Be Your Own Hero — Because Bernie Is Not It
It’s easy to forget that, before #MeToo and Weinstein, pre-Kavanaugh and the fallout in the California legislature, sexism and sexual harassment and sexual assault and all other variations of misogyny were still pervasive, whether or not it was out of vogue to talk about it back then. The War on Women still quietly, insidiously raged on. Now, in the new Year of the Woman, it is popular once again to include “women’s issues” in the daily outrage write-up. I hope it sticks this time, though history tells me otherwise. So, let me use this moment while the spotlight is on us to illuminate a few uncomfortable truths and hopefully shine a light on where the progressive movement should redirect — and where it should die. It begins — and ends — with Bernie.
Almost two years ago, I first came out publicly about the sexism and sexual harassment I experienced and witnessed while working on the Bernie 2016 campaign (here is a summary of that saga). Side note: we should all know that the legal definition of sexual harassment according to the EEOC is harassment that occurs because of that person’s sex. It can be sexual in nature, but does not have to be. Any physical or verbal discrimination that occurs because of your sex is sexual harassment. Why is this important? Because unlike where we have evolved on other issues of bigotry to include the discrimination itself, whether physical in nature or not, we still seem to accept discrimination against women with a shrug that says “that’s just the way it is” or “it’s a cultural thing.” When I outed Arturo Carmona as a sexist who did not deserve to serve in Congress, people told me, “He didn’t rape you. What are you complaining about?” These are real comments I received. Really, progressive world, this is the standard we are setting for women: anything less than rape is fine? Would you have told the Civil Rights Movement, “Hey, they stopped lynching you (mostly). What are you complaining about?” No, you would not. You should not. But hey, it’s just women, right? Sexism is sexism. Sexism alone should appall you. And this movement is nothing more than a farcical exercise in left-wing political incest if the oppression of the female is served up as a sacrificial lamb to slaughter on the altar of your political ambition.
So, here is the rest of the story you didn’t hear the first time around:
Yes, before I ever even came out publicly about Arturo Carmona, Bernie did know. He knew everything. He heard the whole sordid tale and still considered endorsing Arturo. And when asked by the press about it after I came out, he feigned ignorance and still refused to condemn him. Is that the reaction you expect from a hero? Many of you asked me what Bernie had to say, assuming him or someone from his team obviously would have reached out to me after the story broke. No, he did not and they did not. It was crickets. And lest you think it some inflated sense of self, how would you react if you were a politician and this story emerged about your own campaign (that is, if you are a feminist)? I would’ve immediately picked up the phone, reached out, apologized, soothed, promised to investigate, something, anything. But Bernie (and his team) did nothing. Instead, I got blacklisted.
That’s right folks, the torch-bearer of the renewed Left has a blacklist. Somewhere, McCarthy is red in the face with ironic laughter. Apparently, calling out sexists is the grave sin that gets your name written in scarlet letters on that list. I twisted myself back then to qualify every statement and undercut every claim with the impassioned plea that “It was just Arturo! The Bernie campaign was so feminist! He was the exception! Bernie didn’t know!” Now, I know that he did know. He just didn’t care enough to do something about it (or the other sexist incidents that occurred). His team did apparently care enough to make me persona non grata though.
Even then, I knew it wasn’t an exception on the campaign, because it wasn’t just Arturo. It was also Bill Velasquez who helped him cover up the sexual harassment report, who tried to force me to sleep in a room on the floor with three other strange men. It was Rich Pelletier who repeatedly feigned ignorance each time this sexist behavior was reported to him, who promoted them and covered for them and endorsed them later on. It was the myriad men on national and state staff who were reported (and sued) for sexual harassment and discrimination, but who not only escaped punishment, but consistently got promoted. We got the message loud and clear at all levels: the predators fail up, the women get a scarlet letter. Ask us again why we don’t report?
