Setting the Record Straight

“Building the Bench” marked the theme of the recently concluded College Democrats of America (CDA) Convention in Washington, DC at the end of last month. This Convention was special; attendance was up significantly over the prior year, the excitement and energy over the upcoming Presidential election and the role CDA would play to help our future Democratic nominee buzzed among all participants, and in general everyone left fired up and ready to go.

Saturday, July 25th, 2015, the final day of the Convention culminated three days of successful meetings, inspiring speakers, and saw the election of a new team of officers. I ran unopposed for the presidency of CDA and I was unanimously re-elected by the full Convention. By the end of the very next day, a majority of the newly constituted Executive Board had voted to impeach me from the office of President, and planned to have that vote later ratified by the National Council. How did we get here?

I wish I had an answer. To say the past couple of weeks have been shocking, difficult to process, and hurtful would be an understatement. On Tuesday, July 28, 2015, I received my first indication of why the Executive Board moved to impeach me. It came in the form of a post on Daily Kos where Articles of Impeachment outlined outright false accusations, mischaracterized statements, and charged me with “intimidation.” In an attempt to defend myself, I immediately emailed the entire CDA Membership a statement that noted, among other things, my belief that impeaching a man in my same position for being “intimidating” would never have happened. I stand by that statement.

What followed in the hours and days ahead was a steady, sustained assault on my character in form of tweets, Facebook posts, Medium blog posts, emails and texts. So again, how did we get here?

Anonymously penned articles have insinuated that my having invited Jonathan Kessler from American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to speak about leadership development at the Convention was somehow inappropriate or likely the result of some sort of quid-pro-quo corruption. However, AIPAC has been a longstanding partner with CDA for over ten years. While there are policy areas where AIPAC and the Democratic Party do, at times, disagree, it is my strong belief that leadership development is critical for all college students. A small group of CDA attendees were not pleased with CDA awarding Jonathan a certificate of appreciation for his support and belief in College Democrats as the future leaders of this country during the ongoing Iran negotiations. However, at the conference, Jonathan himself even noted that “if not for President Obama, Israel would be in a very different and difficult place.”

Other articles have alluded to me having facilitated electioneering in the race for Communications Director during the Convention. While I initially did ask Joseph Waldman to run on my slate as Communications Director, I later changed my mind feeling that another candidate would be the stronger choice. I gave Joseph several weeks notice of my intent to support someone else for this position ahead of the Convention and I did whip for that person during the Convention. Joseph ultimately won the election democratically, however at no time did I attempt to prevent him from running for office, threaten anyone for supporting him, or attempt to prevent him from participating in the Candidate’s forum. I simply did not support his candidacy.

While I believe most posts and articles have been written with the goal of forcing me to resign, there is one in particular I’d like to take the opportunity to address: Jade Reindl’s Medium post.

What happened to Jade Reindl in January of 2014 was wrong. I applaud her courage in telling her story and believe it will help other women who are victims to do the same. As a woman, there is no way I would aid in the covering up of any kind of violence against another woman. So I am baffled and saddened that I could be accused of doing so. When Jade was assaulted in January of 2014, I was not President of the College Democrats of America, nor was I President when Jade first told me of her assault. (I didn’t assume the CDA presidency until August of 2014). As such, I had no ability to fire or remove Jade’s assailant* as I now realize she believed I had the power to do.

At the time Jade told me and others of her assault, I told her I would support her and accompany her to the police station if she decided to file a police report. Instead, she later asked me to speak to a Buzzfeed reporter in furtherance of a story about how progressive organizations handle sexual assault. She later changed her mind and told me (via Facebook messages that I still retain) that she no longer wished to pursue the Buzzfeed story. Out of respect for Jade, I adhered to her wishes and did everything I could do to support her as a friend at the time.

While I understand Jade is upset that I did not support her run for Florida College Democrats Vice President, I want to put forward that to this day, if Jade wanted me to accompany her to file an official police report against her attacker, I would do it and I would do all I could to aid in any official investigation. I continue to support Jade — all women who have been victims of violence — as they seek justice and peace.

Now, while Jade’s blog post does not appear to be the cause or impetus of the impeachment proceedings, the timing of its release ensured that it became part of the overall conversation about my leadership.

By Friday, July 31st, I was notified via email of a National Council call that would take place for the purpose of impeaching my presidency. On Sunday, August 2nd that call happened, a vote was taken, and the next day my duly elected CDA Vice President had written a statement for social media accepting his position as CDA President.

So what now?

After several weeks of remaining silent, I feel strongly that I need to defend my name and character. Since the beginning of this unfortunate episode, neither the CDA Executive Board nor CDA National Council have ever offered me the opportunity to address or respond to the charges, to defend myself, or to protest my impeachment before the CDA Membership. Instead, I have been prosecuted in the court of social media and votes to impeach me were taken without those who were voting hearing both sides of the story.

To that end, last Monday, August 10th, I formally filed a Credentials Challenge with the Democratic National Committee highlighting the multiple instances in which CDA’s leadership violated its own bylaws as it pursued its dubious case against me.

College Democrats of America is an organization I have poured my heart and soul into. I’d like to think the fact that I ran unopposed and was re-elected President unanimously means the full Convention saw my dedication to this great organization as well. The negativity of the last weeks should not detract from the movement and passion of CDA chapters on the campuses of colleges and universities throughout this country. This is not who we are. Despite the actions of a few, I will continue fighting for student loan reform, voting rights and the battles young people face just as I promised when I first took office. And despite the attacks to my character over the last couple of weeks — and any future attacks to come, I remain ready to be the leader that College Democrats deserve in making the voice of college students and young people one that cannot be ignored moving into the 2016 election cycle and beyond.

With all that we have on the line to fight for and protect, I will not resign from a position that I have held and treated with the highest ethical regard. While no leader is perfect, I hope College Democrats will stand with me and help me continue to “Build the Bench” of leadership to take on the challenges ahead.

We move forward best when we move together.

Natasha McKenzie, duly elected CDA President

* Since Jade has not publicly named the person responsible for her assault, and out of respect for her right to pursue her story, I won’t either.

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