomplish. It’s universal,” said Molly Murphy MacGregor, executive director and co-founder of the National Women’s History Project. “You think about our mothers and grandmothers — they’ve been persisting for a very long time.”