Name: Zach Fansler
Role: Alaska State Rep
Accusations: Hit an unnamed woman hard enough to rupture her eardrum, during a drunken sexual encounter, The Juneau Empire, Jan 25, 2018
Immediate Consequences: Fansler resigned effective Feb 2, 2018, KTOO.org, by Andrew Kitchenman
Fansler’s Initial Response: He said he believed his behavior was a part of consensual kink/bdsm bedroom play, according to texts between Fansler and the woman the next day
Fansler’s Evolving Response: Fansler pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree harassment. He received 10-day suspended sentence and a year of probation, KTOO.org and Alaska Public Media, June 21, 2018, by Andrew Kitchenman
Tanya speaks in her own words here: What Happened After I Shared My Story of Abuse by New York’s Attorney General, in the New York Times, Oct 6, 2019
Ms. Selvaratnam is a multi-accomplished professional:
- She’s the author of the 2014 book, “The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism and the Reality of the Biological Clock” as well as the forthcoming Assume Nothing: A Memoir of Intimate Violence.
- She’s produced numerous film projects, including the Emmy-nominated Born To Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity and is also an actor
- In 2016, she was a video producer for Gays Against Guns, formed in response to the Pulse nightclub massacre.
- Her activism and civic contributions since the mid 90’s have included everything from The Ms. Foundation to the World Health Organization to a benefit titled Artists for Tsunami Relief, in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.
She is also a woman who spent a year in a physically and psychologically abusive romantic partnership with Eric Schneiderman.
Selvaratnam met Schneiderman at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 2016, after which she began dating him. They were together through the fall of 2017, during which time he routinely abused her, both physically and emotionally, according to reporting by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker in May of 2018.
He says they almost never had sex without him beating her. He would slap her, choke her, spit on her. He demanded that she have scars removed. He called her his “brown slave.” He routinely drank more than a bottle of wine a night, and took sedatives. He forced her to drink with him. He threatened to tap her phone. He told her multiple times that if they broke up, he would kill her.
She suffered from hearing loss and vertigo and after the breakup, sought treatment. No specific cause of her conditions was determined by the doctor.
To explain how she stayed in such an abusive relationship for a year, she says, “Now I see how independent women get stuck in one. [The physical abuse] happens quickly. He’s drunk, and you’re naked and at your most vulnerable. It’s so disorienting. You lose a little of who you are.”
She calls Schneiderman a Jekyll and Hyde character, saying he champions women in public but abuses them in private.
She had no intention of coming forward until – through a network of mutual friends – she learned of another woman who had been abused by Schneiderman. That is the woman described as Anonymous Accuser #2 in the Mayer & Farrow New Yorker piece.
Click here to listen to a 5-minute interview of Barish with CBS This Morning’s Norah O’Donnell.
She explains that she didn’t think she had a #MeToo story, until she saw the black eye on Colbie Holderness, one of the two ex-wives of Trump’s Staff Secretary Rob Porter, and recognized herself in the story.
She also points out that Eric Schneiderman has $9 million remaining in his campaign fund. The National Organization for Women has demanded that he donate that money to organizations that support survivors and seek to end intimate partner abuse.
Barish was romantically involved with Schneiderman from the Summer of 2013 through New Year’s Day of 2015.
According to reporting by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker, Schneiderman’s abuse began a month into their physical relationship, when the two were getting ready for bed one night after drinking. They were baiting each other, and he called her “a fucking whore.” Then he slapped her across the side of the head so hard her ears rang (her ear continued to bother her and she eventually discovered she had a perforated eardrum). He then pinned her down on the bed and began choking her.
She managed to get away from him, screaming that what he wasn’t doing wasn’t okay. She left, vowing to never see him again. She told several people about the attack in the immediate aftermath, including Salman Rushdie, who she used to date and has remained close friends with.
Despite her commitment to stay away from him, he wore her down. They resumed what would become an on and off again, physically and emotionally abusive relationship, that lasted for 2 years:
- He would often slap her (without consent) during sex.
- Although she was already trim, she lost another 30 pounds and became emaciated. Still, he would squeeze her leg and call it “chubby.”
- He would drink enormous quantities of wine and scotch almost every night, pushing her to do the same. He would literally hold a glass to her lips and force her to drink, sometimes causing it to dribble down her chin.
- He told her she wasn’t “a real single mother,” because she had childcare.
- He mocked her political activism, saying, “Go ahead, if it makes you feel better to do your little political things.”
- He told her, “If you ever left me, I’d kill you.”
Or, click below to open in your favorite podcast player:
This interview was first recorded in February 2020. The world was a very different place then from the one we face in June 2020, at the time of its release. First coronavirus, then worldwide peaceful protests in response to the murder of George Floyd by an on-duty cop, have caused seismic global convulsions that are still reverberating. Because none of that had happened yet, it wasn’t directly addressed in this conversation.
Solving #MeToo stands with the Black Lives Matter protesters. Not only that, it is a fundamental part of our mission to seek out solutions to workplace sexual harassment and assault that work for ALL women, not just straight white affluent women. We do that by looking at the problems (and possible solutions) from a diversity of perspectives, as well as actively seeking out a diversity of voices to speak.
Near the top of today’s show, we invite you to listen to the trailer for The So-Called Oreos Podcast, a terrific project from 4 young Women of Color – Kia, Janae, Rachel and Amari. Their show addresses everything from career advancement to feminism to dating through the lens of being so-called oreos (black on the outside, white on the inside). https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/so-called-oreos/id1462012568
Today’s episode of Solving MeToo features Sharmili Majmudar, the EVP of Policy and Organizational Impact at Women Employed, an almost 50 year old organization widely recognized for its innovative work to improve women’s economic status and remove barriers to economic equity.
As in most episodes, we tackled the big philosophical questions this podcast seeks to address; and the back and forth that we had about restorative justice was really illuminating and thought provoking.
