It’s Bigger than Bernie, Bros

On a fast-growing, progressive, tech-driven presidential campaign, a fellow staff member attempted to rape me. I was not on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. This assault happened during my year working on the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2003. It marred my career as my attacker’s career flourished.

This week’s revelations of harassment and unequal pay within the Sanders 2016 campaign may shock outsiders of campaigns, but not those of us who have been within them.

Photo by Phil Roeder, CC by 2.0 license.

We know these frenetic work environments intimately; their controlled chaos hides a multitude of flaws within a vast network of (mostly) well-meaning, hard-working campaign staff. The work is high demand and fast-paced. It means that issues like harassment don’t get addressed with the full weight of consequence because it is too time-intensive. It means that campaign leaders don’t get fired because the stakes are too high. Particularly on fast-growing campaigns — where millions of donor dollars suddenly pour in and staff numbers hockeystick in parallel with funding — creating a safe workplace relies more on reputations of those hired than practices and policies in the campaign.

Photo by Sarah Schacht. 4th of July parade in New Hampshire, 2003.

When I told campaign leaders of the attempted rape, they protected my attacker. When another woman reported he had raped her, the campaign retained him on staff.

The claims of harassment and unequal pay on the Sanders campaign are unsurprising to me and every other person in progressive campaigns. Well-meaning, under-resourced, fast-growing campaigns need a new framework. One that holds them accountable and protects staffers to the fullest.

Since my #MeToo story broke in May last year, I’ve spent countless hours engaging with leaders in campaigns and philanthropy on solutions to make our workplaces safer. I’m pleased that many in philanthropy are implementing recommendations, including my own. With the 2018 campaign wrapped, it’s time for the campaign funders — like their peers in philanthropy — to focus in on what they can do to build safer workplaces on campaigns.

To prevent abuses and inequality in 2020’s campaigns, the largest funders in the Democratic field need to sign onto an industry-wide standard of excellence. This standard of excellence should contain a toolbox of resources and policies that campaigns will agree to adopt — or funders (like PACs, bundlers, and fundraisers) won’t open their wallets. Some might say that the DNC should implement this standard of excellence and that organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) should help that standard reach scale. I agree, but I’m also practical. Funders can move faster than a political party.

To get ahead of the 2020 campaign cycle, funders need to take action in the next few months to build a healthy foundation for campaigns. Uniquely, funders can influence the construction of those foundational components of campaigns.

Funders should demand the following:

Use tools to catch repeat abusers who move between campaigns. A 2002 study from Brown University studied a population of 1,882 men, 120 who were self-reported rapists, of those, a majority of them (80.8 percent) were repeat rapists, averaging 5.8 rapes each. Tools like Calisto, a sexual harassment and assault reporting escrow tool, can discourage and catch repeat abusers within a party’s campaigns. In addition, victims can “escrow” their report and receive valuable advice on what to do from counseling and legal advice. Calisto’s reporting tool has already revealed 15 percent of reports are caused by repeat abusers in technology companies and college campuses. Ideally, the DNC and RNC should implement a tool like Calisto nationwide.

Implement a sexual harassment policy with consequences for leaders who ignore it. To the Dean for America campaign’s credit, they borrowed a sexual harassment policy from Al Gore’s former presidential campaign. But when a senior staff member asked me on the phone if something had happened to me on the campaign and I said yes, she (apparently) took my report out of the campaign’s process, like throwing herself on a bomb. She put me on the phone with a “lawyer” who I would only learn after the story broke, over a decade later, was not an official campaign lawyer and some senior leadership were never notified of my report. But anyone who worked with my attacker knew he was a problem. He was just a problem viewed as more valuable than me, an intern. So she protected him. In 2020, it should be a fireable offense for leaders who fail to properly process a report of harassment or abuse.

Train everyone. Volunteers, campaign advisors and consultants, interns, staff members. For many on a campaign, this is their first campaign job (many are fresh out of college) and anti-harassment training is especially needed for the “newbies.” However appropriate given their role, everyone on a campaign should know how to properly report harassment and assault. Almost more important, they should know how the reporting process works so the process itself is accountable and transparent. Training services like Works in Progress meet campaigns’ unique needs for anti-harassment training.

Monitor turnover demographics. State parties should monitor staff departures during campaigns (possible because state parties often have coordinated campaigns and staff assistance). Are there demographic patterns in who leaves campaigns early? This data might indicate if they have problematic management of staff or wage discrimination on certain campaigns.

Leadership must set the tone. Research has shown that if leaders don’t prioritize equity and a harassment-free workplace, employees get the message that it’s not important. From the funders to candidates to leadership teams, a message of safety and equity needs to be made clear and consistent.

While it’s easy to focus in on a candidate, campaign’s, or individual attacker’s actions in the wake of #MeToo, campaigns need more than cathartic finger-pointing. Accountability for past actions is essential, but if we want to make 2020’s campaigns safe and inclusive, it’ll require new strategies beyond anti-harassment policies.

Sarah Schacht is an open government and public health innovation consultant by profession. She spoke on the record in a Huffington Post “me too” story with the assistance of the TIMES Up Legal Defense Fund.