Sexual Misconduct in Minnesota Politics: Lindsey Port Speech

You know what’s weird? Discussing sexual misconduct at the dinner table with your kids.

We’ve discussed a lot of politics in the past year or two, not because my family is especially political, but because the issues have demanded it.

It’s hard to describe the moment my son yelled out, “What’s a pussy?” or the face my daughter made when it dawned on her what the President of the United States had said.

Sexual Misconduct in Minnesota

That issue came home for me this fall when State Representative Erin Maye Quade and candidate Lindsey Port came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against two members of the Minnesota legislature. It seemed the flood of #MeToo stories heard around the country were coming home to Minnesota (that feeling would only deepen with the stories about Senator Al Franken and Garrison Keillor).

Lindsey Port’s speech at the Sexual Harassment Task Force Rally (transcript below):

I was angered by it all, that adult professionals could act in such a manner, but I was proud to see near universal calls for Representative Tony Cornish and Senator Dan Schoen to resign. And then they both did.

It felt like we were turning a corner. There’s a lot of ugly behavior hidden from view, but maybe on this one issue we could expose it to the light and let goodness and truth prevail. (I have been accused of being an idealist.)

Proposed Task Force

Rep. Maye Quade, Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, and Port all called for a task force to address the failings in the system:

Victims of sexual harassment and assault committed by elected officials and candidates for office currently have no safeguards or protections and little to no recourse in our current system of reporting. There is no clear process for reporting, the current non-partisan entity used for reporting has no real authority to take action, there is little transparency about the process, and an abysmal record of accountability. Our current system is failing the people who work in the halls of the Capitol.

They wanted immediate action, before the next legislative session began.

They got nothing.

The Fallout

Port received an additional surprise: DFL donors began to revoke their pledges to her campaign, declaring that she was “too controversial.” Port was forced to end her campaign, and the nonprofit she runs to support diverse candidates is now in jeopardy.

Apparently we didn’t turn a corner.

A moment of change, a moment of speaking up had turned to silence. But worse than passive silence, active silencing of victims and champions of change.

That story made me angry. How can we betray our values like that? I went on an epic Twitter rant trying to express my frustration and outrage.

Not OK: We Can Demand Change

Yesterday I attended a Sexual Harassment Task Force Rally at the Minnesota State Capitol to support this issue and urge action.

It should be painfully obvious that sexual misconduct is not some isolated issue by a few rude jerks. It’s widespread and systemic. In addition to the abusers, there are also many people who turn away and fail to protect victims. The Larry Nassar case shows just how deep the problem is.

Yesterday Minnesota released a report on sexual harassment in government agencies since 2011 and found 266 complaints, half of which resulted in some type of reprimand, and tax payers forked over $710,000 in settlements.

Apparently  we can’t wait around for our representatives to do the right thing. It’s time to demand the change we need to see.

What Can We Do?

First, we need to be having these conversations—yes, as awkward as they may be—and we need to demand change. Men need to show up and be a part of the conversation.

Don’t allow this to be something we shrug about and move on.

Second, contact your state representative and state senator and ask them to support the task force. If they won’t support it, find a candidate for their office who will and support them. (Can’t find a candidate? Maybe you should run.)

Third, let’s not allow anonymous donors to determine our values or what’s controversial. Find candidates you like and support them:

  • Make a donation to Lindsey Port’s Blueprint Campaigns.
  • While Port dropped out of her race, she did recruit a replacement—make a donation to Alice Mann. (By the way, that shows a lot of integrity to recruit a replacement and not just walk away.)
  • Make a donation to the campaigns of Erin Maye Quade and Jamie Becker-Finn.
  • There are a lot of other minority and female candidates out there who need support (I made a list!). Find them, research them, and support them. (That’s not to suggest you shouldn’t support male candidates—but make sure they’re supporting this issue.)

Wait a minute, where am I supposed to get all this money?

I get it. I’m the farthest thing from a big political donor. But even small donations help.