We went on to discuss what companies can and should be doing to provide safer and more inclusive workplaces for all their employees. Here are a number of the resources referenced in the conversation:
The recommendations to Uber, compiled by Eric Holder and the law firm Covington & Burling https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/13/eric-holder-uber-report-full-text.html
EEOC Promising Practices Guide for Preventing Harassment, from Nov 2017: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/promising-practices-preventing-harassment
“Men agree that gender diversity is important on boards – but they’re sick of hearing about it,” by Emma Hinchliffe for Fortune, Oct 8, 2019 https://fortune.com/2019/10/08/pwc-gender-diversity-boards-men-2019/
So if you’re the leader of a company or organization, we offered you the spectrum of accountability that you need to create, as well as the outcomes you should be expecting from your employee education.
Spoiler: it’s not just about checking a box to protect yourself from legal liability.
Or, click below to open in your favorite podcast player:
Christian Picciolini is an award winning television producer, peace advocate, and a former violent extremist. After leaving the Neo-Nazi skinhead movement that he helped to create in Chicago in the 1980s and 90s, he began the painstaking process of making amends and rebuilding his life. In 2016 he won an Emmy award for producing an anti-hate advertising campaign aimed at helping people disengage from extremism.
Julia wanted to talk to Christian about redemption and forgiveness: As someone who has himself done bad things, what makes him now worthy of being loved? And what about the men he works with – violent extremists who, in Christian’s words, are simply children with emotional potholes needing to be filled. Once he reaches them and they decide to leave the hate movements they’re a part of, do they deserve forgiveness from society too?
And what do the answers with respect to these men have to say about how we as a society deal with perpetrators of workplace sexual misconduct?
Christian’s life since leaving the white power movement over two decades ago has been dedicated to helping others overcome their own hate. He now leads The Free Radicals Project, a global extremism prevention and disengagement network.
His involvement in, and exit from, the early American white supremacist skinhead movement is chronicled in his memoir, White American Youth.
His latest book Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism was released in February, 2020. His disengagement work is also spotlighted in his MSNBC documentary series, Breaking Hate.
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Make a contribution here.
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My interview today is with Christian Picciolini. He is an award-winning television producer, a public speaker, author, peace advocate, and a former violent extremist. After leaving the hate movement that he helped to create – namely the Neo Nazi skinhead movement that started in Chicago where he grew up – after leaving this movement that he helped to create during his youth in the 1980s and 90s, he began the painstaking process of making amends and rebuilding his life.
He went on to earn a degree in international relations from DePaul university, and in 2016 he won an Emmy award for producing an anti-hate advertising campaign aimed at helping people disengage from extremism.
His life since leaving the white power movement over two decades ago has been dedicated to helping others overcome their own hate. He now leads The Free Radicals Project, a global extremism prevention and disengagement network.
His involvement in, and exit from, the early American white supremacist skinhead movement is chronicled in his memoir, White American Youth. His latest book Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism was released in February, 2020. His disengagement work is also spotlighted in his MSNBC documentary series, Breaking Hate.
The reason that I wanted to talk to Christian is because he has confronted the issue of being a person who has done awful things and has done the hard work of changing himself deep inside and then living his life in pursuit of redemption and forgiveness. And not simply asking people to forgive him, but earning the right to be forgiven.
Especially towards the end of the conversation is when we really got into these questions of what does it take to earn redemption? How do you hold somebody accountable? How do we establish gradations of punishment?
And spoiler, Christian had interesting answers, but not the end-all, be-all. It’s not like we have the solution here. Just like all of these episodes, what we’re doing here is we’re asking questions and we’re contemplating difficult juxtapositions. If this, then what?
The other reason that I wanted to talk to Christian is because he’s working with offenders. Now in his case, he’s working with violent extremist offenders, and for the most part, the people that we’re talking about on this podcast, wanting to offer redemption to, are not violent extremists. We’re not talking about offering redemption to Harvey Weinstein. We’re talking about putting him in jail.
We’re talking about your average guy who has maybe behaved in some ways that if people were cognizant of it now, that guy would be in a lot of trouble for it. And part of the purpose of this episode is to awaken in men a motivation to grab that bull of shame by the horns and call yourself out. In your own heart, to start with. And do the work that you know you need to do to, first of all heal yourself.
Whatever – as Christian calls it – whatever your potholes are, whatever the wounds and hurts and challenges of your life have been that have maybe prompted you to make some bad choices, get some healing for yourself. And then figure out how to stop engaging in behaviors that are harmful to other people.
And then finally go out into the world with the acknowledgement that you know you’ve done some wrong and you want to do the work to make it right and trusting that you’ll be given the opportunity to do that. Christian is a terrific model of that. As he himself said, perhaps the reason that he has escaped what we now call cancel culture is because he outed himself before anybody outed him.
And I do think that that’s a big ingredient in the reaction that people get from the public nowadays in our cancel culture. If you try to hide the awful things that you did, people are going to have a lot more vehement reaction when it finally does come out. So I hope you enjoy this interview. I hope that you find some inspiration in the work that Christian’s doing, and I hope it inspires you to want to join the conversation.
Julia: So I’m here talking with Christian Picciollini.
Christian: Hi Julia.
Julia: Hi. And of course I’m Julia Kline and Christian, I’ve been talking about this interview with you for a couple of months cause I’m very excited to have this conversation. Partly cause you’re a cool guy and you’re doing really amazing work in the world and you know, they ought to be talking about giving you a Nobel for God’s sake.
Christian: Well, I don’t know if there’s a Nobel for, for just being a human being, but —
Julia: well, there’s, I was listening this morning to an interview with a woman who’s just received the Nobel prize for having passed legislation, and I’m going to totally screw this up, to protect survivors of sexual assault.
And she’s now started a foundation, her tagline for it is that we teach others how to pen their rights into law.
