Impeached College Democrats President Challenges Ouster

Former CDA National President Natasha McKenzie argues multiple bylaws were violated and claims grounds for her impeachment were ‘insufficient’

Previous Coverage

Despite Impeachment Threat, No Indication CDA President Will Step Down” — Updated at 7:39 p.m. EST on August 1, 2015.

Impeachment of CDA President Likely as Rape Survivor Speaks Out” — Updated at 7:39 p.m. EST on August 1, 2015.

An interview with Jade Reindl — Updated at 4:37 a.m. EST on August 2, 2015.

In Unprecedented Move, National Council Votes to Impeach CDA President” — Updated 11:36 p.m. EST on August 2, 2015.

NEW YORK (updated 11:51 p.m. EST on August 18, 2015, republished 2:15 p.m. EST on August 19, 2015) — Former College Democrats of America President Natasha McKenzie appears to be actively challenging her impeachment and removal, just days after state federations of the Democratic National Committee’s official youth branch overwhelmingly voted to oust her, according to internal documents obtained by Byline.

In an eight-page memo sent to DNC Credential Committee Co-Chairs Andres Lopes and Karen Carter Peterson, as well as DNC Party Affairs Director Patrice Taylor, McKenzie argued that the impeachment process to remove her was “marred with multiple violations of our national bylaws, including process abuses, insufficient grounds for impeachment, and a very public impugning of my character.”

McKenzie also requested that her re-election at the CDA’s national conference in July be upheld, and asked for the Credential Committee to “formally declare me the duly elected President of the College Democrats of America.”

The memo was sent to Byline early Sunday from a close source who requested anonymity. A separate source said the signature at the closing of the document appeared to match McKenzie’s email signature, and McKenzie herself confirmed the memo’s existence in a Medium post released early Tuesday.

According to the DNC Credential Committee’s rules of procedure, the Co-Chairs will “ask each challenged party to file a written answer, within a specified period of time of not greater than 21 days and not less than 10 days.”

Multiple attempts to reach McKenzie for comment were unsuccessful (Full disclosure: I had sent McKenzie a Facebook friend request early August, seeking comment for a previous Byline story. Shortly after, it appeared that she had decided to block me).

The Controversy

ON JULY 28, seven members of the CDA Executive Board called for McKenzie’s immediate resignation and threatened impeachment proceedings in the wake of what it called an exhibition of “unethical behavior” at the organization’s national convention earlier this month.

The board accused McKenzie of “specific occurrences of malfeasance and misfeasance” during elections on July 24th and 25th, including attempting to remove a Communications Director candidate and threatening “the elected Membership Director that he would not be allowed on executive board calls because of his vote for a candidate for Communications Director.”McKenzie herself was elected to second term during the convention.

The board also alleged that McKenzie had stated that “she did not care” about the College Democrats of Wisconsin, adding that board members “felt afraid to voice their complaints or unease with her” due to an “atmosphere of intimidation.”

“The process […] used to impeach me… was marred with multiple violations of our national bylaws, including process abuses, insufficient grounds for impeachment, and a very public impugning of my character.”

“We do not stand by the actions of our President, Natasha McKenzie, during the 2015 College Democrats of America national convention, nor do we hold confidence in her ability to lead this organization moving forward,” the board wrote in a letter to the DNC, which was later forwarded to State Federations. “[…] Natasha McKenzie exhibited unethical behavior and promulgated an unacceptable culture of intimidation.”

31 State Federations voted in favor of impeaching McKenzie during a heated National Council meeting on August 2. Oklahoma and Pennsylvania were the lone ‘no’ votes, while Nevada and Tennessee abstained.

A two-thirds majority was necessary to remove McKenzie, according to the CDA national Constitution, a criteria that was easily satisfied. CDA Vice President Marvin McMoore announced that he would assume the office of National President on August 3 after an 8–0 vote by the Executive Board.

The movement to impeach McKenzie had gained considerable traction before the vote, with twelve former presidents of CDA State Federations joining calls for her impeachment, writing that “CDA must move in a new direction. Too many College Democrats across the country believe that the goals and principles of CDA have been compromised. It would be a mistake to begin this new year with broken relationships between CDA leaders and members.”

A coalition of more than 30 CDA women also slammed McKenzie, calling her actions at the convention “disappointing and grotesque in nature” and writing that she “has not lived up to this organization and its values.”

“We are uncomfortable with her as a leader and the way she has ostracized and belittled members of this organization.”

Cries for McKenzie’s removal only grew louder after Jade Reindl, National Chairperson for the International Youth Council USA, accused McKenzie of preventing her from telling her story and failing to fire her rapist in 2014. Reindl also alleged that McKenzie had abused her authority “to silence those with opposing views or opinions” and to “prevent me from seeking a leadership role” in Florida.

“Second rape happens because of our depression. Our PTSD. Friends. Superiors. Colleagues,” Reindl wrote. “The biggest offender during my secondary assault came at the hands of the leader of an organization that I care deeply about.”

Among the claims, Reindl told Byline that she had reached out to Katie Baker, a reporter now with Buzzfeed, with the goal of writing a piece on how “progressive institutions can fail when it comes to dealing with sexual assault.”

“We see it all too often, and it was time for someone to speak up about it,”Reindl said. She recounted asking Baker to contact her friends in CDA, later stating that McKenzie had refused to speak to [the reporter] and had also instructed several board members to urge her not to move forward with the piece.

“I knew [the Executive Board was] doing their best to prevent the article from coming out, [and worked] with the DNC on how to respond if it did,” Reindl continued. “They were aiming to avoid and silence my story instead of asking how to help and prevent situations like mine.”

McKenzie had showed little indication of a possible resignation ahead of the National Council vote, instead defending her term as National President and insisting that a “small group” of CDA members were calling for her to step down in a statement on Facebook.

“As a woman of of color leading the College Democrats of America, I am proud to be a member of the political party that stands for women and diversity, and I would never wish the sexism and bullying I have recently experienced upon anyone,” McKenzie wrote.

“Have you ever heard of a male in politics being ridiculed and publicly humiliated for being ‘intimidating?’ she asked. “Sadly, this is all but the reality young, ambitious woman — especially women of color — face in today’s political culture. I am tired of men using the phrase ‘you’re intimidating’ to belittle women in positions of power.”

‘Setting the Record Straight’

IN A MEDIUM STATEMENT released Tuesday, McKenzie called the case against her “dubious” and gave her side of the events that resulted in her impeachment after several weeks of silence, writing that “to say the past couple of weeks have been shocking, difficult to process, and hurtful to 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,’” McKenzie wrote. “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.”

McKenzie described a digital, “sustained assault on my character” that followed, and stated that “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,” McKenzie said, “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.”

“…votes to impeach me were taken without those who were voting hearing both sides of the story.”

In her statement, McKenzie aimed to refute key allegations that she had “facilitated electioneering in the race for Communications Director” during the College Democrats’ convention last month, writing that 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,” McKenzie continued. “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.”

McKenzie also addressed Reindl’s Medium piece, writing: “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,” she continued. “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,” McKenzie stated. “Instead, she later asked me to speak to aBuzzfeed 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,” McKenzie wrote. “I continue to support Jade — all women who have been victims of violence — as they seek justice and peace.”

“I will not resign from a position that I have held and treated with the highest ethical regard.”

McKenzie went on to write that CDA “is an organization I have poured my heart and soul into. […] Despite the actions of a few, […] 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,” McKenzie concluded. “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.”

Byline has reached out to current CDA President Marvin McMoore, several Executive Board members, and multiple state federation leaders for comment, and will update this story if responses are received.