Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Life-Lesson Letter for My Daughters

Dear Beatrice and Bryce,

I’m writing this letter for your future selves to read, to talk about a very serious subject for when you’re both young adults. 

Your mom and I hope you never experience what too many women, and men, still experience in the world every single day – being harassed, bullied, sexually assaulted and/or raped. Whether by a stranger, or more likely, by someone you know. A significant other, a supposed friend or family member, a classmate, a neighbor, a co-worker or a boss. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on, multiple iterations of the same tragic story. You may even have friends who have experienced one of the above. 

Yes, I said it was serious, and we hope we’ve helped arm you with the awareness, confidence, safety skills and courage to not allow anyone to overpower you because they want to. Especially because you are women, and especially by men (although women can harass other women, too).

It can all start simply enough, with someone bugging you repeatedly that’s demeaning to you over time, who attempts to put you in your place, that you’re not good enough or smart enough, and never will be. Or, someone who pushes you to do something without your consent because they say they like you and think you’re attractive. When it’s repetitive harassment and/or physical assault, it can eat away at your psyche, your very heart and soul, until there’s nothing left but chronic fear and unhappiness, depression and the rock bottom of self-worth. 

If you let it. You don’t have to let it, though. Ever. Whomever is doing it do you, you can use that Kidpower Mom taught us all those years ago and say “Stop!” Then you throw away those intentionally hurtful words and actions and you get yourself in a safe space. Whether at home or at work, you do not have to accept it, even when it’s enabled by others around you who say “but that’s just the way he/she talks to others; it’s the way he/she expresses love; he/she doesn’t really mean it; don’t take it personally; just deal with it, because that’s life and you need this job.”

That’s all bullshit. Sorry, but it is. And no matter how much you think you like someone, if they bully and harass you, or try to force you to do something sexual you do not want to do, then it’s time to get out, to get away to safety. You have the power to say “stop” and “no” – even if you first say yes.

This also means reporting it if it’s at work or calling it out if you have friends or people you work with who are experiencing it. Or reporting it to the police when it’s a crime against you or someone you know. Don’t try to hide it because you’re ashamed or look the other way when you witness it elsewhere, because someday you could be in a situation where you’ll need the support of others to help shine a light on it. Looking the other way is one of the ways that empowers abusive behavior.

This isn’t easy to do and standing up for yourself and others can sometimes come with heavy social, emotional and psychological costs. You could lose the very people you thought were your friends. You could lose your job. You may want to quit your job. You could be fearful of intimacy for a long time to come. You could be socially chastised by those who support the very individuals who have harassed you, and this is a life lesson I want to share with you both. 

You probably don’t remember, but years ago I was on the Santa Cruz City Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW). Your mom encouraged me to apply for the commission, because I had already been an advocate for violence awareness and prevention. 

This commission was all about preventing sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape in our community and holding those accountable who perpetrated such activities. I was only one of two men on the commission during my tenure. I learned a lot and was proud of the work we did and even served as chair during the last year I served. 

But then our commission got swept into local politics, something we never intended to happen. There were five women – three city staff employees and two city council members – who had come forward and filed multiple workplace harassment complaints against two other city councilmembers, both men. And one of the five women was also the city staff coordinator for our commission.

The city paid for an investigation that did substantiate there was in fact a pervasive pattern of workplace harassment and bullying by these two male councilmembers, along with a contingent of their supporters who worked with and for them. While the investigation concluded that there wasn’t any gender bias in these workplace harassment complaints, all who came forward were women, and none of the complaints were found to be false. 

Now, imagine multiple city council meetings where men and women in our community repeatedly blamed and shamed the women who had come forward, accusing them of the wrongdoing, that is was there fault that these two male councilmembers were being accused because they just wanted the men removed from office. Their supporters were vocal about various conspiracy theories of why these women had come forward in the first place, that it was all political in the end. And that because one of the men were black, it became about race as well. 

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Our commission experienced the same community backlash because the majority of us continued to stand by the five women. We pushed for what’s called censure, a public reprimand of the two councilmembers, but one in which the council majority didn’t pass. 

