Giulianna Di Lauro Velez, one of the women who said she was sexually harassed while working on the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign, is again speaking up—this time about how political pundits and critics have manipulated these experiences to fit their own narratives.
In a piece published on the Intercept, Di Lauro Velez writes: “I was disheartened to discover that the takeaway by many pundits was not that sexism and harassment is pervasive, but that Sanders was somehow uniquely culpable. I was also struck by some of the messages and tweets calling into question the character of the women who spoke out.”
“In sharing my experiences, I was hoping to highlight this issue for all future campaigns and celebrate the power of women organizers who worked together and successfully got the attention of Sanders and his team,” she wrote. “But that is not what happened.”
Di Lauro Velez, a former Latino outreach strategist on the campaign, recently told the New York Times that campaign surrogate Marco Antonio Regil grabbed her hair “in a sexual way” and groped her. Campaign officials did not take her claims seriously, she said, and she recalled that her manager Bill Velazquez said, “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger.” In the week since that story was published, other allegations have emerged regarding harassment within the Sanders campaign, prompting a tepid initial apology from the Vermont Senator and then a more full-throated statement on Thursday:
“The allegations speak to unacceptable behavior that must not be tolerated in any campaign or any workplace. To the women in that campaign who were harassed or mistreated I apologize. Our standards and safeguards were inadequate,” he said.
At the Intercept, Di Lauro Velez calls on Sanders to set up an independent investigation into the allegations, but argues that to hold Sanders as “uniquely culpable” is to miss the root cause of harassment—that as “a whole, our country does not believe, respect, or even like women as much as men.”
It’s not surprising, then, that these systemic problems infect political campaigns — especially since those calling the shots are mostly male, white, and disconnected from the working class. In my experience, women hired as strategists or managers are frequently treated like assistants and translators. Men often pass off our ideas as their own and “put us in our place” if we are too assertive.
It’s the classic double-bind: We are not smart enough or too smart; not attractive enough or too attractive; not dressed appropriately or dressed too nicely; not poor enough or too poor; not confident enough or too arrogant; not likable or too female. To be a woman in politics is to be held to an unattainable standard of perfection. To be a woman of color is even harder. When we see women like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez overcome the odds against her, set these expectations on fire, and score impressive accomplishments like getting the media and Democratic leadership to take a Green New Deal seriously, we should rejoice. But even she’s not immune.
You can read Di Lauro Velez’s full piece here.