We Care About You, Now Be A Good Girl And Shut Up: On Resigning From The CDP’s Sexual Misconduct Working Group

I gave notice today that I’ve resigned from my position as one of the Co-Chairs of the California Democratic Party’s A Way Forward working group, which was formed after a deal was made with the Bauman survivors to address sexual misconduct after the Bauman-era investigative report. This decision brings me no joy, and neither does writing this article, but I cannot in good conscience legitimize this group with my presence as a Bauman survivor in light of the current circumstances.

I understand that I’m going to say some things here that will piss people off or make them feel like I violated their confidence. But some of the things that have happened recently have violated my personal ethics and are valuable bits of insight to the delegates and Democratic voters of California, particularly as we come up on convention. I’m trying to balance the necessity of speaking out with the admiration I have for the intent of this project and many of the people who have labored for it. I have immense respect for a lot of people in the group, particularly the subject matter experts from outside of the political realm who have participated in it.

I have a philosophy of trying to do the most good I can relative to my social/political position. For a while, I thought that this group fit that criteria. But over the past few months and especially the past few weeks, I have realized that my participation in this group isn’t doing good — it’s doing harm to me, to other survivors, and to Democratic voters who are being actively misled about its effectiveness or the Party’s broader attitude.

There are three core reasons I’ve come to the decision to resign in protest: the ways I’ve been targeted for my recent criticism of Rusty by the group, the fact that the “reformed” investigative process this group touts is grievously failing survivors, and the broader cultural issues of the Party, including CDP Officers remaining silent on sexual harassment that they’ve been recently informed of and the Chair outright ignoring survivors. But first, I wanted to offer some brief context.

The group was formed in response to Chair Rusty Hicks making, as usual, a decision about the livelihoods of survivors without informing them or discussing it with them first. Last spring, the Bauman investigative report was finished. Rusty unilaterally, much to the surprise of me and every other survivor named or interviewed in that report, decided that it wasn’t being released. It was only after the outrage of survivors who had been blindsided by this, including myself, that we came to a decision. Because of the glaringly biased, anti-survivor law firm that chose the investigator, the report was, as one of our attorneys put it, “traumatizing.” (Shocking!) So, we all collectively agreed we didn’t want it released to the public, and instead we cultivated the idea for a working group on sexual misconduct that would be chaired, in part, by Bauman survivors. Two Bauman survivors would be part of the first five co-chairs of the group. Our broader cohort of litigants chose me and former CDP Communications Director John Vigna. In partnership with the CDP’s Executive Director, the ombudsperson, and a survivor trauma expert, we filled out the rest of the ranks and got to work.

At the outset of this, I set up strong boundaries I discussed with the other original co-chairs. This needed to be a politically neutral space — one where people were free to lobby outside of the group but wouldn’t use the group space/time/energy as a medium for political advocacy. I think that my initial push for this church-and-state neutrality made some people think that I was neutral, which, spoiler alert: I’m very much not. I’m not neutral towards the CDP. I’m not a moderate or a centrist. I’m a DSA member. I have not left the events of the California Democratic Party’s bullshit behind me — because trauma isn’t something that you “come back from,” it’s something that permanently changes you. My lack of neutrality was exactly why I knew that this approach was feasible: if I’m comfortable with other people voicing opinions or supporting people outside of the group antithetical to my values and experiences, then other people theoretically should have that same comfortability with my outside opinions. I naively viewed this as an actual turning of the page — a trap as old as time for young progressives.

I am truly sad that this was not actually a real turning of the page. Here are some of the things that have made me reach that conclusion.

  1. Being Punished & Harassed For Criticizing The Chair

My favorite thing about the group was that Rusty was not actively involved in it. Not in our decision making, not in our conversations. Rusty, after all, had pledged to immediately fire the law firm that was terrorizing survivors two years ago, backed out of it, ghosted me as both his employee and the author of that pledge, and only followed through on that one basic tenant after being publicly pressured by delegates. He had then pulled his nonsense about the report, so it was clear to me that nothing had changed about him. (Cis straight white dude didn’t have an epiphany in less than a year? What a thrilling plot twist.) But since he wasn’t involved in the group proper, his personal failings didn’t seem to matter here — this was a space where Party resources could be used for a positive impact, where my story about the abuse and harassment and institutional betrayal from the Bauman scandal could actually matter.

