If you are in politics and have been under a rock then you missed the bombshell dropped by the writer of a letter that has circulated online. It is modeled from similar concerns of women being harassed, touched and pursued within the California legislative circles. Apparently, it’s no surprise to many–the same culture is happening right here in our capital of Springfield.
On Tuesday, a letter was released by a very concerned woman who has had ENOUGH in the male dominated world of Illinois politics as reported by Capitolfax.com. Let’s see who else steps up in the arena to admit their ‘touchy’, ‘feeling’ grasp can also be very ‘creepy’ and inappropriate. Yep! You know who you are and it just got real out here in these streets.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate, JB Pritzker released an official and empathic statement condemning the behavior that has become second nature among some who roam the halls of our capital halls.
“To the women who have spoken up in recent days, to the women who have spoken up in past years, to the women who may choose to never speak up but carry the burden of their own stories privately — I believe you,” the statement reads.
“I also know that if we are going to dismantle the “boys’ clubs” that so often permeate not just in politics and political environments, but across all fields and industries, it’s going to require a willingness in men to own our privilege, accept responsibility, and call out bad behavior by other men whenever and wherever we witness it, whether there are women present or not.”
“IT’S LIKE A BRAIN DRAIN” As of yesterday afternoon, over a hundred people had signed a potentially explosive open letter demanding change in the Statehouse’s culture toward women.
The letter, entitled “#MeToo? It’s Time to Demand #NoMore in Illinois” builds off the “me too” hashtag movement that has blanketed social media pages since the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment/assault scandal burst into full view and women started sharing their stories about harassment and abuse. The letter is modeled off last week’s development in California, where legislators, lobbyists and others signed a letter “calling out the ‘pervasive’ culture of sexual harassment and mistreatment” in that state, the LA Times reported.
The loose-knit group also has a Facebook page and so far over 400 people have added themselves as members. According to one person behind the letter, public relations consultant Becky Carroll, people who’ve signed include elected officials as well as current and former consultants and staff from local, state and federal offices and campaigns. Some men have signed the letter as well, Carroll said.
“Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed [Chicago City Council Chambers], or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail,” the Illinois letter states. “Misogyny is alive and well in this industry.”
The letter then goes on to make a series of allegations, including about session nights at the popular Springfield night spot The Globe “where it’s clear that a woman must endure the crude jokes and untoward advances of male colleagues and legislators if she wants to garner support for her work.”
It also accuses an unnamed candidate who “slides his hands across the body of his fundraising consultant during call time. Who calls and texts her in the middle of the night, and refuses to pay her what she is owed because his advances are rebuked.”
But the letter contains a potential bomb. It claims an unnamed male legislator, described as a “chamber leader,” asked a female staffer out to dinner “under the guise of offering mentorship, then proceeding to explain his ‘open marriage’ to her and ask if she’s single.”
Allegations like that kept at least one Statehouse woman from signing the letter. The lobbyist told me yesterday that she just didn’t feel comfortable attaching her name to the document, partly because it could impact her ability to do her job.
Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said yesterday that she didn’t know if the leader mentioned in the letter was current or former, Democrat or Republican. But, Hutchinson said, “Nothing will ever change until people can speak up” about the problems.
“Literally everyone I know has a story,” Hutchinson said yesterday, adding it’s “well past the time” to be behaving like this.
“I’m tired of telling young 20-something women to be careful,” Hutchinson said. “I’m not talking about consensual stuff,” she added. “We’re talking about when there’s an imbalance in power.”
“It’s not OK that you lose a client because you speak up,” Hutchinson said, claiming the fear at the Statehouse is palpable that if women do speak up others won’t believe them or the women will “never work again.”
One of those who did speak up publicly this week was Kady McFadden of the Illinois Sierra Club. McFadden told the Washington, DC-based publication The Hill, “I’ve had hands up my skirt. I’ve had my hair pulled,” adding, “There’s just kind of nothing you can really do.”
McFadden told me yesterday afternoon the complaints are about “a culture that doesn’t allow women’s contributions to be valued.” She said the environment causes women to walk away from their jobs in frustration. “It’s like a brain drain,” she said.
“Let’s be clear,” the open letter states, “every woman you know, in every industry – regardless of age, race, physical appearance, gender expression, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation – has a #MeToo story. Even if they don’t feel safe enough to share it in a social media post. So why the silence up until this point? The reality is that telling the truth can still cost you your career. Unless enough of us speak up.”
McFadden told me she decided to speak on the record because “the only way to change the culture is to blow the top off of it.” She said her hope is that people can start talking about the problem, but she said she didn’t have a particular policy change or legal reform in mind.
Asked for reaction, the spokespersons for the four legislative leaders focused mainly on their employee handbooks and training. But that wouldn’t cover legislators and lobbyists. Speaker Madigan’s spokesman said his boss has had a strict policy forbidding any form of harassment for at least a decade. “It’s not tolerated at any level,” he claimed. But if that were true in practice, you’d think there would be a whole lot less of this nonsense going on.
Insiders have said over the years that legislators and lobbyists have occasionally been brought in for stern warnings. But one high-level staffer claimed yesterday there wasn’t much that could be done legally to a legislator because they’re elected officials.
But things may be about to change one way or the other. The open letter even takes women to task who “advise the next generation of women to ‘flirt back’ and to ‘smile and shrug it off’ because ‘that’s what I had to do to get ahead.’”
Sen. Hutchinson said the young women coming up through the process these days don’t want to hear that sort of advice. It’s 2017, after all. The corporate world has strict rules in place governing this behavior and, Hutchinson said, it’s time something changed here as well.
Sen. Hutchinson compared the current environment to what it was like years ago with “racial language” and behavior. That sort of thing has mostly “gone underground,” she said, because people realize that they can’t get away with saying or doing the things they once did. “The culture has changed,” she said, and now it’s time to begin the dialogue about sexual harassment and abuse.
“Nothing changes until people are safe enough to talk about it,” Sen. Hutchinson said yesterday. And so the first step is to start talking about it. And that’s at least partly what the letter is about. “The goal is to give people space to talk about it,” she said.