As you may know, during the 2008 election cycle I had the privilege of serving as Deputy National Communications Director for the College Democrats of America. As the official branch of the Democratic Party on college campuses, CDA has traditionally stood up for Democratic policies and principles. Though I've been out of college for a few years now, I still follow the activities of the College Democrats at a national, state, and campus level (particularly at Central Michigan University, my alma mater).
The vast majority of the College Democrats I've known are passionate about their campus, community, and country. They want the best for their classmates, roommates, friends, neighbors, and relatives. They know that Democrats are the only party that cares about the issues facing young people - and they want to elect Democrats to office.
Earlier this week, reports began to surface surrounding events at last weekend's CDA National Convention. Those reports accused Natasha McKenzie, just re-elected as National President of CDA, of intimidation and threats. Those reports did catch my eye, but for a variety of reasons I didn't put too much stock in them. Nor did I put much stock in the rebuttals, at least one of which - I kid you not - complained that proponents of McKenzie's impeachment used the word "promulgated" twice in one letter.
Later in the week, however, it became evident that these accusations weren't isolated - there were serious issues surrounding McKenzie's handling of events at the Convention. Soon, many great people I respect began to speak out. Seven of the ten CDA officers issued articles of impeachment. After McKenzie accused her critics of racism and sexism, some 30 women - including two I personally know and respect - signed their names to a letter condemning these tactics. That letter reads in part:
Furthermore, Natasha McKenzie used her identity as a woman of color as the reason that members of our organization have asked her to step down; quite frankly, we are offended. Co-opting the struggles of minority female leaders for personal salvation is insulting and demeaning to our cause.
It escalated further when Jade Reindl, a College Democrats leader in Florida, wrote this powerful editorial in which she states that she was raped.
A few weeks before I left D.C., I heard something from a trusted friend. A CDA state federation leader was telling people I had lied about being raped.
And, wait, wasn’t she good friends with Natasha? And, wait, I’ve only told five people I trust a whole lot about this? And, wait — oh god — who knows I’ve been raped? Does she know? Does he know?
But the situation only continued to escalate. In March, I was asked to run for Vice President of Florida College Democrats, and promptly entered the race on a ticket. My running mate, unbeknownst to me, reached out to Natasha for an endorsement. The following is her account of the situation:
“Natasha originally agreed to endorse my Unify FCD slate, until she saw who I was running with. When she realized that I was running with Jade, she immediately changed her tune. She started telling me that I had to drop Jade as my VP or she wouldn’t endorse me. When I asked why, she was pretty vague, saying that Jade had gone behind her back and done “some stuff.” She also suggested that I ask her myself. When Jade told me the truth, I knew that dropping her from the ticket simply wasn’t an option, despite the loss of a valuable endorsement. When I continued campaigning with Jade and the rest of the ticket, I started to get pressure to drop out of the race. In the end, I dropped out of the race for President of the Florida College Democrats with a promise from Natasha of a position on the CDA executive board. But, to be honest, College Democrats is no longer an organization that I want to be a part of at the state or national level. I will continue to make a difference in my community by staying involved in local politics, but I cannot be a part of an organization that sabotages elections and make people fear that they will no longer have a political future if they challenge the status quo.”
Is that the kind of person we want leading and representing our Party? Especially at a time when the other party is enacting requirements for rape insurance?
As I said, when I first heard about all of this, there were a number of reasons I didn't pay much mind to it. The biggest reason, I suppose, is that I'm so used to intimidation in politics.
I've been denied opportunities because I used to work for a gay candidate for office. (Not because I'm gay, mind you, but because my former boss is gay.) A friend of mine wanted to work for the same candidate, but she was told that anyone who worked for him would be blacklisted from working for any campaigns.
In 2012 I interviewed for a job at a Michigan political organization. The interviewer, whom I'd known vicariously for a few years, was eager to meet with me. Long story short, they almost hired me. Two years later, that same person was hiring for a similar position with a campaign. I didn't even get an interview. Instead, a former colleague of theirs was hired. Chalk it up to the good old boys club, or chalk it up to my being blacklisted because my ex-boss is gay - but either way, I was denied an opportunity.
We lost that election by a narrow margin.
Sadly, even a few Party leaders have resorted to these tactics. Many good Democratic candidates over the years have been told that the Party will not support them if they don't support certain candidates in primaries or at conventions. I won't go into details here, but suffice it to say it has happened - and some such candidates haven't been heard from since.
Heck, just within the past month, people have spread rumors about me that have turned out to be false. I'm just an ordinary person who suddenly became the subject of rumors from people who've never even met me.
We can sit around and say that it's "just politics." But the reality is that these tactics chase away volunteers, donors, and candidates.
And now that we see it happening at the college level, it's time to stand up and put a stop to it before Democrats lose another election.
At this point, whatever one thinks of McKenzie's behavior as CDA President, her continuing in office is only damaging CDA - and the Democratic Party - with fifteen months to go before a critical election. It's also clear that if I - a former national-level leader in CDA - keep quiet, I will have blood on my hands, so to speak.
Therefore, with a heavy heart, I, Scott Urbanowski, former Deputy National Communications Director of the College Democrats of America, am calling for the resignation or removal of Natasha McKenzie as President of the College Democrats of America.
To those College Democrats who support this motion to impeach McKenzie, I support you. Thank you for leading the way and showing the rest of us how to stand up to bullying.
May we all grow as a Party as we prepare to keep the White House, win seats in Congress, and score victories at the state and local level in 2015 and 2016.