I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy for me all the time. There was still a lot of dissonance that I had internally about working with the CDP at all. I left politics as soon as I settled and resigned as Digital Director in 2019. But I was willing to shoulder the triggers and annoyances that would come up, and for a while, I did.

The first major red flag was the Executive Board meeting last fall. Our group did a virtual presentation — one to a committee, one to the general body. For the general body event, we were told that we would be speaking immediately. Instead, we got to sit through 25 minutes of Rusty speaking before our presentation with no warning. An oversight? Surely, but a glaring one. Two survivors on that panel had been victimized by the CDP’s conduct very much under Rusty. We had both settled lawsuits with the Party during Rusty’s first year, and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds of introspection to realize that he might be triggering or upsetting for us. During this presentation, the group’s work was referred to as “Rusty’s vision.” This was an outright lie, not only because of Rusty’s conduct but because this group was formed at the request of survivors in response to yet another anti-survivor action by Rusty. But I went along with it and didn’t cause a fuss during the presentation. I felt used and violated afterwards, though. After E-Board, I scribbled not your pet survivor barbie on my arm in Sharpie.

I let that be the extent of my rage and swallowed up most of my disgust, eventually telling the Executive Director that, despite her consistent message of “well, those things happened in the past before I got here,” we needed to be able to discuss and honor the experiences of Bauman survivors and the continuing impact of people “from the past” on the Party. She copped to the language about “Rusty’s vision” being “over the top.” She agreed to my idea of a subgroup, an idea which never came to fruition, and the event was never brought up again.

That brings us to a few weeks ago. I asked the Chair of the Progressive Caucus if he would include questions on the Caucus’s candidate questionnaire about the Pledge that Rusty had signed and broken — inquiring if people believed that the second plank, which involved discussing who made the decision to keep Delfino Madden on and why that choice was made, should still be fulfilled. Frankly, I expected that Rusty’s response would be some vague “these issues are important to me and I will reflect on them further, I support survivors” dodging.

Rusty didn’t respond at all. Not a word. He straight up ignored the questions. And that was worth actively, loudly criticizing to me. A survivor that he took part in intentionally tormenting was doing free labor that was being called “Rusty’s vision” and he couldn’t even be bothered to bullshit an answer about his lies to her? The working group is focused on survivor-centered, trauma-informed work, but it’s overtly clear that its message was not being reflected by the Chair during this act of dismissal.

So I did criticize him for it, and I criticized the Party’s ongoing failure to have a more extensive response than simply shouldering it all on the working group — a primarily volunteer effort that meets for two hours a month in a good month. I was more than satisfied just leaving it there — he made a terrible anti-survivor decision, I criticized him for it on my own time, all good.

Within all of two hours of that op-ed getting posted, I received a text from a non-political member of the working group whom I openly admire. She said that there was a lot of shock about my article, which was interesting to me, because it’s not like I haven’t criticized Rusty before on this exact issue repeatedly. It was clear from her texts that some kind of conversation had occurred pretty immediately. Upon talking to her on the phone, it was revealed that conversation had happened between Rusty, the ombudsperson, the Executive Director, and two pro-Rusty CDP delegates in the group.

Let’s pause for that monumentally damning action. Rusty, who is not supposed to be involved in the working group, immediately intervened in it and sent people after me after I criticized him publicly on my own time once. This on its own is evidence of a fundamental structural flaw in the working group and proof that it is beholden to the political whims of the Chair.