And where are these men now, you ask? Arturo just worked on the new Mexican president’s campaign. Bill is chief of staff for Rep. Chuy Garcia. Rich is heading up the new Organizing for Bernie. And where are the women who spoke out? The two who worked for Our Revolution have since been fired. The one who was a board member was pushed out. I’ve lost jobs because when people google my name they see the story about Arturo. So-called feminist allies badmouth me to clients once they find out I’ve been hired, even though they’ve never actually worked with me before. You know who you are. The job offers instantly dried up and the friendship line went silent. The retaliation is real, and it’s hypocritical as hell.
The same organizations that pretend to be at the forefront of the feminist movement — nay, they claim to own the new feminism — are the same organizations that retaliated the worst. The California Nurses Association, a well-known funder and ally to the Bernie movement, was particularly vicious. They endorsed Arturo heavily in the CA-34 race that my outing exploded. They were not happy. At the People’s Summit, which they funded, they harassed one of the women who had come out and was slated to lead a session there. RoseAnn DeMoro had someone cut her mic and physically block access to the session. DeMoro also cornered another woman and told her it was because of what she did in the CA-34 race. And they did this in front of everyone. Not quite the progressive allies after all, huh?
When I first sought any and all quiet means to prevent Arturo’s candidacy, one of the organizations I reached out to was People for Bernie, the social media juggernaut that has since positioned itself as the de facto voice for Berniecrats. They had endorsed Arturo and were organizing for him. I called them desperately to tell them the truth of his character so that they could, naturally, correct course. But they knew. They knew everything. Others had already called Winnie Wong just like I did. She didn’t care. In fact, she told me his shitty behavior didn’t matter as much as a win. A win for who, I wondered. Certainly not women. But hey, we’re just 51% of the population. And oh, wouldn’t you know it, Winnie says, “Linda Sarsour from Women’s March, she and I are best friends, agrees with me. She knows about the situation, too, and thinks you all should just stay quiet and not hurt Arturo’s campaign. It’s more important he win for us.” My jaw hit the floor. If these were the women leading the Women’s March and the new “progressive feminism,” you could count me out. And these are the “progressive consultants” now traveling the world to shape the Left in other countries. Because as Winnie said to me about herself: “the movement would fall apart without me.” I think millions of activists would disagree.
So why am I bringing this all up again? First, because the fallout was intense and real and, sadly, everything I predicted. I believe in radical honesty and in leading by example. If I can’t speak up against the predators and enablers and excusers, how can I ask others to do so? I will die on this hill happily if it makes life better for even just one other woman.
Second, I bring this up now even though this has been a year in the making because, last week, Arturo Carmona made a splashing public reappearance — at the Sanders Institute event, by personal invitation from Jane Sanders. I can’t express the heartbreak that caused. The tiny thread in me that still clung to hope that Bernie and Jane were somehow miraculously sheltered from the gross sexist machinations of the campaign completely snapped. The behind-the-scenes brouhaha that ensued after people saw Arturo at the event led to swift spin doctoring. Apparently, Arturo called up Jane personally, because she still takes his calls, and asked for an invitation to the event. He wasn’t on the list, so she told him to show up anyway. Bernie was supposedly then surprised to see Arturo at the event — and here’s the kicker — but he said nothing. He saw Arturo schmoozing and taking selfies with Jane, but he stayed silent. Not only is Arturo a sexist, but he was also arrested for embezzlement. Again I ask you, is this how a hero would act? If an outed (by more than a dozen people) misogynist showed up to your private event that is essentially the grooming ground for the future leaders of your movement, would you just shrug and stay silent? I wouldn’t. And I hope you wouldn’t either. So why do I already hear the internet making excuses for Bernie? Why do we accept the mistreatment of women in a way we never would for other oppressed groups? If this story was about a racist who had called me a “spic” instead, how would you react differently? I’ll tell you. You would lose your collective shits. But again, it’s just women, right? We’re supposed to shut up and deal with it and be polite while we’re at it.