Christian: That’s great. Yeah. That’s empowering people. Wonderful.
Julia: And that’s what you’re doing. So if she won Nobel for it, why not you?
Christian: Hopefully what I’m doing is just making sure that the world does not suffer from what I used to be a part of. a lot of people think it’s about me helping Nazis and I guess technically it is because I’m trying to get them to not be Nazis anymore when I help disengage them from their ideology. but that’s not why I do it. I mean, I really am doing it to protect mostly the world from the harm that I know that they cause.
Julia: And that’s why I wanted to talk to you because this podcast is about sexual assault. And to my knowledge, that is not something of which you have been accused. Am I correct in that?
Christian: I have not.
Julia: So we’re not talking to somebody who is a perpetrator of sexually inappropriate behavior and sexual violence. And, you are a person who was a perpetrator of other kinds of inappropriate and violent behavior.
Christian: Yeah. And I don’t think that there’s very much of a distinction between those two things, because it really is just a violation of a person. Whether it’s me verbally attacking them or attacking them with my fists, or if it’s a sexual assault.
And certainly, I would never say I was never in my life complicit with demeaning women or participating in toxic male environment. Absolutely. I would never – I’m not innocent of that. I don’t think any man is innocent of that. But the violence that I perpetrated, I can see so many parallels to the type of violence that women endure.
Julia: my philosophy on how we heal from this era that we’re in – this #MeToo era, this post-#MeToo era – is that we need to apply a transformative justice model. and so the argument that I have sought to make in this story that I’m telling is that it is in the best interests of those of us who have been harmed and who are at risk of being harmed in the future to treat those who have harmed us as human beings.
And to hold out the possibility that there is redemptive quality there and to do whatever we can to awaken the best part of them – of him, of the hims, because this was almost all men that we’re talking about.
And you do something similar in a very different category of violence.
Julia: And you were just speaking to, I, I gather from your comment that, that, there’s this question, “hey, aren’t you just helping Nazis? And isn’t that a terrible thing?” And I see that pushback all the time within the #MeToo era, within the #MeToo movement – this idea that, ” we can’t be helping men for God’s sake. Poor white men and their tender little feelings and they weren’t treated well by their daddies, and now they don’t know how to be masculine. And so now they’re assholes. Oh, poor them. And so we’re going to give a bunch of resources to helping men? Fuck that. We need to give him the resources to helping women.”
Julia: Well, yes, and. We need to root out the real cause. We can’t just put them all in jail. It ain’t going to work.
Christian: This is an important, important question and an important discussion because I think about this all the time. I was once a terrible human being.
I was a person who demeaned other people based on what they looked like, what color their skin was, who they prayed to, who they loved. I hurt people because of that. Twenty, thirty years later – 23 years after I left – people love me. They accept me, they trust me. and they come to me for guidance. And I ask myself all the time, does that same forgiveness exist for other people who’ve done other things?
I’ve had both the blessing and the curse of having been involved in what I did. the blessing, meaning that now I understand the motivations of why people end up there. And I also understand the motivations of what somebody needs to get out.
and the curse is, of course, that I participated in that. and my goal has always been to one, get people to forgive themselves. To self reflect and understand what they did was wrong and forgive themselves so that they can go seek forgiveness and make amends. Because I don’t think that people who have not forgiven themselves, at least partially, and understood that what they’ve done is wrong or what it’s been driven by, can effectively go out and make a positive change.
And that wasn’t something that I came up with on my own. That was something that somebody told me that I had heard in my past. An African American security guard at my old high school, who I met years later. I didn’t know what to say to this man because it was somebody who I had hurt and somebody who I had tormented. And I said I was sorry.
he accepted my apology. But he also said, that’s good for you. It makes you feel great, but it doesn’t really do a whole lot for me. He said, I need you to really self reflect and think about what you’ve done and why you’ve done it, and then forgive yourself for it. And then go out there and, and atone for what you’ve done. And make amends for, for that, and seek forgiveness from the people you’ve hurt. That’s what I’ve been doing for, for 23 years.
Julia: And where in your journey did that conversation happen?
Christian: So I left the white supremacist movement – so I was recruited at 14 years old in 1987 and I disengaged eight years later in January of ’96.
For the five years after that, I was a good person. I had met people along the way that forced my change. I had abandoned my ideologies, but I still was not treating myself very well. and then years later in 1999, I met the security guard again that I had, you know, I had made his life hell,
Julia: you left the movement in what year?
Christian: ’96. Yeah, this was after I’d left the movement,
Julia: And you met him in 99.
Christian: Yeah, 99. And I still – for those four or five years, I had been really trying to outrun my past. I was not interested in coming clean. I tried to make new friends and – if the listeners could see me, I’m covered in tattoos – I would wear long sleeves and I moved and I tried to escape who I was. I was afraid of being judged the same way that I had judged people.
When I met him, he was the first person that I really kind of said, “I’m out. I’m sorry I was wrong.” but I didn’t know how to move forward. And he’s the one who told me , that’s great. I’m glad you’re out. But your story is important because it’s not just the story of some white kid who became a Nazi. It’s the story of every kid that I’ve ever watched over in this high school – thousands and thousands of them who were looking for a sense of identity, community, and purpose. And because they weren’t looking in the right places or didn’t know where the right places to look were, they were given that sense of identity, community, and purpose by a really, really bad person.
Julia: Yeah. And that’s certainly one of your big themes. people are fascinated by you. In addition to everything you’ve just said about your story, You’re an Emmy award winning producer, correct?
Julia: and also you founded an organization called life after hate?
Julia: And which I believe you’ve moved on from, is that correct?