The conversations that followed were even more upsetting. I was told that she was reaching out on the behalf of the people in that conversation because “they didn’t want me to feel ganged up on.” It doesn’t make logical sense to bring in an entirely unrelated person and brief them on it and dispatch them to me to avoid “ganging up on me.” That’s because that probably wasn’t their chief concern. They wanted someone I was close to and that I deeply admire and that wasn’t political to filter their words and demands.

Yes, demands. I was told that they felt “caught off guard” and that they had a problem with me using my title as a co-chair of the working group, though it was abundantly clear I wasn’t speaking for the group and no such rules had ever been presented before now. I was pressured over the next few days to send an email to the Executive Director, the ombudsperson, and the two CDP delegates apologizing for my behavior and offering to talk. I informed the woman they had dispatched that I was not comfortable preemptively reaching out to people who hadn’t voiced their concerns in their own words to me, because I felt like it was rife for the potential for miscommunication. I also informed her that I was not comfortable with them using her as the messenger and that she should tell the ED and anybody else involved that they should approach me directly if they wanted a conversation or new regulations. I also said that, because of the neutrality of the group, I didn’t feel like there needed to be a conversation or new regulations. Why can other members of the group publicly praise Rusty and Dan Weitzman without it becoming a group-related issue but I can’t criticize Rusty under that same logic? I closed by reiterating that I was happy to talk and listen and explain where I’m coming from and find a solution if people just reached out to me.

In response, the ED cancelled all of our meetings scheduled through convention. Previously, it had been floated that our subgroups could meet together ahead of convention, but that went out the window. I of course did not receive an email from any of them, because they don’t want to have to defend their “concerns” in writing and without the assistance of a non-political person that I look up to. Without her filter, they’d be unable to cover up the stench of “you criticized Rusty and now we’re mad.”

Since there hadn’t been any conversations, I continued the activism that I was working on. I even directly emailed Rusty and asked for answers regarding the Pledge — no response. I released a video addressed to delegates and his endorsers, asking for their intervention and for them to hold him accountable and demand he follows through on his promises or at least explains why he chose not to. The video was shared widely, and I was invited to speak on a panel with Feel The Burn OC and Me Too Survivors.

I received yet another call from the working group member that had been dispatched by Rusty. Apparently, one of those pro-Rusty delegates had seen the promotions for that panel and was upset about it. I voiced my confusion at the outreach, prompting her to assure me that she hadn’t been asked directly by anybody to make this call. I’m not sure if I believe that, particularly because other group members kept being referenced. Regardless, I was again given the line about using my title, which I actually hadn’t — someone promoting the event on their own page mentioned that I was a co-chair, and as I explained on the phone to her, I am shockingly not capable of or responsible for managing other people’s social media posts about me. I also explained that because nobody had reached out to me and no rule about using our titles outside of the group had ever been established, this still seemed off to me. I was asked to have that person — Amar Shergill, the Chair of the Progressive Caucus and perhaps the only person that’s more of a pain in the ass to Rusty than I am — take down those posts, though the event had already passed. I declined but voiced my support for the ED or someone else sending an email to the group setting guidelines for people to use their titles. I asked that it be sent to the entire group, not just the political people, because I’m sure that some of the subject matter experts in the group could inadvertently be using their titles on resumes, promotions, etc and to prevent any misunderstandings, we should all be subjected to the universal guidance.

Before that phone call wrapped, I was warned of the sinister intentions that the delegate, the woman calling me, and other political members of the group felt I was being coerced by. “‘That guy,’” as they referred to the Progressive Caucus Chair, “is using you for political purposes.” I strongly pushed back on that assertion, mostly because using me for political purposes is a bit like trying to give a cat a bath — I will scratch the fuck out of you before I let you put me in the water, as evidenced by this entire article. I explained that I had reached out to him, the questions and the op-ed were my ideas, and that I had worked with Feel The Bern OC directly to create that panel event.

This narrative is not only insulting and condescending to me, it’s steeped in disturbing and disgusting racist undertones that speak volumes about the establishment’s inner monologue: a mean radical Brown man — whose name we won’t use and we’ll dehumanize him down to That Guy — corrupted the CDP’s poor helpless docile white woman survivor trophy. She’s been such a good girl till now! What happened? Some malicious, insidious Brown man must’ve gotten into her head.