We were still berated over and over again with hateful rhetoric. That we were wrong to support these women and that we should only support women who are sexually assaulted and raped. That we should leave workplace harassment and bullying for the workplace itself to deal with. 

We were also literally threatened that they would “come after us” if we continued to support the women who had come forward. Especially me, being the only male and the chair. The Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women being threatened with violence because of women coming forward about workplace violence. Can you believe it? Egregious and absurd, but it happened.

The harassment continued online, and sadly, one of the two accused councilmembers wrote slanderous posts on his Facebook page about the commission and me personally. 

But even after all of that, all I could think about after being threatened by them was you two and your mom. Would my family be in danger now? Would they continue to harass us incessantly like they did to those women and their families who had come forward? 

What if either of you had something happen to you someday and then you come forward so those who hurt you could be held accountable, and this was the hateful backlash you received? That it was all your fault? Because there was no way those you accused could do something like that?

No wonder so many who are harassed and abused or worse don’t come forward. Also note that false reporting happens only about 2%-10% of the time, and that’s probably high because of those who actually don’t report. 

While I’ll always stand by all the work the commission did back then, at that time I had had enough of the harassment and bullying and had to step down. It adversely impacted our family life and my work life (again, you probably don’t remember how stressed I was back then, but your mom does). Of course, my personal woes were nothing compared to anyone who’s been victimized repeatedly, sexually assaulted and/or raped. 

My dear daughters, I implore you to always believe those who come forward and help be a voice for those who struggle to find theirs. Sexual assault and rape are horrific crimes, but don’t discount all other forms of controlling harassment and bullying just because they’re not rape. Many times, it’s this very behavior that’s a precursor to other forms of abuse and violence and can have just as much of a lasting traumatic effect. I grew up with domestic violence and sexual abuse, and so I know firsthand the lasting effects. That’s another story I’ll tell you someday. 

I’m no hero, but I do want both of you to know that my commitment to preventing violence of all kinds against women, men, girls and boys, including harassment and bullying, has never faltered and never will. I know you will continue to be committed as well. 

I love you both very much. 

Dad

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Hearts Wide Open

It wasn’t the fact that she had played better than ever during the first ever night game. That was truly a pleasure to watch, especially after her playing for four years and now playing against other girls who were much faster and much better at dribbling and passing the soccer ball.

No, it was what happened after the game. What happens after every game when we’re leaving.

“Great job, Beatrice.”

“You almost got one, Beatrice.”

“See you later, Beatrice.”

And more of that sentiment, from her teammates and the parents. This is still recreational soccer, mind you, but the level of play now at the U12 level is more competitive than I ever saw coaching U8 or U10 girls soccer. Of course, Beatrice responds in kind, thanking her teammates and saying good job and see you next time.

It’s a testament to her coaches and her teammates, and the parents, too, supporting their girls at every game.

But it’s also a testament to Bea’s big heart. She’s compassionate, confident, loving, diplomatic, empathic, understanding, and it really shows in every relationship she has. Her teachers concur. Her friends concur. Her sister concurs. Her parents concur.

Unfortunately she also stresses about things like I did when I was her age, where she internalizes her angst after fixating on something that is stressing her out. Like math and reading, where she struggles academically. The stress keeps her up at night and she can’t sleep, just like I remember doing, and still experience today sometimes.

She can now articulate her angst, though, much better than I ever could. And she doesn’t like feeling that way either, like she has fever that spikes that she longs to break and be free of. We share these blue genes, but she doesn’t like to wear them at all, while I grew used to wearing them (out) over and over as my defense mechanism growing up, battling periodic depression as a reaction to stressful situations. Resulting sometimes in panic attacks that are thankfully a hazy distance these days.

Regardless, Bea certainly doesn’t shy away from trying new things and giving it her all. Like playing flute in intermediate band now. Last year she played the trombone, and then changed her mind, wanting to play the flute instead, to share in the melody instead of the bass back beat. We told her that she’d have to probably start in beginning again unless we got her lessons over the summer, and she practiced, which we did and she did. Then we encouraged her to talk with her band teacher and to “try out” for intermediate band, which she did, and had learned enough to earn her spot. She's pretty good too, but she didn’t stop there. The band teacher likes to have kids from intermediate band help mentor and practice with beginning band, and it’s something Beatrice asked to do. Loves doing it in fact.