Christian: Yeah, I’m no longer with life after hate. I co founded a nonprofit called the Free Radicals Project which is a global network of people doing the work that I do, helping other people disengage from extremism. because I was traveling the world, and I noticed that when I would speak to Muslim groups, that somebody would come up to me and say, I was in your shoes, but I went a different route. I went towards the Islamic state, or I went towards Al-Qaida or those ideas —
Julia: as opposed to —
Christian: As opposed to neo-Nazis like I did. And I started to recognize that there were people – mothers, who were stopping other kids in Somalia from joining civil war and things like that, that were already doing this work that I was doing and that we were using the same process but didn’t know it.
And it was always about compassion and empathy and seeing the child, not the monster. which is a concept that really, I’ve come up with that, it doesn’t matter if the person, the offender, let’s say is 16 or 60. We have to learn to see the broken child in them and not the monster.
Because they were not born haters. They were not born rapists. They were not born ISIS supporters. They were not born in a gang. and of course, that does happen where people are raised in those things, but they still have to learn it. and because they learned it, it can be unlearned. we just need to repair the motivations that led them there.
Julia: And so I’m wondering what your answer is to the question or to the objection that I, I know you get a lot, which is, okay, fine. So these people who are monsters now weren’t born monsters. And fine, some crappy things happened to them along the way that turned them into monsters. I’m willing to stipulate, crappy things happen. It’s not their fault.
And, crappy things happen to a lot of people. And those people don’t turn into monsters. And so I can hear the voices of some people saying, crappy things happened to me —
Christian: — and I didn’t go that route.
Julia: I’ve been slogging away, doing what’s right, and now you’re going to turn around and give all kinds of benefits to the guy who was a monster? What about me?? where’s the benefit for somebody like me who’s made the right choices? And I’m struggling. I’m just barely putting food on the table. My wife’s about to leave me. I’ve got – you know, I’m messed up in the head. Where’s my resources?
Christian: Yeah. And I would say that those people are also at risk of going in the directions of – I’m putting up air quotes – as extremist behavior: drugs, suicide, school shootings —
Julia: Trumpism —
Christian: Trumpism. So listen, of course. We don’t live in a black and white world despite what we’re being told, right? Despite what we’re being made to feel that everything is a black and white solution to a problem. The same thing exists with every single person on earth. We’re all nuanced, right?
I happened to be standing in an alley at 14 years old smoking a joint. And a guy walked up to me and said, as he pulled the joint out of my mouth, “that’s what the communists and the Jews want you to do to keep you docile.” That guy happened to be America’s first Neo Nazi skinhead, and he was recruiting me.
Had I not been standing in that alley —
Julia: that was here in Chicago, right?
Christian: That was here in Chicago, The birthplace of the neo-Nazi skinhead movement, the South side. And this is an eerie kind of coincidence, but that dead end alley that I was standing in that I was recruited in, is at the corner of union and division streets.
Yeah, it’s a, it is a very eerie coincidence that I didn’t even recognize until,
Julia: Oh my God, that is unbelievable.
Christian: It’s a dead end alley at the crossroads of Union & Division.
Julia: At the crossroads of Union and Division. Holy cow.
Christian: Weird, right? So anyway, I was standing there and had a group of ballerinas come up to me or a baseball coach and said, Hey, you know, you want to go dance or play ball? I probably would have gone with them. that was my interception, so to speak.
I don’t want to discount the females in the movement that ended up going there. But a very close colleague of mine, Shannon – and I don’t mind talking about this cause she talks about it publicly all the time —
Julia: — she and I have gotten to know each other quite well over the last couple of months.
Christian: Well, she has an amazing story. she’s the mother of seven children. She was in the movement at the same time I was, we knew each other back then, and disengaged around the same time. But what I learned after the fact, getting to know Shannon, is that at 14 years old, she was raped at a party. And that made her feel worthless and very unsure of where to turn and also very angry.
Julia: That, and – because Shannon and I have talked about that as well — and I’ll add that it wasn’t the rape itself. But also the fact that she felt as though her parents would feel that it was her fault she had gotten raped.
Christian: yeah, her parents would have been more upset with the fact that she had gone out drinking and lied to them about that, than if she came home and said that I was raped.
Julia: Right, she was afraid to tell her parents.
Christian: And what that caused her to do was become very, very angry. And not being able to release that frustration, she found the other angriest people that she could find to hang out with. And those people were skinheads. And she was able to release her frustration through violence, through words, that were pent up in her.
it really is just a matter of first of all, what information – what stimulus – we have access to. But also this can happen to anybody. And it doesn’t have to happen when you’re 14. It could happen when you’re 40, and it can happen when you’re 60. And we’ve seen that, in the age of Trumpism, that it really is emboldening people who may have had this kind of rage or grievance or something confusing inside of them that they can’t figure out, has manifested now as violence or threats against the other.
it’s a very dangerous thing to paint a complicated society in very black and white terms.
Julia: Yeah. And so tying that together with where we were at a few minutes ago – the question of resources. your answer was, ” yes, you person who has been walking the straight line despite having had crappy things happen to you, you deserve help too.”
Christian: of course.
Julia: You deserve love and compassion and you’re getting the short end as well, and that’s wrong too. And one of the things that I reflect upon as I think about the causes of where we’re at, is that it seems to me that as a society we are like red lining on the enormity of the problem.
Julia: And it seems to me that for a very long time, one of the ways that society, quote unquote kind of held itself together was by decreeing that this group of people we’re gonna do the best we can for. And that was generally white people —
Christian: — white males,
Julia: white men, more so than white women. Although white women were always supposedly protected, although if her husband wanted to hit her and rape her, whatever–
Christian: subservient, they were still second class.