Also, Minnesota offers a Political Contribution Refund, where the state will reimburse donations to political campaigns, up to $50 per person. So you can donate $50 to the campaign (or campaigns, and spread your $50 around) of your choice, and the state will reimburse you.

If you really can’t donate, you can at least support candidates, spread the word, or volunteer.

In Her Words

More than anything I say, I think it helps to hear from the women themselves. Here’s the full text of the speech Lindsey Port gave at yesterday’s rally:

Lindsey Port Speech at the Sexual Harassment Task Force Rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018:

You can also watch the video here.

I will say you guys are a sight for sore eyes. These last 10 weeks have been an exercise in courage and fear, in doubt and strength, and in profound disappointment and searing support. Through it all one point has remained our truest guide post: We will not be silenced, and we will not stop demanding action.

The true depths of this problem lie beneath the surface, much like an iceberg. We have not even begun to deal with the entirety of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that exists in Minnesota. We are 100% committed to exposing the often invisible barriers that keep woman from achieving their rightful voice in society and blowing up those barriers for good. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the culture of sexual harassment in the capital and indeed in this country and states.

It’s been 71 days since I joined with Representatives Maye Quade and Becker-Finn to call for a task force. 71 days during which a bipartisan panel of experts could have advised and explored the policies and procedures necessary to protect the people who work in this building while they try to do their jobs. And so far we have no action.

Like an iceberg, the forces that keep large power structures in place are largely hidden from our view. After I came forward with my own story, what I saw was a nearly unanimous public show of support from other women, legislators, leadership—even Twitter. The public seemed to embrace the idea of real systemic change.

But then what happened? Nothing. The silence descended. No public statements. No meetings. No calls from leadership. Brazen self interest returned. And we started to see what lay beneath the surface.

My campaign—and Blueprint Campaigns, which is a nonprofit that I run focused on increasing diversity in the legislature—received messages pulling tens of thousands of dollars in pledges and donations because I was now “too controversial.”

Well, if you thought I was controversial when I was a candidate responsible for maintaining relationships with leadership and donors, you better hold on to your hats now that I’m not running.

I entered politics because I believed we lived in a time where space was being made for women to lead. I wanted to show my two daughters that the world was ready for them to show up and change the world in marvelous ways. This past year has smashed my rose colored glasses and really exposed to me how many barriers are still hidden beneath the surface. Even in my privileged position as a middle class white women with some power in politics, there has been a high price to pay for disrupting the status quo.

And despite positive steps like the #MeToo movement, we’ve only scratched the surface in exposing the deep struggles that hold back women and even more so women of color, native women and trans women.

A few resignations are not enough. We are demanding systemic change. And we are leading that movement here in Minnesota.

We can’t have a conversation if we’re silenced. We can’t have change without full understanding. And we can’t address a threat, if most of it lies hidden from view.

Those days are over, starting now.

(Transcribed by me from a smartphone video posted online. Any errors are mine.)

You can also watch the other speakers at the Sexual Harassment Task Force Rally:

  • Dr. Mary Petrie, professor of gender & women’s studies – [Mary reported sexual harassment by a professor and was ready to withdraw her claim from all the pressure.] “I said I can’t do it, this is all too awful, I’m too afraid of him. She pulled out 11 manilla folders and said, Mary, if you don’t do this, number 13 will come to me next year. You’re number 12.”
  • Rep. Erin Maye Quade – “71 days ago I came forward and the only thing I asked for was a task force. I don’t care that this is happening to me, I care that it is happening in your house. People who do not respect women, that disrespect will show up in policies and law.”
  • Teri McLaughlin, executive director, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault – “We all know someone who has suffered sexual violence and sexual assault, and we all know someone who has done that harm. It’s in our communities, it’s in our life and our families.”
  • Rep. Erin Murphy – “Consent is a pretty simple concept… that should be embedded in the work we do.”

Thank you to all the women who have come forward, spoken out, organized rallies, shot videos, made signs, and shown up. 

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