And then there’s after-school musical theater, where both her and her younger sister Bryce have been participating in for the past two years. And then there’s the environmental club that Bea wanted to join. And then there was being a recess monitor. And who knows what’s next.

It’s not that Bryce doesn’t jump in feet first as well. She actually dives in head-first from the high dive singing her favorite song as loud as she can. And, when she doesn’t want to do something, she’s just as animated. And loud.

But Bryce hasn’t had the developmental delays her big sister has had to overcome and constantly compensate for. Something that is a continuous feedback loop that we’re all involved in, especially my wife Amy. Amen for that amazing mother, wife and friend, that’s for sure.

Proudly I watched my daughter play better than ever at our very first night soccer game. For a few minutes, she was completely alone at her end of the field under the lights, and it was then I remembered how we used to think she’d never play more than one year of soccer. How we worried about how well she’d adapt to everything the farther along in school we got. How much she would struggle with certain subjects. How well she’d fair socially and if she’d have friends. How maybe she’d completely withdraw and not participate in anything.

However, that’s not our Bea. No, not at all. She may feel alone sometimes in her head, but it’s her confident big heart, not my blue genes, that define her very being. I'm so grateful for that. Middle school and high school will be the challenges yet to come, and our entire family welcomes them, hearts wide open.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The First Astronaut

"Lit up with anticipation
We arrive at the launching site
The sky is still dark, nearing dawn
On the Florida coastline..."

–Rush, Countdown


"I'm going to be an astronaut," she said.

"That's awesome," we said.

This after our visit to the Kennedy Space Center over the summer. Both our girls loved seeing all the rockets and the Atlantis space shuttle that day, and it was especially poignant that we were there on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch. But it was our youngest Bryce who really fell in love with the idea of space travel. So much so that she begged us to buy her an astronaut suit and NASA hat to wear while we were at the space center.

After some negotiation with Mom and Dad about how much she would spend out of her allowance "spend" money and how much we would cover, we bought the space suit. It was a muggy 95+ degrees outside in Florida that day, and she wore that suit the rest of the afternoon. Shortly after that, she made me promise that come Halloween this year, I'd go as her space shuttle.

I loved the idea of space travel when I was her age. I remember I took a summer astronomy class when I was 10 and the teacher let me each take the telescope home one night. I stayed outside for what seemed like hours, looking at the planets and the stars, until my mom told me it was time to go to bed.

Two years later, Star Wars came out, and that's all she wrote for me. I dove in so deep I've never looked back since. Neither Bryce nor Beatrice have taken to these movies like I have, but there's still time, considering there are many new Star Wars stories to come.

Then came the first space shuttle launch in April of 1981. The space shuttle Columbia was the first space-rated orbiter in NASA's Space Shuttle fleet and such an amazing feat of engineering, science and technology. My favorite band Rush would be inspired to write a song called Countdown about this very launch, a song that still gives me chills today. This inspiration would come after NASA invited Rush to be part of a select group to view the first launch of a space shuttle. So very cool.

This October came and went pretty fast, metaphorically at the speed of light, with work and family trips consuming over half of it. When we returned from these trips, Bryce reminded me of the space shuttle, and I had to quickly get to work on it to complete it before the Halloween events commenced.

I love being creative when I can, and I had lots of cardboard, a roll of white paper, rope, packing tape and marking pens to work with. In less than two hours I created a really simple representation of the space shuttle Columbia, complete with American flags that Bryce made for the shuttle. When she said she was only going to draw three stars, I asked her why, and she said "because". Fair enough. Maybe she was channeling the three band members of Rush. I can dream at least.

We also showed both girls some of the the video of the two female American astronauts who recently took part in the first all-female spacewalk. They'd been tasked with replacing a power controller, and had ventured out of the International Space Station. So awesome to watch. It was also so much fun when I showed the recruiting team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of many organizations that participate in the Talent Board candidate experience benchmark research program I run, the picture of my daughter and I dressed as astronauts and space shuttle. In fact, they said they're hiring!

