The Secret Sexism of Arturo Carmona, Candidate for CD34
Arturo Carmona, a former staffer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, is currently running for congress in California’s 34th district in a special election. Arturo was my boss during the Bernie campaign while I was a National Latino Outreach Strategist. A few days ago, I received a call from his campaign manager regarding reports of misconduct circulated on social media by a group called MisogynyLeaks. The campaign manager, another older Latino male who I’d worked with on the Bernie campaign, seemed to call to either get my support in defending Arturo or to figure out if I was behind the leak. While the call had an air of pleasantry, there was a distinct undertone of intimidation and shaming despite his own admission to knowing about Arturo’s behavior.
When I looked up the posts on Facebook and Twitter, I saw a mix of supportive comments and shaming vitriol coming from Berniecrats, of all people, aimed at the women and/or men who spoke to MisogynyLeaks — and it deeply saddened me. If the reports had been of racism and an anonymous man claimed Arturo had called him a racial slur at work, would you all be quick to attack the victim publicly? Take a moment. I don’t think you would.
It seems women are always told to wait their turn — for elected office, promotion, a raise, respect, rights, even for belief in our word. We criticize sharia law for not allowing women’s testimony without corroboration by a man because women are seen as inherently untrustworthy, but in the American social sphere, are we that different? How often do you catch yourself believing the word of a man over that of a woman when it comes to reputation, recounting of events, stating of facts in conversation? Do you have that extra nagging doubt whenever a woman vocalizes a claim?
The whole situation grated at my inner integrity — my Bernie meter as I call it — and after that call, I decided to tell the truth about Arturo Carmona as I witnessed it. I live in Congressional District 34. I’m voting here. We’re talking about someone who would literally represent me. For all of you Berniecrats in the district who saw the MisogynyLeaks posts or heard hushed rumors, but didn’t know what to believe, this is for you. For all of the Berners in my neighborhood who sweated blood and tears for our campaign because you believed in the integrity and good-heartedness of Bernie’s vision, this is for you.
It’s all true. Everything I’ve seen posted so far, is true. Those of us who worked with Arturo personally behind closed doors, we all know it to be true. But we are all terrified of retribution, of ruining our careers, of tarnishing our reputations. Afterall, it’s politics. That’s what they tell us to fear, so we don’t speak out. But why should the victims be scared? What would Bernie do? He would say the offender is the one who should be scared of his reputation. Not us. This is how men like Arturo Carmona get in power and stay there. And the thought of him representing me in congress makes me sick. I realized after that call, that they don’t own me or my voice, they’re not my bosses anymore, they have no power over me. I’m done being silenced. Especially not when I see them taking advantage of my fellow Berners.
Here’s the truth: the leaked email that organized a conference call with Rich Pelletier about the terrible management and treatment of staff in Latino Outreach? It’s real. I was on that email and on that call, as were a bunch of senior staff, male and female. We specifically asked for Arturo to be fired or at least removed from direct management. We also asked for his behavior to be officially dealt with, which it wasn’t. Instead he was “demoted up,” as they like to say in campaigns. He was removed from having a say over anyone in Latino Outreach but instead moved into a newly made-up role to oversee outreach desks. Soon after, Rich Pelletier was also “demoted up” amid numerous complaints of mismanagement in field and replaced by Julia Barnes.
Rich, who repeatedly blocked information of Arturo’s behavior from ever getting to Weaver as far as I know, has since endorsed Arturo. To my knowledge, neither Jeff Weaver nor Bernie Sanders ever knew about what was going on. If they did, I know they would have stopped it. The Bernie campaign was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, not only because we were fighting for progressive issues, but because I met more feminists on staff, male and female, than I ever did before in my life in America. It gave me genuine hope that good souls were out there who respected and valued women equally. But Arturo Carmona was not one of them.
What did we report about Arturo? For starters, a sexual harassment complaint by a staffer against a Latino surrogate that he covered up in Nevada. I witnessed the aftermath of that incident and accompanied the staffer to report it. We were jokingly told she might have enjoyed it if the man were younger. You can imagine how hard we didn’t laugh. Arturo and his deputy went out drinking that night, didn’t pay it another thought, and the next morning assigned two young female interns to the same surrogate we just reported. We objected vehemently and they reassigned them amidst great sighing.
We detailed the demeaning treatment of staff — three of us had each separately wanted to quit within the first few days on the job. We talked about his complete lack of management skills, how the department was in disarray because of no structure and direction, how there was no actual strategy coming from Arturo and that we were each trying to help Bernie win on our own.
I reported how in Chicago, after the Nevada incident no less, the men and women were made to sleep together in open rooms on mattresses with no privacy or safety locks. I remember feeling physically unsafe at that point. I sat on the stairs in that drab house being told I’d have to sleep in a room with three other men and felt nauseous. I walked out, called Rich, reported the conditions to him and got transferred out of the department with the promise that he would fix those living conditions for my colleagues. He never did.
What else did I witness? We all knew Arturo would book flights back home to California using the campaign travel agency despite it being against policy. We all know that the immigration policy he keeps touting as his pièce de résistance was actually the work of Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas. In fact, we all wrote the policy memos. I can’t think of one he did himself while I was there. We all saw how he would demean the female staff, treat us like his personal assistants fetching things for him and doing his errands, while he never asked male staff with the same titles to do any of that. I remember being told by a Latino staffer that the first question Arturo asked when he hired me was: “Is she cute?” When I looked horrified, he clarified: “He asks that about all the women he hires!”
Perhaps this last example is most emblematic of the way Arturo treated his staff, especially the women. On my first or second day working with Arturo at headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, I was invited by another male staffer to a dinner gathering of senior staff. Arturo verbally objected to my attendance, but the other man insisted so I went. Early in the evening, someone cheerfully asked me, “so who are you? What do you do for us now on the campaign?” Before I could respond, Arturo loudly interjected: “She’s nobody.” Then he casually turned away to continue his conversation. The other staffers — all male incidentally — looked horrified. But no one said a thing.
I can already hear you, Progressive Internet, sucking in a breath to strike back, to argue that this truth-saying hurts the movement, that we shouldn’t air our dirty laundry. We did everything we could to report him internally, to deal with it quietly, but to no avail. Enough is enough. If our movement cannot withstand the truth, than it is not worth fighting for. Silence is the death of progress. To those of us who fell in love with Bernie because of his integrity, we lose our movement the moment we compromise our principles for the sake of a “win.”
Update: Despite rumor to the contrary, I do not work for any other candidate in this race. Bernie was the last candidate I worked for. There are a number of good candidates in CD34 that voters can support.
Since I first spoke out, almost a dozen more women and men came forward with their own stories about Arturo from the Bernie campaign, his previous work at Presente.org and mitu.