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- More than two dozen of Senator Bernie Sanders’ former supporters and campaign workers want to meet with him and his top political advisors to discuss sexual violence and harassment during the 2016 campaign.
- In a letter, former staffers said they want to mitigate the issue before Sanders launches a 2019 Senate campaign or a 2020 presidential campaign.
- “In recent weeks there has been an ongoing conversation on social media, in texts, and in person, about the untenable and dangerous dynamic that developed during our campaign,” former staffers said in a letter sent to Sanders.
Former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers want to meet with the senator and his top political advisors to discuss “the issue of sexual violence and harassment during the 2016 campaign,” in advance of the 2020 election cycle, according to a letter sent to Sanders and published by POLITICO.
Though Sanders hasn’t yet announced his intentions to run for the White House, more than two dozen women and men who worked for his 2016 campaign want him and his advisers to create a “gold-standard” harassment policy to avoid what they described as an “untenable and dangerous dynamic that developed during [the 2016] campaign.”
One of the letter’s organizers, who spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity, said signees are trying to address “a pervasive culture of toxic masculinity in the campaign world.”
“This letter is just a start,” the organizer said. “We are addressing what happened on the Bernie campaign, but as people that work in this space we see that all campaigns are extremely dangerous to women and marginalized people and we are attempting to fix that.”
Though the former staffers did not detail any specific instances of sexual harassment or violence in their letter, a New York Times article detailed a few instances in which Bernie campaign staffers felt they were harassed during the 2016 campaign. Giulianna Di Lauro, a Latino outreach strategist for the 2016 campaign, told The Times that a Sanders surrogate once ran his hand over her hair in a “sexual way” and continued to push her boundaries “for the rest of the day.”
When she reported the incident to Bill Vazquez, a manager on the Latino team, he reportedly told her “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger.”
The Times reported that similar accounts have made rounds online among former Bernie supporters.
“I did experience sexual harassment during the campaign, and there was no one who would or could help,” Samantha Davis, the 2016 campaign’s former director of operations in Texas and New York, told The Times. She said she was marginalized by her supervisor after declining an invitation to his hotel room.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ 2016 campaign manager and currently a top adviser, was named in the letter sent to Sanders. In response, he told The Times that “anybody who committed harassment on the campaign would not be asked back.” He also expressed regret for some of the campaign’s shortcomings.
“Was it too male? Yes. Was it too white? Yes,” he told The Times. “Would this be a priority to remedy on any future campaign? Definitely, and we share deeply in the urgency for all of us to make change. In 2016, as the size of our campaign exploded, we made efforts to make it a positive experience for people. That there was a failure pains me very much.”
Friends of Bernie Sanders, his principal campaign committee, responded to the letter in a statement to POLITICO.
“We thank the signers of the letter for their willingness to engage in this incredibly important discussion,” the statement said. “We always welcome hearing the experiences and views of our former staff. We also value their right to come to us in a private way so their confidences and privacy are respected. And we will honor this principle with respect to this private letter.”
Some former supporters told The Times that the pervasive harassment and sexism in the campaign drove them away from it. Sarah Slamen, who worked for the campaign in Texas and helped build out Our Revolution, a progressive organization born from Sanders’ campaign, told The Times she quit the organization at the end of 2016 after she said she a male member of Our Revolution berated her for suggesting an organizing plan.
“Do you know how hard that is for me to say after working so hard for him?” she said.