Bryce was so happy and proud to have me as her space shuttle Columbia at every Halloween event we went to this year, including the Halloween parade at her and her sister's school that all the students participate in. I got a lot of orbit miles out of that cardboard space shuttle in just under one week.

"I'm going to be the first female astronaut to go to the moon," Bryce has told us over and over again.

We of course agreed and, who knows, we may just see her do that someday. And while I don't ever want to take away anything from her about being the first female to go to the moon, to Mars and to who knows where else as the future becomes now again, we long for the day when we can just call her the first astronaut, because.

"Excitement so thick, you could cut it with a knife
Technology high, on the leading edge of life
Like a pillar of cloud, the smoke lingers
High in the air
In fascination with the eyes
of the world we stare..."

Friday, October 25, 2019

Like It’s Your Last Day Ever

“Didn't he say how he likes to make the holes?
Time melts away while he tries to make the holes
Turn it on, Salvador…”

–Toy Matinee, Turn It On Salvador


Between our two girls asking me where the other suitcase was, and my wife calling me from the fourth floor asking if I got the other suitcase, I suddenly understood: our other big suitcase was still in the apartment where we’d stayed all week.

And now it was locked with the key inside on the table, exactly where the owners had told us to leave the key. To shut the door behind us. To have safe travels home.

It was six in the morning, and we were supposed to have left for the airport by that point. The plan was to move the big bags one at a time down the tiny elevator from the fourth floor to the first, call the Uber and head to the airport, to start the long trek home from Paris.

“Dad, Mom said you brought the suitcase down, where is it?” our oldest Beatrice asked.

That’s when I got the phone call from my wife, Amy.

“You don’t have it? Sweetie, I already shut the door. It’s locked,” she said.

I took the tiny elevator back up to where she was, unable to articulate how horrified I was. I pounded my fists on my legs.

“I’m sorry, I thought you had the bag,” Amy said. “I’ll call and text the owners right now.”

“I told you I could only bring one bag at a time.”

“I’m calling them now.”

Later, I would relate that extreme sick feeling I felt at that very moment to when George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life chastised Uncle Billy for losing the $8,000 that was supposed to be deposited in the bank.

Where's that money, you silly stupid old fool? Where's that money? Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison! That's what it means! One of us is going to jail; well, it's not gonna be me!

Except that we wouldn’t be going to prison. And it wasn’t a scandal. It was stressful, though, and in stress I tend to run on reactive overdramatic steam, and was already running through all possible (worst) scenarios of what would happen and what we’d have to do. The reality was, at worst, the owners would respond and show up too late, and we’d have to rebook our flights home. At best, the owners would respond quickly, come let us in so we could get our suitcase and get to the airport in time for our flight.

And so, we waited to hear back. Amy and the girls were in the lobby with all but the one missing suitcase, and me on the fourth floor waiting and staring at my phone. I could hear Amy talking softly with the girls all the way down on the first floor. It was early and no one else in the building was up yet. Time hung like weights on my face, arms and legs. It pulled me downward like the superheated gravity of a Salvador Dali painting. The horrified anger and frustration I had at that moment reminded me of the day before, when we were on our way to an Eiffel Tower tour, and hit a snag with our Metro subway tickets. We were losing time, something I despise, especially when there’s something scheduled we’re running up against. Traveling as a family works pretty well for us overall – the girls are great travelers and roll with it all, and Amy and I complement each other along the way.

But I really struggle with time, and Amy does not. Time shorts me, bullies me, shames me. Time protects her, loves her, forgives her. I wrestle with time; she dances with it. For our girls? Time is an open green field under blue skies where they can run and play.

A moment of indecision, defunct Metro tickets, an Uber that would’ve taken too long, and I decided we had to go to another Metro station and try again. I just didn’t want to miss the last scheduled tour on our trip, one that wasn’t cheap.

After going back and forth about it for less than a minute, I blurted out something like, “Fine, you can stay here but I’m going!”

Not a great moment for me, and although I handle stress much better in my life these days, I’m still sometimes sucked into the black holes of selfish anger.

“Don’t fight, Mom and Dad,” both girls said.

The fourth floor was eerily quiet as I thought about the day before, waiting to hear the owner had arrived to let us in.

