High profile scandals involving sexual harassment, sexual assault, and bullying abuses of power invite criticisms of all kinds. Nearly six years ago, I began more publicly finding my voice to stand up for women who were sexually harassed by then-Mayor Bob Filner. I worked for Marco Gonzalez at the time, and he, Donna Frye, and Cory Briggs were the first to call for Filner’s resignation in July 2013. Marco and Donna first privately met with him, and he had agreed to a certain course of sexual harassment prevention training, ceasing those activities, and obtaining other personal help, which he promptly ignored.
I remained publicly silent about the fact that I had been a recipient of his abuses of power until last year, but Marco, Donna, Cory, my Mom, and a select couple of other individuals knew. I believed the women that came forward. I believed the women who called the office who simply wanted to thank Marco for what he was doing, who anonymously shared stories with me from twenty years prior of Filner’s harassment. I believed those who reached out to me as I was publicly advocating for victims and for Filner’s resignation via private message, telling me atrocious stories that I will never share publicly because the victims themselves would recognize themselves in the retelling, and they never came forward.
I was called all sorts of things by Democrats who thought the whole scandal was some sort of monied takedown of the first Mayor who ever advanced progressive causes in San Diego. I was called a surrogate, among other things. Marco, Donna, and Cory were called worse. Conspiracy theories were launched. In 2017, the Chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party told me in a phone conversation that we (the local Dem Party) would have been better off had Filner remained in office while civil litigation took its due course. (How many more women would have been harassed in that year+ process? How many more lawsuits would that have engendered? It’s not like we could put the Mayor in a cage and keep him from meeting with the public, lobbyists, activists… UGH!)
In the words of Donna Frye: Bob Filner got the justice he was due.
In December 2016, I was presented the opportunity to advocate for one, then two, soon three, and more women who had been/were employed by Mickey Kasparian, a powerful leader and political kingmaker-behind-the-scenes in San Diego. My fear told me the risks were real, though he had no direct influence over my professional future. Action was therefore an imperative. At the request of Sandy Naranjo, I arranged a meeting with Donna Frye and Irene McCormick and several other women who had claims of wrongful termination and other abuses by Kasparian.
I catapulted into nearly two years of activism on behalf of these victims, which finally culminated in confidential legal settlements with four women and the removal from power of Kasparian from the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council (implemented by the AFL-CIO) and his union, UFCW Local 135 (he was voted out by the members via internal democratic process and LOTS of organizing). None of us knew this was possible in the beginning, and those who were attacked along the way are still suffering their wounds. There should be better ways, and justice delayed inflicts greater injustice. When “due process” protects serial abusers, suffering lingers and intensifies.
That is why I have been so impressed by Daraka Larimore-Hall and his decisive actions within the California Democratic Party. Within hours of victims confiding in him directly their corroborated stories of sexual assault and harassment by the powerful former Party Chair Eric Bauman, he used his position to directly confront him, then file formal internal charges against him using the only means available via the bylaws. He orchestrated a compassionate telling of the partial stories of those who were willing via a trusted media outlet. These cumulative actions resulted in the abrupt resignation of the former Chair – the most rapid direct justice I have experienced in my years of activism surrounding these issues. More remains to be done in terms of greater transparency and checks and balances in power of the recently vacated position, but for the sake of those who have suffered in silence, this was a tremendous first step.
When I was a teen, my Mom told me: before you confide your burdens in somebody, sometimes the most responsible thing to do is to ask them if they are willing to carry your burdens. I see what she meant more all the time. Some burdens are meant to be borne silently, and some compel action to remedy injustices done by the powerful to those in their realm of power. Even while taking action, often the most burdensome personal stories require sustained secrecy.
When more than a dozen victims/survivors entrust their stories to a person equipped to enact justice on their behalf, we need to take a breath as the greater public before we weigh in with our opinions and criticisms. Due process has a place. Civil legal procedures often delay justice and therefore often represent justice denied in these instances of multiple victims at the hand of powerful figures.
And: the worst stories often never surface.
There’s a difference between a rumor mill and an individual or two entrusted with and propelled into action on behalf of others who have been wronged. There are also people who will misuse victims who looked to them for a champion but who only have designs on personal gain.
There were rumor mills and anecdotal whisperings about Filner, Kasparian, and Bauman, but nothing substantiated to the voting public or the majority of other powerful influencers until, suddenly, there WERE. A common thread is that all three seemed to reach a point of power that convinced them they were invincible and entitled. Another common thread is that, once told of specific abuses, brave individuals spoke up and enacted justice by any means available.
Daraka Larimore-Hall has borne the burden and acted in the ways he was informed by several (of many more who I am sure the rest of us will never know) victims of Bauman’s abuses of power. He will continue to protect them and lead the California Democratic Party toward greater transparency and protection of the vulnerable employed by and active in political spaces. He knew the procedural limitations and acted anyhow.
This is leadership.
I trust Daraka to lead with sensitivity, deep care and commitment, and moral conviction and to usher in the next phase of the California Democratic Party. He knows the structural weaknesses and has the insight, vision and capability to heal these from within the existing framework of the Party.
Some would advocate that we reactively burn the whole thing down. But the stakes are too high. People silently carried their shameful stories of abuse for so long because they didn’t want to contribute to the destruction of this vehicle of greater social justice via electoral politics. Daraka has shown that he can effectively work within the existing structure, will highlight the areas that need changes via internal democratic process, will pull from professional independent resources, and will move forward with a strength that can inform greater society how to enact needed change.
I trust Daraka to implement trauma-informed justice within the California Democratic Party, to continue the good work that resulted in so many phenomenal electoral wins in 2018, and to model organizational reform that will be a replicable example of leadership in a greater society that sorely needs it. I trust him to show that our platform is a living, breathing document that uplifts people, and to restore trust in our Party at a critical time.
I trust Daraka, as do so many others. Hold him accountable, and let him lead.