A group of former Bernie Sanders staffers are demanding a meeting with the Vermont senator and his “top political advisers” to discuss rampant “sexual violence” they say took place on the Sanders 2016 presidential campaign.
Politico reports that in recent weeks, staffers from Sanders’ former campaign have been comparing experiences, and after a group discussion, drafted a letter to Sanders and several of his top 2016 advisers requesting time to “discuss the issue of sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign, for the purpose of planning to mitigate the issue in the upcoming presidential cycle.”
The request was meant to be private but news of the letter leaked late last week.
“In recent weeks there has been an ongoing conversation on social media, in texts, and in person, about the untenable and dangerous dynamic that developed during our campaign,” the group wrote, adding that while similar issues arise on many campaigns, discrimination and harassment on Sanders’ campaign was particularly problematic given Sanders’ progressive platform and the “intense commitment” offered to his presidential effort from “women, people of color, and LGBT staffers.”
The letter does not make reference to any specific instances of sexual violence, but organizers say the open request is merely the start of an ongoing effort to improve political campaigns across the board.
“This letter is just a start,” one of the organizers added, according to The Hill. “We are addressing what happened on the Bernie campaign but as people that work in this space we see that all campaigns are extremely dangerous to women and marginalized people and we are attempting to fix that.”
The organizer added that their primary focus would be on the “toxic masculinity” they say pervades politics.
The Sanders campaign appeared to ignore the request, at least initially, but Friends of Bernie Sanders, Sanders’ Senate campaign committee, finally issued a statement on Monday, pledging to do what they can to help in the effort, though by no means guaranteeing a private meeting.
“We share in the urgency for all of us to do better,” Friends of Bernie Sanders said in a statement to NBC News and Politico, among other mainstream media outlets.
“We thank the signers of the letter for their willingness to engage in this incredibly important discussion,” the statement continued. “We always welcome hearing the experiences and views of our former staff. We also value their right to come to us in a private way so their confidences and privacy are respected. And we will honor this principle with respect to this private letter.”
The committee did admit to several “human resources” issues on the campaign trail, but insisted in their statement that the campaign dealt with the issues quickly and thoroughly: “Speaking generally, during 2016 there were a number of HR actions taken, and while it is not appropriate to discuss them individually, they ranged from employee counseling to immediate termination from the campaign.”
“Harassment of any kind is intolerable. Hearing the experiences and thoughts of individuals who worked on Bernie’s 2016 campaign is a vital part of our commitment to work within our progressive community to improve the lives of all people,” the statement concluded. “And that’s why we will continue to examine these policies and processes, with feedback welcome, and will make any necessary changes, as we continue our work to build a world based on social, racial and economic justice.”
Politico reports that the letter’s signatories do not believe the Friends of Bernie Sanders response is sufficient and insist that a face-to-face meeting with the candidate — where the signatories set the agenda — is absolutely necessary to making progress on the issue.