We made it with plenty of time yesterday, I thought. And we took the girls on the Eiffel Tower, for goodness sake. First world problems and all that. So grateful we were able to go on this trip together. First DC, now this. Such an amazing trip and so educational and enlightening for us all. 

Then I remembered that, right before we made it to the tour with time to spare, I had said, “We just have to better build in that nickel and dime time when we travel. I travel a lot more than you now.”

Which, in retrospect, was just a stupid thing to say, because Amy was traveling a lot more than me when we first met, and now that I travel more for work, it’s easier just to plan for me, and yet she’s the one who has to prep travel for two kids and a dad when we all travel together. I help of course, but she’s always been better at the prep and planning than me. So, it was no surprise when she gently but firmly reminded me of that.

Back to the waiting on the fourth floor – only five minutes had gone by. I texted Amy.

Any response?

No, I am so sorry.

Love you. Nothing we can do about it.

And that was it, really. Nothing we could do about it. I sat down in that moment metaphorically as if it were a hammock chair, fully present in whatever was to happen next, and I repeated the brief meditation I practice more often these days.

Breathe in – I am – breathe out – at peace. Over and over. Amen.

Then I thought of the picture I took of Beatrice staring at a line of graffiti along the walls of the Seine River. It read:

Live like it’s your last day ever.

I received another text from Amy: He is coming now. 

Live.

At the airport, before we boarded, Amy said, “You see, everything works out just like it’s supposed to.”

“I know, and you always remind me of that,” I said.

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

And then time melts away.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

What Will Remain and Become

I told her to follow me, but she wanted to see and read all the descriptive panels along the way. We were in the National Archives in Washington DC viewing the founding documents of America, something both our girls didn't want to do initially. That's because we were out at lunch across the street and it was raining hard. Over three inches fell that afternoon. Plus, we'd already been hauling the girls to the White House and then a special FBI tour. We're a go-go-go family, so our speed with our girls is always on high.

But, we convinced them to go across the street. Told them we were going actually, and that they didn't have a choice. And so we all trudged through the rain across the street and entered the hallowed halls where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are kept. When we entered the rotunda, the girls were in awe. We were in awe. My wife Amy and I had been to DC prior to the girls and seen all this already, but it never gets old for us. No matter where we are the political spectrum, we're proud Americans through and through. And it was exciting to be able to bring the whole family on my work trips again and make a little vacation out of them.

Which is why it was bittersweet for us, just because of where we're at with our country now, more polarized than ever.

I pointed upwards to the murals above us and said, "Those are the founding fathers — and behind them were just as many founding mothers." Amy nodded and I teared up little because we feel there’s so much at stake for us all right now and we wonder what of America will remain and what it will become for our daughters. Beatrice and Bryce both seemed to enjoy it and even asked us a few questions.

I thought to myself, We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union...

The next day we continued our DC trip by going to the Holocaust Museum. We considered not taking them because of the difficult content, and then it was recommended that we go through the children's section called "Daniel's Story." Either way we decided we wanted them to know the story of the Holocaust, which was sadly only one of too many other atrocities some have brought on others because they feel they’re superior to them combined with the irrational fear of the few losing power and control, over and over again. And even in America it happens -- indigenous people, enslaved people and people held captive at our borders. We talked about how we can and should make a difference. When asked how it made them feel, Bea and Bryce said they were sad. We all left quietly and headed back to our hotel.

While Amy and I have no idea what will remain and become of our great country, we still have faith our constitution will persevere, and we'll do whatever we can as citizens to ensure that the democratic republic experiment of America continues. Yes, we're all fallible and we all have our own biases, but we as a family have no room for perpetuating fear or hate. We can't have room for that when there's so much more positive potential that abounds. That's what #BhivePower is all about.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

My Birthday Wish

I'm exhausted. I never imagined that community service would take such an emotional toll. Even after serving on the Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) for nearly three years, and now being its chair, my involvement in the past three weeks has eclipsed anything I ever imagined this work would entail.

Yes, I'm naive. Especially when it comes to the local politics that have now completely consumed the results from an independent investigation into allegations of sexism, bullying and harassment made by five women against two Santa Cruz councilmembers. Two complaints were substantiated, multiple others were unsubstantiated (but not unfounded), which still indicated a pervasive pattern of harassment and disrespectful behavior for all the victims.

