On a fast-growing, progressive, tech-driven presidential campaign, a fellow staff member attempted to rape me. I was not on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. This assault happened during my year working on the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2003. It marred my career as my attacker’s career flourished.
This week’s revelations of harassment and unequal pay within the Sanders 2016 campaign may shock outsiders of campaigns, but not those of us who have been within them.
We know these frenetic work environments intimately; their controlled chaos hides a multitude of flaws within a vast network of (mostly) well-meaning, hard-working campaign staff. The work is high demand and fast-paced. It means that issues like harassment don’t get addressed with the full weight of consequence because it is too time-intensive. It means that campaign leaders don’t get fired because the stakes are too high. Particularly on fast-growing campaigns — where millions of donor dollars suddenly pour in and staff numbers hockeystick in parallel with funding — creating a safe workplace relies more on reputations of those hired than practices and policies in the campaign.
When I told campaign leaders of the attempted rape, they protected my attacker. When another woman reported he had raped her, the campaign retained him on staff.
The claims of harassment and unequal pay on the Sanders campaign are unsurprising to me and every other person in progressive campaigns. Well-meaning, under-resourced, fast-growing campaigns need a new framework. One that holds them accountable and protects staffers to the fullest.
Since my #MeToo story broke in May last year, I’ve spent countless hours engaging with leaders in campaigns and philanthropy on solutions to make our workplaces safer. I’m pleased that many in philanthropy are implementing recommendations, including my own. With the 2018 campaign wrapped, it’s time for the campaign funders — like their peers in philanthropy — to focus in on what they can do to build safer workplaces on campaigns.