The #MeToo Movement
Artwork representing the #MeToo Movement

Joe Biden has had a bad cou­ple of weeks, to put it mildly.

In the mid­dle of March, polit­i­cal pun­dits believed that the for­mer vice pres­i­dent was on the cusp of announc­ing his bid for the pres­i­den­cy – espe­cial­ly after he acci­den­tal­ly described him­self as one of the can­di­dates, spark­ing a huge cheer which prompt­ed him to cor­rect himself.

Rumours also swirled that Biden was seek­ing to per­suade Stacey Abrams – the Geor­gian 2018 guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date and ris­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic star – to join his run as vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, a move which might tem­per crit­i­cism that Biden does not exact­ly fit the pro­file of diver­si­ty that many Democ­rats are look­ing for in an oppo­nent to the white-nation­al­ist geron­toc­ra­cy that is the Trump regime.

How­ev­er, a week lat­er, pub­lic per­cep­tion had begun to change.

First came anoth­er wave of scruti­ny over Biden’s role in the 1991 Clarence Thomas hear­ings, when Ani­ta Hill – who has accused Thomas of sex­u­al harass­ment when she worked with him – was treat­ed dis­grace­ful­ly by the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, which Biden chaired at the time.

Biden’s apol­o­gy on March 26th made it sound like he was pow­er­less to pre­vent Hill’s humil­i­a­tion in front of the com­mit­tee; crit­ics soon point­ed out that he had allowed Thomas to both pre­empt and respond to Hill’s tes­ti­mo­ny, effec­tive­ly say­ing that his ver­sion of events was more legitimate.

Two days lat­er, Stacey Abrams pub­licly dis­missed the idea that she and Biden were in talks to run as a joint tick­et. “I think you don’t run for sec­ond place,” she said on The View, “if I’m going to enter a pri­ma­ry, then I’m going to enter a pri­ma­ry.” Biden was sub­se­quent­ly accused of using Abrams as a polit­i­cal token.

Worse was to come.

The very next day a for­mer can­di­date for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of Neva­da, Lucy Flo­res, wrote an arti­cle about how Biden’s behav­ior at a 2014 cam­paign event made her feel deeply uncomfortable.

Biden’s apol­o­gy for this only hurt him more; in claim­ing that he had not intend­ed to act inap­pro­pri­ate­ly, he only showed that he didn’t under­stand the crux of Flo­res’ com­plaint. Flo­res not­ed that that she didn’t sus­pect Biden’s inten­tions, but that his behav­ior itself was the problem.

Lucy Flores speaking in Nevada
Lucy Flo­res speak­ing in Neva­da (Pho­to: Deacontyler1, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license). Flo­res’ arti­cle said that Biden made her feel “uneasy, gross and confused”

Flo­res’ arti­cle opened the flood­gates for years of Biden’s behav­ior around women to come under scruti­ny. The Vice Pres­i­dent has often been crit­i­cized (or sim­ply laughed at) for being a lit­tle too com­fort­able with women – one video that has resur­faced is of Biden whis­per­ing into Stephanie Carter’s ear dur­ing her husband’s swear­ing-in as Sec­re­tary of Defense (Carter has pub­licly defend­ed Biden, say­ing that the video rep­re­sent­ed, “a moment between close friends”).

On April 1st, a sec­ond woman, Amy Lap­pos, made alle­ga­tions sim­i­lar to Flores’.

Amidst the back­drop of this reex­am­i­na­tion of Biden, many of his rivals are mak­ing huge strides in chang­ing gen­der-rela­tions in the cul­ture of politics.

Moth­er Jones inves­ti­gat­ed the inter­nal harass­ment poli­cies of sev­er­al 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and found that big changes are afoot.

Gone are the days of the Barack Oba­ma and Hilary Clin­ton cam­paigns, whose harass­ment train­ing con­sist­ed only of basic “box-check­ing” exercises.

Kirsten Gillibrand’s cam­paign has con­duct­ed a sur­vey of its employ­ees to gauge how they feel about their work envi­ron­ment. The cam­paign has also made it com­pul­so­ry for employ­ees to read the campaign’s guide­lines and have manda­to­ry harass­ment train­ing for managers.

Cory Book­er has imple­ment­ed an “open-door” pol­i­cy for employ­ees to eas­i­ly meet their manager’s boss to report mis­con­duct. His cam­paign is also work­ing on an employ­ee hand­book for deal­ing with these issues.