I haven't slept much. I'm quick to anger. I've been resistant to nearly every step of this recent journey. Plus, I still have to run my organization day to day with its own set of stressors. I still have to be Dad to our two girls. I still have to be a supportive husband to my wife, who's done nothing but support me the entire time.

And yet, none of that really matters. This is about the victims. This is why I do this work. Those who are brave enough to come forward share their stories and who long for healing and justice. Those who have endured weeks, months and years of all kinds of abuse. How I respond to it all this does matter, but not the fact that I'm tired and stressed about it all, because this isn't about me in the first place. I chose this and took a leadership position to help shepherd corrective change. It's like I've taken a pressure washer to my very soul and blasted away the years of biased emotional rust. Not all the bias, that's tough to do, but enough to understand my current convictions that connect me to my childhood of domestic violence and sexual abuse and back again.

Our president has been accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by at least 24 women. He's retaliated against many of these women, threatening to sue them or insulting them. The president himself has admitted, on the now infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, that he forces himself on women. And yet, many of his conservative supporters, including Republican congressman and evangelical Christians, are doubling down on his denial. That this is all politically motivated and that the victims are lying.

Our two local city councilmembers referenced above have consistently stated they didn't do anything wrong after 5 women came forward. One of the men, who's white, said he's sorry, that he was misunderstood. The other, who's black, said the reaction of "fragile white women" is one of systemic racism, that their reaction of feeling disrespected and harassed was their fault, not his. And yet, many of their progressively liberal supporters are doubling down on their denial. That this is all politically motivated and that the victims are lying.

Of course, the above two examples aren't the same. They are, however, two sides of the same coin; the same problem we see around the world. That this is about male power and control, patriarchy, and anyone who challenges that status quo, who challenges rape culture -- a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse -- is immediately minimized, trivialized, shamed, blamed and not believed. I was raised in this culture and it's been an eye-opening journey to get to where I'm at today, raising two young girls with my wife.

I cannot speak to what it's like being a person of color and the racism that is still pervasive today, but I can speak to being a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence, and how they can be shamed and blamed. Which is why, when victims come forward, I have to start by believing, because the research is clear about the prevalence of false allegations around harassment, domestic violence and sexual assault -- it's between 2% and 10%. But even with this small incidence, it's the real victims, those who have actually been harassed and/or assaulted, have the much longer road to healing, if they ever truly can. They're also the ones who are in fear of reporting what happened, due to the way we victimize the victims, like what I witnessed at our last city council meeting. If more came forward, then most likely it would reduce the percentage of false allegations overall. It's takes a lot of courage to come forward and say that you've been harassed or assaulted, for women and men alike.

When victims come forward, we have to believe. Especially when any allegations are proven, those who have abused need to be held accountable. To not do so perpetuates patriarchy, power and control, and victims will not come forward, and harassment, disrespectful workplace behavior, domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and yes, murder, will go on and on.

Societal change is hard. We just finished our second annual awareness and prevention symposium called Transforming Together where we invited the entire Santa Cruz community -- women, men, and gender non-conforming citizens -- to come together in a collective effort to generate awareness and help prevent sexual harassment, domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape, and respond more effectively when they do occur.

There are some amazing people in our community working to end sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic violence. They are providing support services and healing resources for victims who come forward, and push for accountability of those accused of abuse. And now there's an ever-increasing focus on continuous awareness and primary prevention programs that start with healthy relationships, better communication skills, boundary setting and more. Programs that can also help prevent these issues before they start. This will be a big focus of our commission work going forward.

For those who have been bullied, harassed, abused, assaulted or worse, I hear you, I see you and I start by believing.

We all deserve to be safe. We can all help stop it before it starts. Men have to be part of the solution.

That is my birthday wish. That is what I'm fighting for.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

In Susie's Shoes

Someone from the audience yelled, "Man up!"