Julia: — and they were financially cared for. but what’s happening now in our society is we’re saying, you know what? It’s no longer okay to just throw under the bus a huge swath of people because they’re Brown, because they’re gay, because we don’t like their religion because whatever the other things are. And in my opinion, because of the widespread ubiquity of easy access to technology and ability to communicate we’re all seeing it. Like all of us, quote unquote good white people who thought under the era of Obama that racism was over, we are now being treated to viral videos on Twitter of like, “see there’s another one. See, there’s another one. See, there’s another one.” And we’re having to face in our Twitter realities like, Oh my God, there are so many fricking obnoxious white people out there saying horrible racist things. The Brown people never had any doubt. They knew. It was happening to them. But us white people, we were able to live in a bubble, and that bubble I think is what’s breaking.
Christian: Yeah. Yeah. That bubble is also privilege, right? So when we talk about privilege, people also always think like, Oh, but I worked really hard. My parents struggled. That’s not really privilege. Privilege is also not having to think about those things that people deal with every day. That walking out of your house as a white person is a whole lot different than walking out of your house as a black person and the things that you have to deal with every day.
Julia: Or going in to work as a man as versus as a woman.
Christian: Absolutely. I mean, doing the same work —
Julia: Or being in high school as a straight kid versus as a gay kid
Christian: Yeah. And hopefully, hopefully that bubble is starting to break. but there was also an indication that there’s a lot of pushback and confusion, which tells me we have a lot of work to do.
Julia: I have this sense that we – we’re building towards something and, and what I see is, is that the quote unquote good people of the world recognize that there is a huge problem. the challenge is that that problem feels too big to solve.
Julia: And I have this hypothesis that the solution is actually through increasing love, compassion, and forgiveness.
Christian: You’re right. And let me tell you —
Julia: And that’s so counterintuitive for most people.
Christian: This is obviously something I think about all the time.
Christian: we’re so used to people solving problems for us. Big problems, right? Like, you know, our government is going to step in and fix that. They’re going to pass legislation to abolish that or do this or do that.
Julia: Robert Mueller is going to release a report that’s going to fix this whole–
Christian: Right, it’s going to fix everything. Again, black and white solutions to very complicated problems. The solution is that every single person has the ability to do this work. We all touch people. We all have friends. We all have family. We all have coworkers. We all have strangers that we pass on the street every day. we can impact that change that we want to see by leading it ourselves. By just making good happen by understanding that if we push a problem away, weld the sewer caps on it and hope it goes away, it doesn’t. racism has existed on this soil for 500 years. there’s no indication it’s slowing down. obviously we’ve seen progress in certain areas, but we’re also seeing that we’re going backwards in so many ways.
we all have this ability to show compassion to the people that we feel don’t deserve it. Because if we think about it, they’re really the ones who might need it the most. and that’s a hard thing for people to swallow, to show compassion to people who they don’t feel deserve it. But if you were in my position and the position of the hundreds – maybe thousands of people – that I’ve worked with, the one unifying common thread through all of those stories is, is that what led them to that extremist movement or to the fringe or, or to that behavior, was not the ideology itself, but it was the fact that they were searching and trying to fill a void of belonging, of meaning and a family.
if we can provide that to people – and this is not about only bad people. This is about everybody. We need to show children – we need to raise children to be vulnerable, and the way we do that is by being vulnerable ourselves with them. If we have conversations about maybe things that we’re not secure about ourselves with and open up to our children as they’re young, as they’re growing up, maybe they’ll feel the same way about doing that with us. They’ll be able to communicate their confusion growing up. And they won’t go searching for answers in places that they’re not really mature enough to understand the consequences of.
And once they’re in, once they, they belong to that behavior, it stays with them the rest of their lives. As a stigma, as a change in their, in their being, as you know, as a ripple effect to the rest of the world. The goal is not always to help the bad people. It’s to stem the flow of bad people happening. And the only way we do that is by realizing that we all have this universality of brokenness to some degree, and that we all need each other to get past it.
Julia: so a couple – both big directions I want to go in from what you just said. One is about – I wonder if you just described is most true at the extremes. It’s kind of one idea. And the other idea is this idea of individual feelings of unsafety and of threat. That fundamentally, these abusive behaviors in whatever category they are, come from a feeling of unsafety.
Christian: Uncertainty, I would say. Yeah.
Julia: Sure. I would respond that uncertainty breeds unsafety —
Julia: From the uncertainty that makes us feel — I would say like at the base base baseline is unsafety caused by some other things kind of growing up out of that, right? And that it is like to the extent that anybody feels unsafe, that makes us hyper aware of the threat that might be coming. Because if we don’t feel safe, we feel vulnerable to threats–
Christian: Right, it’s protection, self protection mode, armor.
Julia: I see that – in some ways that’s easy to see. Like we look at the extremes. It’s easy to say, but I also see it, for example, in, conservatives who say that we shouldn’t be giving any financial assistance to poor people, because they feel that those poor people are just going to take advantage of it. That for whatever reason, they’re undeserving, and they also have beliefs that they’re going to do unworthy things with the money that they’re given.
Julia: And it’s my belief that the people who hold those kinds of beliefs feel threatened by the very idea of those, quote unquote lazy or bad or unworthy people getting money or being treated as humans or having some social mobility – I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s —
Christian: It’s a loss of control. It is a fear of loss, of losing safety, of losing certainty, of losing tradition. and it’s so interesting that you say that because in the world of extremism, they fear monger to make people afraid of those threats. But they also create the conditions that keep them afraid. So when we’re talking about conservative Republicans, not only are they fear-mongering saying, Oh, those illegal aliens or whatever the flavor of their ire is for the day, but they also create the conditions that keep that active. Because that keeps them in control. It keeps them providing the solution to the people who think it’s the right solution.
and that’s the situation we’re in, is we are all afraid. and we’re all isolated too. More so I think, than ever, even with the internet. and that fear and isolation has turned into hatred in so many cases. Hatred of other races, hatred of other religions, hatred of women, hatred of LGBTQ. And it’s fear and isolation that’s caused that.