For those of you who (rightly) feel heartsick over this and will initially be defensive, I get it. Imagine how we feel? We gave up a year of our life or more to Bernie and the revolution. I postponed my wedding for him. I sobbed like a baby when he lost New York. I loved Bernie. I went across the country and looked literally thousands of women in the eyes and promised them Bernie was a feminist, that he would always have our backs. That’s what haunts me. I lied. I believed it to my core back then, but Bernie has since made a liar out of me. We’re all human and make mistakes. But demeaning my existence and treating women on your campaign as second class citizens is not an honest mistake, it’s plain wrong. It’s not what a hero does.
“But Bernie’s policies are so feminist!” you cry. They are. Therein lies the rub. I celebrated when his healthcare bill included restoring federal funding for abortion without anyone even lobbying him on it. In 2016, he alone put the ERA on his platform. But, he also stopped the policy team from releasing a campus sexual assault platform (I know because I helped draft it). When I asked why, I received an awkward shrug. By the end of the campaign, Bernie’s platform was a mile long and included all sorts of minutiae. Apparently stopping rape wasn’t as important as Guam. Policy is great and all, but it doesn’t mean shit if your personal behavior lacks integrity. If you can’t walk the talk, then let someone else lead.
So, I ask you all now to stop looking at Bernie as your infallible hero. He is not it. He sparked the revolution and I thank him for awakening a new generation to socialism and class politics. But a hero, he is not. At least, not a hero to women. Or to people who love women. Be your own hero. This movement is filled with talent and good-hearted people and it’s time they stepped up. Stand up to the sexists at work, on the campaign, at home. Make your own blacklist of sexists not to hire. That makes you a hero.
Thus far, the burden of the #MeToo movement when it comes to fighting these sexists has all been on women. It’s your turn. Heroes speak up, enablers stay silent. Intersectionality is meaningless if it means women are always asked to stand up for your issue, but when we really need you to have our back, you stay in your chair. It either goes both ways or not at all.
Instead of repeating the mantra that hiring more women and people of color will fix the problem (it won’t), how about we stop hiring sexists and racists and bigots all around, no matter what they look like? Because here’s the other uncomfortable truth: sexists and racists and bigots come in all colors, shapes and sizes. A big reason Arturo and Bill were never fired was precisely because they were Latino. Their color protected them from their sexism. No one gets a pass on misogyny just because of their _insert identity here_. It would be easy if hiring by checking a box would fix this, but sadly, it does not. What happens instead (as it has already happened) is that the sexist men at the top get wise and just hire other sexists who still check the box. They find the sexist Latino, LGBT, Black, Asian, and female staffers. Instead, hire good people (as in good at their job and good in their souls), not just “check-box” people. Because guess what? When you truly hire good people, you will find yourself surrounded by a rainbow of women and feminist men.
What we are really asking for here above all else is a consistency in values. I’m not going to tell you how to run your company or campaign. There are infinite ways to paint a canvas; but if each brushstroke is a lash on the backs of women, then what is your masterpiece worth?
I truly believe in the revolution. I always will. But I also believe that the liberation of the female is the last frontier. Without Her, we fail. When you betray Her, you betray love. And so, when I face the continuing betrayals coming from Vermont since 2016, I have to ask:
Et tu, Bernie?
To the women and those who love us: be your own hero. Let’s form our own troop of fearless warriors who will bring this revolution into the light and into a new wave of female power. That statement either terrifies or excites you. If it excites you, come join the #GoddessArmy.
Email, call, text me. We’re taking action on this soon, including a letter to Senator Sanders. If you want to be part of it or help, let us know.
P.S. If you view this as an attack on men, you’re probably part of the subset of men I am attacking. If you view this as me making some people into enemies, it’s because they are enemies to women. If this makes you question my love for men, I question why you associate a hate for misogyny with a hate for men. If at any point while reading you found yourself perturbed by my rage, emotion, honesty, ask yourself how you would react if I were a male. Would I all of a sudden be a gutsy whistleblower instead of a bitch?
P.P.S. This isn’t just “my” truth. It is the truth.