I couldn't believe it. Maybe I was naive; city council meetings can be contentious. But I'd never heard something quite like this before. We heard disrespectful comment after disrespectful comment and egregious public victim shaming and blaming at the last city council meeting in Santa Cruz. And it all translated as we don't believe you, so be quiet, sit down, and shut up. This from the California coastal progressive bastion of #metoo and equal rights.

Earlier this year, a Sacramento-based law firm was hired to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of sexism, bullying and harassment. The scope of the investigation included complaints made by five individuals -- all women -- against Santa Cruz Councilmember Drew Glover and Councilmember Chris Krohn alleging violations of the City of Santa Cruz Administrative Procedure Order Section II, #1B Respectful Workplace Conduct; and City Council Policy 25.2, Discrimination, Harassment, Retaliation, and Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy occurring between July 2018 and May 3, 2019.

The final report was then submitted for review to the city in late July (and has since been released to the public) and the city HR director later ruled that there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the investigation's assessment that both Krohn and Glover had violated the city’s seven-page Santa Cruz Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy. There was one substantiated complaint each confirmed (evidence obtained through the investigation establishes the allegations are true) and multiple others filed against each councilmember that were not substantiated (the investigation failed to disclose enough evidence to either prove or disprove the allegations), which does not mean unfounded (evidence obtained through the investigation establishes the allegations is/are false). In fact, this shows a pervasive pattern of disrespectful workplace behavior and harassment.

I'm the current chair for the Santa Cruz City Council Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), and myself along with our vice chair and other commissioners attended the September 24, 2019 Santa Cruz City Council meeting to to affirm our commitment to the women complainants who had come forward with regard to the abusive and disrespectful conduct of Councilmembers Krohn and Glover. As a Commission, we “Start by Believing” those who have the courage to come forward and share their stories of harassment and abuse. We stood and made that statement to the city council and the public.

We were also there in particular support of Susie O’Hara, who has served as our staff coordinator for CPVAW, and who is one of the five complainants. She made a heart-wrenching public statement at the council meeting with her entire family next to her -- her three daughters and her husband.

During the September 24 meeting, we heard multiple instances of Krohn and Glover supporters who claimed the complaints against them were false, blatantly victim shaming and blaming the women complainants with no replies or outcries to cease and desist other than from three other council members, two of whom were complainants.

Susie O’Hara was also publicly castigated directly in front of her husband and her children, telling her to "toughen up" and "deal with it." I was floored. Who are these people who live in my community? I thought.

The public display was quite destructive and damaging to the victims who had come forward as well as possible deterrent to other victims of bullying, harassment and sexual assault in the city and county of Santa Cruz.

There was also a proposed reprimand of the two councilmembers on the agenda, but the voices of the the victims and public were silenced when a majority of the council moved to table the censure item, an unprecedented act of political manipulation. And the two councilmembers accused of the above disrespectful workplace behavior were allowed to vote to table it.

The next night we had our CPVAW meeting where we moved to implore our mayor to re-agendize the censure of Councilmembers Krohn and Glover. Councilmember Krohn attended our meeting and when I pressed him as to why he did not ask the public in chambers to stop their victim shaming comments, he said, “I didn’t realize it was going on.”

Really. You've got to be kidding me. Watch the recording of the meeting again, please.

I grew up with domestic violence and sexual abuse, and I worried that I wouldn't be believed when I finally came forward. I was thankfully fully supported by my friends and family. But when I now witness my community publicly shame and blame victims who have bravely come forward, witness my community politicize the victims by calling their accusations false and discriminatory to be used against those accused, all the while enabled and empowered by the majority of our own city council, I'm deeply disappointed. All I have to do is put myself in Susie's shoes, with my daughters and wife by my side, listening to my community humiliate me by telling me to man up and move on. My resolve to always believe victims and help them heal, to hold those who have abused accountable, and to strive for greater awareness and prevention, has never been greater.


Join the City of Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) and the local Santa Cruz community for the 2nd annual free "awareness and prevention" symposium on Saturday, October 5, 2019, at the Louden Nelson Community Center from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

The theme is again Transforming Together and we invite the entire Santa Cruz community -- women, men, and gender non-conforming citizens -- to come together in a collective effort to generate awareness and help prevent sexual harassment, domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape, and respond more effectively when they do occur.