Julia: And so what you were saying a few minutes ago – and I’m paraphrasing – is that people aren’t born into these ideologies. they have to be taught them. And that therefore they can be untaught. And essentially, again, paraphrasing that when you awaken people – and what I would say is when you somehow remove their feeling of unsafety, when you give them true sense of safety and control – then they no longer need to be abusive, no longer be hateful.
Julia: and then they basically come to the light —
Christian: Crutches be gone! Because racism or hatred was always a crutch. It was always protection. What you’re talking about, I called potholes. along our journey to find that sense of identity, community, and purpose – which I think drives every decision we make – people hit potholes along that road. those potholes are trauma, they’re mental illness, they’re poverty, they’re privilege. it can be anything. It could be chronic unemployment. it’s that unsafety, that feeling of, I’ve lost control of that portion of my life.
And those potholes detour them to the fringes where they’re searching for protection or searching for answers, and they’re searching for identity, community, and purpose. And sometimes for some people, the lure of violence of an extremist group is sometimes the only identity, community and purpose they’ve ever been offered.
for some people – like, I didn’t grow up in a bad situation. My parents didn’t abuse me. They weren’t drug addicts, they’re still married, they loved me. but my pothole was abandonment. They were immigrants who came over from Italy in the 60s and had to work their asses off and I never saw them. They were gone seven days a week, 14, 15 hours a day. And as a kid, I wondered like, what did I do to push my parents away? Why aren’t they here? And I never knew how to ask so I just got angry and angry and angry and I felt worthless.
And then, having gone from this powerless kid who then was picked on his whole life – cause I never had any friends – at 14 years old when I was standing in that alley and that man showed me what my identity could be, what my community I could be accepted in could be, and gave me a purpose, I bought.
It didn’t matter to me that I didn’t understand what he was talking about. It didn’t matter to me that I hadn’t been raised on racism. It mattered to me that I was now filling those potholes, except it was filling them with sand. And it wasn’t until I filled them with the proper asphalt and concrete, that I was able to drive straight on that road and recognize that what I was doing was wrong.
Julia: And so your story and the work that you do is at the extremes, right? and so getting back to the resources again, you of all people can talk about how incredibly resource intensive it is to undertake this process with any one individual person. what you do is you get people out of the movement.
And I’ve heard you say a couple of times, both live and on videos I’ve seen of you, that there are in fact people who the public thinks of today as leaders in the hate movement – or in various hate movements – who you know actually are out because of the work that you have done. And they can’t say so you can’t say —
Christian: Well they’re not out necessarily, not always. They’re out psychologically, and they’re out mentally and their heart is out. But it’s sometimes impossible for them to leave those circumstances. so in those cases, it could be that their family is involved and if they leave the movement, they’re walking away from their family, their blood family.
it could be that, there are people, good intentioned people pushing them back saying, no. You are a Nazi. And they’re saying, but I don’t want to be anymore. And they’re saying, no, but you always will be. So there’s that obstacle.
but there are also other obstacles where it’s just very tough to make the decision to start over. Even though your heart and everything tells you that what you’re doing is going through the motions and that you’re hurting yourself and other people, that it’s easier sometimes to just stay.
Julia: But as far down the road as you have gotten them, it’s incredibly intensive, correct? Of your personal time and intention, right?
Christian: Oh yeah. I’ve got over 300 needy children that I work with on a daily basis. And again, those needy children are adults. they’re spread out all over the world, and every one of them needs a network of aftercare. Whether it’s counseling or job training or life coaching or tattoo removal, they all need resources and resources like that don’t exist.
There’s no directory for me to go to and say, okay, which psychologist is going to take a pro bono case in little rock, Arkansas? Where there aren’t a whole lot of psychologists taking pro bono cases who is willing to accept a person who is or was a Nazi, because what they think is, Oh, I’ve got to debate this person under ideology.
And I say, no, no, no. That’s the last thing I want you to do. In fact, I never do that. I never discuss their ideology. I never debate them. I never tell them that they’re wrong. What I do is I focus on the human being and I build resilience. I’m a pothole filler and I’m a bridge builder, so I have to build bridges and it’s extremely difficult. Probably the hardest thing in my work is finding, building that network of resources around every person. Because I have to start from scratch every time I do that.
Julia: And what it makes me think about is the people that are more in the middle as opposed to the extremes. And if we’re talking about your garden variety Trump supporter, for example, or your garden variety chauvinist as another example. And so these are not people engaging in extreme behavior —
Christian: I would argue with that and say that they are, that they are contributing to it, no matter how mild their actions or words are.
Julia: Certainly contributing to it. But what these people would say is like the garden variety chauvinist, who is constantly taking credit for women’s work at work, or is making inappropriate comments about their skirt or whatever the case may be. Right? Garden variety chauvinism. and that man’s defense is, “I’m not assaulting anybody. I’m not guilty of this stuff. don’t make me a Roy Moore. Don’t call me a Matt Lauer. don’t put us all in that same boat.” They might more ally with an Al Franken or some of these other men who are guilty of smaller crimes. and now we’re having a conversation about a Joe Biden.
Right? And people believe that we are putting Joe Biden in the same bucket as Roy Moore and Donald Trump and Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, whatever. like, no, Joe Biden is not in that same — his actions are not the same. And yet the chauvinism is, as you just said it’s a starter drug.
Christian: Right, right. It’s a gateway
Julia: Gateway behavior. Exactly.
Christian: Absolutely. I think that they do contribute it on a larger scale. the impact, for instance, a group like the incel movement, which stands for involuntary celibates, which, are a group of really frustrated young men who blame women for all the frustrations in their lives.
And to me that really is no different than a white supremacist who accepted an ideology to blame people for the problems that they probably could have controlled in their lives in many cases. and they’re murdering people. They’re murdering women based on this hatred of women.
and there are different levels, but here’s the thing. nobody starts out as a killer. Nobody starts out as a rapist. I think it starts somewhere, and that even if it never ends up being rape or assault, that that kind of information spreads to other people in their lives.
