“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
It’s an interesting thing to be called a liar by people with power and have it reinforced by the media, while knowing you’re telling the truth. But before getting into all that, there are a few other things to discuss.
One of the precepts I live by is this: Ignore what people say; watch and believe what they do. This is especially true in politics. It is in this vein I wrote my opinion editorial, published in the South Seattle Emerald on August 30, 2021. I asked questions about the fundamental purpose of Seattle’s City Attorney’s office and articulated my concerns about mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell, based on my personal observations over the years.
With Harrell I was concerned about what appeared to be a pattern of erasing women and dismissing our claims, legitimacy, and sense of agency. I gave two examples. To my knowledge, no one to this day has asked him to explain his campaign boasts about being the proud board chair of the Royal Esquire Club, a nightclub touting membership only for men and deliberately excluding women from becoming members. Women are permitted to work there or attend events when invited or escorted in by a male member. This, in the 21st century! No one in the media has asked him about this current-day disrespect toward Black women. Only Erica Barnett, of PubliCola, has reported on and explored my concerns.
Let me clearly state my issues with Mr. Harrell. How is someone who brags about excluding women from a nightclub’s membership going to deal with policy impacting thousands of homeless women? How will he respond to the needs of women living in poverty? What will he do to protect women who work for the City from harassment or predation? Will women on City staff have their ideas heard or will they be sidelined? How will he deal with women who are agency leaders?
In the two months since I wrote my op-ed, Harrell’s pattern has become even more clear. He sidelined Erica Barnett from serving as moderator for the Queen Anne Community Council’s (QACC) mayoral debate and accused her of bias against him because the publication she writes for is supporting Lorena González. Despite weeks spent with the QACC gathering their questions and working with them to format the debate in their unique community image, she was fired at the last minute because of pressure from his campaign. A woman erased, again.
Will he erase every journalist who criticizes him or his policies? If so, isn’t this straight out of the former Republican president’s playbook? Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, since the majority of Harrell’s campaign is being funded by the same people who funded that campaign in our state. I can’t help but wonder what fuels their support — which of Harrell’s policies or practices align with their anti-woman, anti-BIPOC, anti-poor people, white supremacist agenda.
A full month after my Emerald op-ed I received a voicemail message from Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner. Simultaneously I discovered an earlier email from Rich Smith at the Stranger. Both asked about my comments regarding Harrell. Both focused on the incident I described from 20 years ago. Neither seemed to care much about my comments about his relationship to the Royal Esquire Club. I explained to both — Brunner on the phone and Smith via email — how my impaired mobility kept me from going down into my basement to search for 20-year old non-profit board records. In fact, I told each of them, I thought those records had probably been shredded years ago. My easy-to-document focus was on Harrell’s current and ongoing relationship with the Royal Esquire Club. Brunner seemed disinterested. Smith didn’t reply.
If Harrell was just some guy who happened to be a member of a men’s only club, I would simply take note and move on. But he’s not just some guy. He is chair of the organization’s board and proud of it. He’s someone asking me to give him permission to make policy on my behalf. How could I possibly say yes, knowing the patterns I was observing?
Then the González campaign released an ad with a young, white woman reminding everyone how Harrell publicly justified Ed Murray’s sexual predation on under-age boys and casually referring to my op-ed — without actually mentioning my op-ed. The ad was a reminder, once again, of how blithely Harrell has taken accusations of abuse.
Suddenly, after two months, Harrell cared about my comments. Suddenly I was being tied to an ad I neither wrote nor had anything to do with producing. Suddenly I was hearing rumors I was to be included in potential lawsuits. People were mad at ME because the González campaign chose a white-presenting woman to make the point instead of someone who could represent the actual Black women who were/are being harmed.
Never reaching out to me, never making any attempt to explain or say he’s learned to do better over the years, Harrell’s campaign called a press conference where they brought forward Ms. Elma Horton to call me a liar. I know Ms. Horton prides herself on being honest, so I have no doubt she really believes what she said. I’ll get to that in a minute.
The irony, of course, is Harrell is doing exactly what I said he did 20 years ago: using tactics to besmirch my character just as he recommended the Central Area Motivation Program board do then. Now I’m the woman to be erased.
Except … maybe not. With some struggle and finesse, I made it down into my basement and there, in a small closet in a spare bedroom, found a box marked “CAMP. Destroy after 2013.” In the box were CAMP records, including board and executive committee meeting minutes. Since I served as Board Secretary during my tenure, I also found cassette tape recordings of many meetings.
Most important of all, though, I found minutes from the January 16, 2002 executive committee meeting where Mr. Harrell, as legal counsel, presented his recommendations. Significantly, Ms. Elma Horton, who was not an executive committee member, was not in attendance at that meeting. She doesn’t remember what happened because she wasn’t there. The minutes include the name of the woman who was claiming harassment, so I have provided a redacted copy to the Emerald for use as they see fit. Another woman erased.
I am a Black woman: Black and woman. I understand well the legacy of protecting Black men from white supremacist nonsense. I know deeply personally what racism does to our fathers, brothers, partners, cousins, sons, friends. But a female member of the CAMP board once told me, “Your problem is you don’t know how to make men think they’re getting their way.” My response? I respect the Black men in my life too much to infantilize them. Grown folks know: actions have consequences. I will not demean myself or other women so any man, Black or otherwise, can feel powerful. There is no eraser big enough, literally or metaphorically. I gladly share reciprocal intellectual, spiritual, and professional power with the men in my life and accept nothing less. Just ask them.
Licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND
Welcome! I am an essayist, poet, and facilitator, passionate about social justice and integrity, who lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. These observations are based on a lifetime working in the private and non-profit sectors, in a variety of organizational development capacities.