Kamala Har­ris’ cam­paign has insti­tut­ed manda­to­ry train­ing, and intro­duced mul­ti­ple report­ing mech­a­nisms to ensure that vic­tim­ized employ­ees do not feel dis­cour­aged by the process.

Bernie Sanders – whose cam­paign has already been rocked by com­plaints that his 2016 cam­paign mis­han­dled harass­ment claims – has already made his­to­ry for the union­iza­tion of his cam­paign workers.

In his cam­paign, harass­ment claims will be dealt with by both the campaign’s human resources depart­ment and union rep­re­sen­ta­tives; this means that vic­tims will have inves­ti­ga­tors who work direct­ly for them, rather than hav­ing the inter­ests of the cam­paign at heart. Sanders has also arranged for the set­up of a third-par­ty com­plaint hot­line for his employees.

These changes are espe­cial­ly impor­tant con­sid­er­ing the inher­ent risks that come with polit­i­cal campaigning.

The essen­tial busi­ness of a polit­i­cal cam­paign is to recruit moti­vat­ed young peo­ple and scat­ter them across the coun­try – in the process expos­ing them unsu­per­vised to influ­en­tial and pow­er­ful peo­ple, from local politi­cians to hard­ened polit­i­cal cam­paign­ers, in close quar­ters. Suc­cess­ful cam­paigns expand from a tiny team to a bil­lion-dol­lar, fifty-state enter­prise with­in a year, a sit­u­a­tion which no team could pos­si­bly hope to man­age effec­tive­ly. It’s a recipe for all man­ner of abuse.

In recent years a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions have sprung up to help politi­cians deal with the issue of harassment.

Groups like Ultra­Vi­o­let, Bright Com­pass and Works in Progress have received a boost from the emer­gence of the #MeToo movement.

These groups have not only con­sult­ed with Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates on pub­lic pol­i­cy in advance of the 2020 pri­maries and cau­cus­es, but have pushed them to intro­duce pro­tec­tions for work­ers with­in their campaigns.

Emma Boor­boor, the deputy orga­niz­ing direc­tor of Ultra­Vi­o­let, has intro­duced a three-page pack­et for cam­paigns which rec­om­mend­ed many of the mea­sures tak­en up by the cam­paigns men­tioned above. As she puts it: “For 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates to believ­ably advo­cate for poli­cies to make work­places safer, they need to cre­ate their own safe work­place cultures.”

It is to the Democ­rats’ cred­it that they are going to such lengths to pro­tect their employ­ees, but it is also smart strat­e­gy. Who­ev­er wins the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­maries will face Don­ald Trump, and hav­ing a strong posi­tion on work­er pro­tec­tion and stop­ping abuse in the work­place will be crit­i­cal to cre­at­ing an effec­tive contrast.

Trump’s 2016 cam­paign was mem­o­rably dogged by accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al harass­ment by Trump… that he him­self made!

In Octo­ber 2016, audio emerged of a con­ver­sa­tion Trump had in 2005 on the show Access Hol­ly­wood, where he claimed that he reg­u­lar­ly fon­dled women and pres­sured them to sleep with him. Over twen­ty women have come for­ward to accuse Don­ald Trump of var­i­ous forms of sex­u­al abuse and harassment.

"Women's rights are human rights!"
Pro­tes­tors denounce Don­ald Trump in Min­neapo­lis (Pho­to: Fibonac­ci Blue, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

The Democ­rats can­not sim­ply point to Trump’s dis­grace­ful record if they want to win in 2020. Hillary Clin­ton tried to make the 2016 elec­tion a ref­er­en­dum on Trump’s fit­ness for office; as we all know, that strat­e­gy did not work.

Trump is a skilled pro­jec­tion­ist who projects his own faults onto his oppo­nents. For instance, in Octo­ber 2016 Trump host­ed a pan­el of women who had accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al abuse to make against the Clin­tons. Not his oppo­nent, Hillary Clin­ton, but her hus­band, for­mer-pres­i­dent Bill Clinton.

To cred­i­bly denounce Trump’s vile and hyp­o­crit­i­cal his­to­ry when it comes to sex­u­al harass­ment, Democ­rats need to prac­tice what they preach. Democ­rats will be well-served if they have strong anti-harass­ment poli­cies in their own campaigns.

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