Julia: And so I I guess the question i s , how much easier or harder is it to fill the potholes of somebody whose potholes are much smaller?
Christian: Well I think —
Julia: Or we can assume that the pothole is smaller if the resultant abusive behavior is much milder. I’ve talked to plenty of men who are like, “I don’t do those behaviors, don’t talk to me about –” and they’re not able to see that their subtle chauvinism and sexism is actually being driven by some sort of a lack or fear or unsafety inside of themselves.
Christian: There really is no difference. it would be no different for me working with a violent Nazi versus somebody who’s just an American racist, grandfather or uncle. I mean, it really is about —
Julia: the Charlottesville marcher.
Julia: Who’s not taking any other action other than that.
Christian: And I’ve done that. Right? I’ve worked with organizers of the Charlottesville rally and I’ve worked with people who just posted about it and wished that they were there. Or were there. and really my approach is no different because it really is about the child and not the monster. It really is — the severity of what they do with their behavior is sometimes just a matter of environmental stuff. Or a matter of a closer influence, pulling them closer to that behavior, not existing. so I approach people the same way, no matter how deep their potholes are.
Julia: and I guess that gets back to the question of resources, right? So if it’s going to cost you 100 hours to fill someone’s potholes, no matter what level of behavior they’re at, is the return on investment enough for you to do that, if the result will be that there’ll be one fewer marcher in the next Charlottesville rally? Versus if the result is there’s gonna be one fewer suicide bomber in the world.
Christian: Right. Well, you know, it’s impossible for me to distinguish what somebody’s intentions are because I could be working with the most outspoken Neo Nazi in the world, and everybody thinks that that person is the biggest threat. but I could also be working with some 17 year old kid who nobody’s ever heard about, who’s never been on anybody’s radar, who’s telling me that he has a gun and wants to walk into a building and shoot people.
I’m not gonna measure potholes at that point. I’m going to focus on what I think the priority is. But my priority is not always what other people’s priorities are. So do I help the person who is continuing to spread this well oiled machine of recruitment? Or do I stop the person who is going to murder 15 people? Of course I’m going to protect human life. And in that case, I have a duty to report that. And hopefully somebody else would step in at that point to help But I never But I never know if that person who is influencing other people is influencing somebody who’s going to walk into a school.
So I can’t – I’m not distinguishing that, so much as I am this person needs help and I cannot turn them away. Because if I would have been turned away – and there was nobody for me to turn to, by the way, when I wanted out. If somebody would have turned me away, I would’ve gone back. And I have a hard time – I have a hard time prioritizing that, unless there’s an imminent threat of harm. Then of course I would.
Julia: So that’s a fabulous segue to the last part that I want to talk about, which is what I said we were starting to talk about, which is the question of redemption and forgiveness. And getting out.
the question that began our relationship – you were a speaker at a panel discussion that was about hate, and on the panel was you and a rabbi and Michael Masterson —
Christian: Michael masters, former head of Homeland security – DHS – for cook County, yeah.
Julia: Yeah. And so a law and order guy, if there ever was one. it struck me that my goodness gracious, michael masters trusts you. Works with you. And I posed the question to the panel, what’s the role of forgiveness and redemption? And the rabbi gave a rabbinical answer, which was lovely.
You gave an answer, which we’ll talk about now. and Michael did not answer, on the panel. And afterwards, I approached Michael. I said to him, how is it that you’re able to forgive Christian? And he didn’t have a good answer to that.
I asked him. Could you imagine forgiving anybody else that commits these acts of terror? And his answer was basically, man, is it hard for me. And he kind of couched it by saying, I work with – I see up close and personal – the very worst of the worst. The hardcore, really violent people who caused the deaths of many people. And he said, I really have a hard time forgiving that. And I said to him, well, how is it that you’re able to forgive Christian? And he didn’t have an answer.
Christian: yeah. And I wouldn’t, that’s a hard – if you were to ask ME that question, how I forgive Christian, I would have a hard time answering that question.
Julia: How you forgive yourself, or how he forgave you?
Christian: How I forgive myself.
Julia: Let’s talk about both of them.
Christian: Okay. I don’t expect anybody to forgive me. I expect people to hold me accountable. And I’ve held myself accountable for 23 years. and I continue to do that. how I forgive myself – and I’ll have to ask Michael that the next time he and his wife and me and my wife go out to dinner, cause we do that pretty frequently
Julia: and it he gives you a meaningful answer, I would love it if you’d pass it along.
Christian: So I cannot speak for him, but I can understand how it would be difficult for somebody to trust me, to forgive me for what I had done. And all I would say to that is don’t. Just, let me keep doing what I’m doing and let me prove myself.
Julia: Which raises a question. There’s a note that I just jotted down. You said you want to be held accountable.
Julia: And I notice that you are not in jail.
Julia: if being held accountable meant that you would have to surrender your freedom, would you feel the same ?
Christian: I think so. but I would say that I never did anything to warrant being in prison. I don’t think, I mean, I certainly hurt people. I was in fist fights and street fights and I created propaganda that influenced a lot of people. There was always something inside of me though that I think stopped me from going over the edge and I have to credit my family for that, because I wasn’t raised to be that way.
so there was – while I did go through the motions and I definitely – I hurt people for sure. I don’t know that 23 years later there would be anything… If we’re talking hypothetically, yes, I would. I would hold myself accountable. If I knew I had hurt somebody in a way that warranted me going to jail, I would absolutely not only offer myself up for that — because I think that every day of my life, I live as an example for the people that I want to help. And if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do. but I would also seek forgiveness from the people that I’d hurt and made amends to repair the harm that I had caused.
