Corruption. Lack of Transparency. Chaos. Debacle. Unfair.
This is only a sampling of social media reactions from members of various College Democrats of America chapters describing the elections at their annual Summer Convention, held this year in Washington, D.C. during the last week of July.
According to blog posts and tweets from several College Democrats, there had been murmurs of unfair election proceedings throughout the convention. But on the last day, when elections for the national board were held, those suspicions were thrown into the public spotlight. Masha Anderson, chair of a Wisconsin chapter, stood up near the end of the election and voiced frustrations about how voting had been conducted. Her speech was filmed and posted on YouTube.
“The corruption that I am now seeing in this election and in this organization is ridiculous,” she says, to loud applause from the crowd of delegates. “You’re forcing people to get out of elections, you’re telling them you’re going to ruin their lives. There are people out there who paid $500 for plane tickets and are not voting.” Her speech is cut off by the voice of an unseen person on stage, presumably a member of the CDA Elections Committee, who says, “I think we’ve heard enough.”
Anderson’s concerns seemed to be legitimized on the day after the convention, July 28, when seven members of the National Executive Board submitted a letter to the DNC stating their intent to begin impeachment proceedings towards President Natasha McKenzie, who during the convention had been elected to a second term. “During the convention, Natasha McKenzie exhibited unethical behavior and promulgated an unacceptable culture of intimidation,” read the letter. “If Natasha shall not resign, we the undersigned Executive Board intend to move forward with official articles of impeachment for Natasha McKenzie attached below with necessary reasoning.”
The “necessary reasoning” cited by the board members included charges that McKenzie had attempted to keep a candidate for Communications Director for participating in a candidate forum, that she had attempted to keep the candidate off of the ballot, and that she had threatened to exclude a member of the Executive Board from Executive Board calls because he had voted for that candidate. They also alleged that McKenzie “promoted such an atmosphere of intimidation that…Executive Board members felt afraid to voice their complaints or unease with her behavior.”
McKenzie fired back with a Facebook post (since removed) accusing the authors of the letter, and others calling for her removal from office, of “sexism and bullying,” and saying that she would “continue speaking up, even when some feel uncomfortable with a young, African-American woman doing so.” She refused to resign, and her statement provoked yet another response from a coalition of 32 women in the College Democrats of America, who penned an open letter on July 29 reading in part, “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…We are uncomfortable with her as a leader and the way she has ostracized and belittle members of this organization, especially by threatening and disenfranchising members during College Democrats of America elections.”
Five state federations , from Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, and Connecticut soon released a joint statement calling for “new leadership and Constitutional reform” within the organization.
In a statement provided to The Politic, College Democrats of Connecticut President Miles Halpine said, “The incidents which brought the College Democrats of Connecticut to sign the resignation letter include several instances of misbehavior involving election proceedings at this year’s convention, including the coercion of a communications director candidate to drop out. That, along with her outright disregard for respect and dignity — including her refusal to resign and acknowledge her inappropriate action, in addition to blatantly misleading lies that followed. The fact many registered attendees, who spend the year organizing on their college campuses and paid fifty dollars as well as transportation costs to attend, weren’t allowed to vote or even be in the room for arriving a few minutes late is outrageous. At this time, CDCT, as part of the College Democrats of America, is ready to move forward, preparing to expand to other schools and elect Democrats in 2015, 2016 and beyond.
McKenzie was overwhelmingly recommended for impeachment, with 31 state federations voting in favor of impeachment, two abstaining, and two- Oklahoma and Pennsylvania- voting against impeachment. Per the CDA constitution, the recommendation was then submitted for approval to the Executive Board. On August 2, McKenzie was officially removed from office and replaced by Marv McMoore, the former Vice President of the organization. In a statement, McMoore cited his “passion for transparency” as the driving force behind his fledgling presidency. His appointment was met with congratulatory Tweets and Facebook posts from state federations around the country, including this one from the College Democrats of New York:
We look forward to working with @MarvMcMoore to build on the progress already made, and to reaffirm our democratic values.
— College Dems of NY (@CollegeDemsNY) August 4, 2015
Although the public controversy may be finally behind them, the challenge for the new leadership of the CDA is now to legitimize itself in the eyes of its membership once again, particularly if it hopes to make inroads into the fourteen states which are currently without College Democrat federations.