(Lilian Vogl is a friend of mine who recently posted this note on her Facebook page. With her permission, I am sharing it here. –Mary Pezzulo.)
I resigned from office in the Republican Party over irreconcilable differences. Less than two years later, I am resigning and renouncing the American Solidarity Party because it has been an abusive relationship.
Pretty ironic for a group that names itself after the noble concept of solidarity, but it turns out the acronym ASP was much more apt.
It began the way many bad relationships do: a quick rebound romance, full of red flags that I should have paid more attention to at the start. I mentioned my general affinity for their platform in my GOP resignation manifesto, but expressed skepticism about their commitment to act like a mature political party. Nevertheless, I was immediately courted by the leadership at the time to lend my political expertise to their endeavor. I was troubled by the fact that their Presidential candidate had “liked” a number of Facebook pages of reactionary “Catholic” groups that oppose women working and Pope Francis, among other things. I had no intention of voting for him and was open about my support for Evan McMullin’s campaign since he was on the Virginia ballot and allowed my protest vote to be counted. Still, certain members of the National Committee pressed for me to join them, so I did shortly after the devastating November 2016 election.
I joined the party and the National Committee and was added to the party internal and external Facebook groups all at once. Immediately I noticed a number of group members on Facebook posting anti-“SJW,” pro-white nationalist, and other characteristically Alt-Right dog-whistling comments. Alarmed that I had gone from the frying pan of a Republican party infected at the fringes by these elements into the fire, I alerted the rest of the NC about my concerns and asked for help or permission to deal with them. Some members of the NC agreed this was a problem and authorized booting certain people or repudiating certain statements, but others protested that they didn’t see anything wrong with what was being said. At the time I thought they were being naïve. Later experiences would make me think otherwise.
My first few months on the NC were marked by rambling monthly videoconference meetings and frequent confusing Facebook Messenger chats used to do business. There was one other lawyer on the NC at the time who had experience running for office; none of the others had significant experience running a political or non-profit committee or with political campaigns in general. Despite this, my views on matters were routinely ignored by these inexperienced members. When we set up the platform revision committee, though I was plainly the most qualified person to lead it as someone with several years of experience with legislative drafting, they chose another NC member with no relevant experience to chair it. I almost quit then, but I saw there were going to be several competent people on the platform committee, and was offered to be Vice Chair of the committee, so I decided to stay and try to make the platform unifying and a good marketing tool for the party.
After weeks of the Platform Committee Chair failing work with the other members of the committee to agree on a process and unilaterally setting up a dauntingly long, complicated survey (it took 2-3 hours to complete for those who tackled it), I finally started caucusing the members of the committee who I thought were trustworthy to actually get the drafting work done, pushed passage of a procedure for adopting a single draft of each section, and effectively took charge of the platform revision process. That’s when the abuse really began. How dare I exercise leadership as a woman? I was supposed to serve the men in charge with my talents but let them call the policy shots. And it accelerated when I was elected Chair of the National Committee last July, becoming the main spokesperson for the party.
The abuse consisted first of being stalked all over social media, nearly every comment I made being attacked and misrepresented by various party members and pseudonymous Twitter accounts. It quickly developed into all forms of public and false character assassination, vicious gossip and innuendo, and then a crew of enablers and gas lighters who pretended they didn’t see anything wrong going on. Many good people were scared or disillusioned away by the constant attack culture, and there were multiple instances of blackmailing attempts between various party members. Certain members of the National Committee even participated in feeding the gossip machine, passive aggressively did not do the jobs they had agreed to do as part of the all-volunteer leadership, and there was even a coup attempt to remove me as Chair. I kept thinking that this couldn’t possibly represent the majority of the members who had signed up for a party named Solidarity, and who had just overwhelmingly adopted a great new platform. At the same time, I’m not one to retaliate. So I kept pushing back calmly and by the book against the bullies, weathering their constant reputational blows day after day, thinking they would eventually give up. They didn’t. They leveraged the lies to take control.
This past year acutely demonstrated to me the accuracy of the saying that a lie goes round the world while the truth is still getting its boots on. And as the #MeToo movement confronts religious institutions, we see time and time again how sadly common it is for people who claim to be religious leaders (and my detractors were all of the faction who wanted the ASP to be an overtly religious party, so they fit this profile) to abuse their authority, and ostracize and persecute those who expose the truth of their perfidy. And many dutifully religious followers instinctively back the abusers who claim righteousness for themselves, dismissing and even reviling the voices of those who are abused. Well,#TimesUp.
There is a strong appetite today for political realignment, for holistically pro-life, pro-human dignity approaches to women’s rights, immigration, healthcare, fair wages, combatting domestic violence, ending war, ending police brutality, combatting rising nationalism and racism—you name it. Such a movement MUST be built from its very foundation on an ethic of inclusion, honesty, and protection of the vulnerable. Solidarity isn’t tone policing, it is surrendering our privilege to support the oppressed. A deceptively-named club that doesn’t understand that basic concept is doomed to failure. Something new will arise from these ashes. I’m not sure what, and I’m not sure how or whether I might be involved. I’m quite sure it won’t come from me hanging around with my abusers, nor with those who say if I’d only be more deferential to them that there could be “reconciliation” without repentance and restitution of truth. I do still have hope that the long arc of history bends towards justice, but only if we all commit to the hard and oftentimes uncomfortable work of making it so.
(image via Pixabay)