How the executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party broke up a meeting of the women’s caucus — and kicked us out into the cold

Photo by Jennifer Siciliano

Thursday night was the culmination of months of effort for the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s Women’s Caucus. Our four co-chairs during the formation of the Caucus have been elected officials; we’re in the process of creating our first executive board made up of Rhode Island Democratic women. After months of preparation, last night, 14 members of the Caucus’ nominating committee were meeting with 24 women from around the state who were interested in serving on that executive board.

So let’s be clear — 11 days before Christmas, on a Thursday night, 14 Rhode Island women were at party headquarters to sit through four hours of interviews, and then deliberate about their choices for nomination to the executive board. On a bitterly cold evening in a snowstorm, 24 more women were traveling from around the state on bad roads to do a late-night interview for a position. I have two kids under 6, and I had moved my and my husband’s schedules around so I could be away and out late. Many of the other 37 women had done some version of the same.

While we were conducting our interviews, the executive director let us know that one of his staffers would need to sit in on succeeding interviews. He said the “integrity of our process” had been called into question.

There were two Senators in the room. There is absolutely no way that if there had been two male Senators in the room, the director would have come in and questioned the integrity of the interview process. It’s unimaginable.

We disagreed. Our process had been in place for months. We had promised each of our candidates confidentiality in their discussions with us. Even other members of the Women’s Caucus were not permitted to sit in on the interviews.

So, the fourteen of us — unanimously — told him, “no.”

And he then kicked us out into the cold.

He told us that if we wouldn’t permit one of his staff to sit in, we had to leave. The denial (in the Providence Journal piece) that this happened is absolutely incorrect. It wasn’t implied, it wasn’t hinted at — it was absolutely, explicitly stated, in a room with 15 people in it.

So the fourteen of us, unanimously, agreed to leave. We had work to do. We decamped to a nearby sports bar. It’s obviously ironic that a group of female Democratic leaders was more welcome at a sports bar than even at our own party’s headquarters.

But the director’s retribution didn’t end there. Next, his staffer — knowing we had agreed to move the interviews — contacted all of our upcoming interviews and told them they were canceled. When one contacted us, two of our committee withdrew from the interviews and phone-banked the rest of the candidates, telling them their interviews were still on, but had been moved. All but one came — one woman from Bristol had already gotten back home before our phone bankers reached her. We couldn’t contact the two interviews we were doing via videoconference because we didn’t have access to the equipment anymore. Nevertheless, we persisted. We got almost all of our work done. That’s what women do. We work around the obstacles in our paths and find a way.

The director’s retribution didn’t even end there. The party has now revoked access to all our written (online) materials about the candidates. The party controls those now, and that makes it impossible to enforce the promises the Caucus made to the candidates about confidentiality.

It’s vindictive. A political party is taking vindictive, punitive action against its women because we wouldn’t yield.

What a way to wind up 2017. With all that’s happening with women’s activism around the country — the largest political demonstration in American history in January, unprecedented numbers of women running for office — our Rhode Island Democratic Party still thinks it’s the 1950s. Even after women let the party know that we wouldn’t stand for Joe DeLorenzo being in a position of leadership — and, by the way, the Party never took a stand on whether DeLorenzo should go or not — the Party still apparently has not learned to treat its female members and leaders with the respect they have earned.

Things are harder for women in politics. It’s still a male-dominated area. Fourteen women giving up their Thursday evening were outvoted by one guy and sent into the freezing cold, ending up in another male-dominated space — a sports bar — to continue working on our mission of building more female leadership.

But we know how to work hard.

But we will not accept being treated as second-class members of our Party. Over half the votes that elect Democratic officeholders come from women. We’d rather be fighting the Trump agenda. We want a Party where we’re fairly represented — where women have an equal seat at the table, and good men and women work together to advance the Democratic Party’s values — providing safe access to abortion, making sure every child can receive a good education, making sure all Americans have access to affordable, quality health care. Lots of men and women share those values. We shouldn’t have to fight for an equal seat at the table in our own Party. But if we must, we will.

About Justine Caldwell 2 Articles
I like to make speeches and knock on strangers' doors. Democrat. #trueblue email: drjustinecaldwell@gmail.com twitter: @Justine4RI

13 Comments

  1. And you are surprised, why? Have you not been paying attention to how the state – the country – has been run for decades? (Current presidency excluded because neither side likes this anomalous maverick.) The history has been bluster and blow about change and equality but really keep things exactly the same, and the hammer falls by those truly in power if your threats actually take shape as action.

    Drop the word “party” from your group’s name and move forward, liberated and empowered that whatever principles you embrace are yours to uphold, and leave the dying party system to the narrow minded men who SAY they appreciate your independence and “spunk” but behind closed doors are laughing at you with all the disrespect and derision their shriveled little democratic minds understand and believe. Do not be surprised and do not whine. Continue to do.

  2. Not to take away from your point but there is no way that anyone would consider last night’s snow in RI to be a snow storm

    • “Not to take away from your point but here’s something that has nothing to do with your point and is meant to belittle you”

  3. Who is the Executive Director? You don’t include a name but I imagine it’s a matter of public record. Just wondering.

  4. Dear Executive Director Olasanoye,

    I don’t know what you think you’re doing. I don’t know whose marching orders you’re following. I don’t know if you’re following any marching orders at all or if you’re acting on your own. I don’t know, in fact, much at all about why you dealt with the Women’s Caucus the way you did. But I know with certainty one thing:

    You’re blowing it.

  5. The Democratic Party continues to be a party of sexism and war. The economic development strategies it touts continue to fail. It continues the drug war. If you are looking for a party that truly opposes war, sexism, neo liberalism, join the Green Party. The Democratic Party will continue to prop up the killers and the neo liberals forever.

  6. I think I need some help unpacking this. The RI Democratic Party’s Women’s Caucus is creating an executive board of RI Democratic women for that Caucus. The executive director of the RI Democratic Party, which the Caucus belongs to, wants to participate in the process. Why can’t he? I’m all pro-women and political voice and power, but this story seems spun with what a hardship it was for these women to meet up and how under-handed the treatment was. Assuming only the best about the party leadership, and I’m afraid I don’t know enough to think otherwise, why wasn’t the underhandedness happening here on the part of the women’s caucus for not invited their own party leaders to be part of creating a leadership group within the party? There must be some underlying reason why that person would be deemed a detriment to this process? Is this a rebellion against the RI Democratic Party leadership itself? Because, I’m having difficulty believing that any of this has to do with which sex they are, or should it.

    • This was a committee meeting, not a caucus meeting. At the previous caucus meeting, the process was clearly explained, and no one at the caucus meeting including Mr. Olasanoye expressed any problem with the process. That meeting was a mere 9 days before the nominating committee met. During interviews, a level of privacy is expected. There is nothing underhanded about it.

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