But I am not a good girl. I’m not even really a girl. And Amar isn’t the one politically manipulating people — perhaps it’s actually the person who is dispatching people to emotionally manipulate and pressure a survivor. Rusty’s projection skills really are top-notch here.

The call ended with this: “We care about you and we’re all worried for you being manipulated.”

We care about you. As long as you shut the fuck up, bend the knee, apologize to us, and don’t make Rusty look bad. The emails that would rectify their supposed concerns were never sent, because their concerns aren’t really about using titles or getting advance notice, they’re about me daring to criticize Rusty.

I have strongly criticized CDP Vice Chair Daraka Larimore-Hall for his behavior in early 2019, when he had friends call me to ask me why I wasn’t “grateful” for him and pressured my co-plaintiff to drop out of the lawsuit so it would be “just Kate.” I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that sending working group members after me to pressure me and to urge me to apologize for something I didn’t do wrong is that same flavor of corruption, intimidation, and aggression. It’s perhaps even more insidious because Rusty, the ombudsperson, and the Executive Director chose to send someone I greatly, greatly admire as the messenger. At least Daraka had the guts and communication skills to say shit mostly himself.

I was not aware my participation in this group was conditional on not publicly criticizing Rusty, and that is one of the primary factors driving my resignation.

2. Not Allowing For Past Investigations Is Antithetical To The Nature of Trauma

My second reason for resigning from the working group is that the allegedly-reformed investigative process it promotes is dangerously insufficient and antithetical to the nature of trauma — and participating in a “trauma-informed” group regardless of that fact does not sit right with me.

A staffer went public several months ago about the abhorrent misconduct she was subjected to at the Party by its HR Director. She contacted our investigative side/the ombudsperson and was told that they wouldn’t open a case because her abuse happened in 2018.

The Party that supposedly supports survivors and vigorously pushed back against Republican talking heads who attacked survivors like Dr. Blasey-Ford for “waiting too long to report” is truly basing its investigative process off of a “sorry, if it happened in the past, you’re shit out of luck” approach. Trauma is a neurobiological injury that vastly impacts your decision-making and willingness to talk about or acknowledge what happened to you. It is not uncommon at all for survivors of trauma — be it sexual, emotional, or physical — to not speak out about their experiences until months, years, or decades after the fact. Refusing to investigate past incidents — especially those that are only two years old — is an abdication of moral and political responsibility. It is a policy that flies in the face of being “trauma-informed,” and it guarantees that more incidents will be covered up or brushed aside whenever they’re “in the past.” I cannot participate in a Working Group that promotes a process so out of touch with the reality of trauma.

3. Rusty Ignores Survivors & CDP Officers Are Silent On Sexual Harassment

My third and final reason for resigning from A Way Forward is that it is abundantly clear that our work has been ineffective in reaching the top-level leadership of the Party. Rusty straight up ignoring my two-years-worth of public requests, my email, and the questions of the Progressive Caucus is a devastating indictment of the working group’s supposed survivor-centered progress. If the Chair will not even give survivors the time of day or acknowledge their existence if he doesn’t like them, then how can people trust that anything the working group does will be effective?

This broad cultural issue does not just stop with Rusty, though. Two Officers of the CDP are currently having their delegate status debated because of their vote to allow a serial predator to maintain his own status two years ago. I came forward yesterday morning to reiterate the already-publicly-available claims against CDP Controller Dan Weitzman, who participated in vile sexual harassment towards me and another female staffer in 2018 and egged Eric Bauman on in his own regard. I also had an intermediary forward irrefutable evidence of that harassment to the CDP officers.

It’s well over 24 hours later. They’ve been silent. Despite having the allegation publicly discussed and having received proof of its accuracy, every single CDP officer has been completely silent. While it’s true they’re voting on Weitzman’s delegate status in a few weeks, that vote wouldn’t have to be referenced in order for the Officers to at least say something, even something minimal. Say “these allegations are incredibly disturbing and I’m disheartened to hear about the trauma that’s been caused. We will be discussing this evidence at the hearing and beyond, and I want to be clear that I strongly condemn sexual violence and harassment.”

But they won’t. Because they’re all playing political chess and this is all happening during convention/Officer election season. And maybe, to them, that feels like doing the most good that they can relative to their positions. I would admire that if it didn’t involve stepping on survivors and allowing a very serious credible allegation to go unsupported and unanswered. I’m sure there are fears of bias motivating that hesitation, but as a friend and registered Democrat told me this morning as I described my frustration and betrayal: “y’all got other problems if condemning harassment is a bias.”

They do appear to have other problems. But in a world where publicly speaking out is met with silence because of political inconvenience and where I can’t take that evidence to the ombudsperson because, oh, that’s right, it happened all of 2.5 years ago, I am disinterested in working to gain the favor of people who apparently have bigger problems. This is my third reason for resigning.

//

I have gone around and around about this decision. Ever since that first red flag at E-Board, my friends and loved ones have tried to pull me away. They noticed it before I did, gently encouraging me or outright telling me that this wasn’t worth it and that they were concerned for how much I agonized over it. Even last fall, the people in my circle tried to tell me that no matter how hard I tried or how much I tried to act like “A Good Survivor,” one that would be palatable to them, one that could voice their opinion and maybe even influence people without appearing too aggressive or antagonistic, it would not matter.

They were right. And I was wrong. I was wrong to prop this up. I was wrong to participate in this. I was wrong to speak at E-Board and let the CDP use my image and words to legitimize this.

I’ve voiced this frustration and disillusionment to a lot of people recently. All of them in the political realm, some with malice or dubious intentions but a vast majority without, have told me to stick it out, that I have power here, that I’m making an impact on what happens to the survivors who come after me. This message, at the end of the day, distills in my head down to: but aren’t you the saint of survivors, Kate? Isn’t this what you’re committed to? Why don’t you give us some more labor? You’re femme enough, you’re soft enough, why don’t you just take the fucking hit?

I won’t take the hit because, broadly speaking, I do not have power here. I don’t. Because the person who harassed a staffer and made the decision to keep on a law firm in order to psychologically terrorize a survivor? Still at the CDP. A Chair who flat out ignores questions from survivors about the pledge he broke to create accountability for that decision and participates in hushed conversations with his working group members to harass her for it? About to get re-elected for a four-year term. The Officers who just got notified and were provided evidence of undeniable sexual harassment by the Controller? Absolutely fucking silent all of yesterday and today — same thing with a stunning majority of regional leaders, caucus chairs, and activists. The working group on sexual misconduct? Meets twice a month for one hour and actively targets people who criticize whatever administration’s in power. The supposedly reformed investigative process? Won’t take your case if it happened in the past.

I believe that the only slight power that I have here is the power that I’ve been letting them drain me of. The power of being a Bauman survivor, the first one to make a report, the one who was so loud and outspoken against the Party and Rusty originally. That is the power that they get to strip me of and wield. See, she’s on our side! The work we’re doing must be good if she’s participating in it!

I cannot truthfully reassure survivors who want to come forward that the CDP is a safe place to do so. Because even with my “power,” I’ve been degraded and targeted for coming forward recently, not even counting the intentional mental torture I was put through in 2018–2019. And if I can’t reassure them that this is a safe place, I cannot morally be part of this. If the only version of my power here is the version that the CDP has drained from my mind and body to prop up Rusty and the establishment that he protects, let this serve as my notice that I am ripping out every single IV and plug. They will get nothing from me. And maybe — just maybe — being willing to destroy what little “power” I wield here so that the California Democratic Party can’t continue to bastardize it will make something a little better for the next person who tries to do good.

I wish them better luck than I’ve had.

Bisexual enby space witch stuck in an uncooperative body on a dystopian planet. Twitter: @kfreddiea