Julia: I believe you about that. And in fact, I believe that if in fact — say that something you had done had resulted in the deaths of three people. Directly. And you’ve talked about how you wrote the lyrics to a song that inspired somebody who did kill people, but you’re not legally responsible for his actions. but if you had – if one of your evenings of violent shenanigans had resulted in three deaths and you in fact were sentenced to life in prison, I believe that you would still be doing this work from a prison cell.
Christian: Absolutely. It’s who I am.
Julia: But I think not very many people would. And this gets into this question of accountability and consequences, particularly as we talk about for sexual harassment and sexual assault. I think one of the reasons that men – as we go down the list from Joe Biden to Al Franken to Louis CK to – on down the list to Harvey Weinstein and rapists, right? Matt Lauer, rapist, allegedly. It becomes more and more difficult.
Christian: I have a hard time with Harvey Weinstein. I don’t know that I forgive Harvey Weinstein. I don’t know that I —
Julia: I mean, it becomes more difficult for those men to be willing to be held accountable.
Christian: Oh, sure.
Julia: Because what they are being held account to is — not only is it something that they don’t want to have, it’s something they feel they don’t deserve.
Julia: So Al Franken says – I can imagine him saying and a bunch of people, his defenders saying, Al Franken maybe deserves SOME kind of consequences, but what’s being inflicted upon him is way more than he deserves. He doesn’t deserve to have that have lost his job. and whatever any given man is on that spectrum —
and now we’re shifting gears to talk about that as opposed to violent extremism, I recognize that. But wherever a man is on that spectrum of, I know I engaged in some level of sexually inappropriate behavior. But I believe that if I fess up to that – and this gets back somewhat into our idea of unsafety and lack of control – if I fess up to that and I put myself at the mercy of these enraged feminists, they’re gonna do something to me that is way worse than I think I deserve.
Christian: I think that that’s a valid concern. And I think we have to ask ourselves if things that we’ve done in our past that maybe don’t rise to the level of Harvey Weinstein or even Louis CK —
Julia: If you were an Al Franken —
Christian: Right. Is that a death sentence.
Julia: — Somewhere between butt groping and maybe forcibly kissing somebody, right.
Christian: Or let’s say Joe Biden, who – one could argue that was the generation he was raised in. It was acceptable, at least among white men, to do that. maybe he didn’t know any better. Like he’s a grown man, he should know better not to do that stuff. But is that a death sentence for him?
Christian: `Like it should be for Harvey Weinstein, who is a criminal, who essentially is the equivalent of walking into a mosque and murdering 50 people, destroying the lives of women the same in – certainly not in exactly the same way, but destroyed the lives of those women in some way.
Julia: And even if it’s not a death sentence, is it the death of his career that’s the other question. Even if you’re not being asked to surrender your freedom —
Julia: And certainly not your life, you’re being told that you can’t work, and you’re given that – that was the argument of Noam what’s his face, who runs the Comedy Cellar in New York, who put Louis CK back on stage. he said that he asked the question, well, at what point should I be allowed to put Louis back on stage? And he said the answer he received from many people was never. And he said that he felt that was unreasonable.
I happen to agree, that is unreasonable, but the answer isn’t, we’ll put them back on stage now with no personal reflection.
Christian: Right. And I think that’s a key. It is the self reflection. But not only that, it is also about – so let me put it into perspective. There are some people that I work with that are very happy telling their story publicly after they denounce, right? And then in that way, they’re partly making amends by informing other people and doing that. But they’re doing things in their community as well. And there are some people who are like, “I did the work to get out. I’m a better person. I don’t want to tell people what I was a part of. I’m going to continue to do good work, but I don’t want to bring that scrutiny to my family.” because let’s face it, we are in a world right now where it’s like, if you’ve ever done anything wrong in your life —
Christian: — it’s over. Like, you know, like you’re done. and I somehow escaped that. And maybe it was because I came clean before somebody outed me because I knew it was the right thing to do. And I did the work, and it wasn’t necessarily because somebody forced me to do that
now somebody like to Louis C K I agree. Like it’s not a death sentence. What he did was wrong. but if we were to equate that to like a crime of retail theft versus murder, it’s probably still a class A misdemeanor or class, C felony or whatever. but he probably doesn’t deserve to be put on death row. Right? What is the work that he needs to do before he can gain that acceptance, that freedom, that trust back
Julia: And what is your answer?
Christian: My answer is only he knows that. He has to do the work . I don’t know if that’s education. I don’t know if that’s — it has to be genuine, I guess is what I’m saying. I don’t know what that means for him. But he has the ability to influence people. And maybe if part of that influence is being genuine on stage in his comedy routine to address these things, then maybe we should allow him onstage to do that. Because maybe that’s how he impacts people the most.
Julia: I think that’s a big part of it. Is being sorry, versus being sorry that you got caught.
Julia: And then beyond that, okay, I really am sorry, and now I’m going to reflect. like what that security guard at your high school asked you to do: what brought you to that place? But that’s a deeper level. And the farther down that path of personal reflection a person is allowed to go, in my opinion, the greater is the redemption that should be given to that person.
Christian: There should be scrutiny, right? people need to be held accountable. they can’t just say, I’m sorry, I’m going to do a little bit of work, do my community service, and then I’m going to go live my life and never think about it.
Julia: And what does that look like? What does scrutiny and accountability look like?
Christian: I think families can hold people accountable. I mean, the same way we hold people accountable who are alcoholics or drug abusers. When we see them going back to those behaviors – if we care about them, we intervene and we say, I’m concerned. I don’t like that. Get back – here’s the path forward, not that one.
Julia: What would be a toe into the water again? if somebody that you would say, I’ve gotten this person out of the hate movement – what to you would be a gateway behavior? That would indicate they’re certainly not like full on in it, but Ooh, that’s not a good sign.
Christian: And are we talking just about extremist quote unquote behavior in general, which could mean sexual assault?
Julia: Sure, take it broadly.
Christian: The warning signs are the same across the board. It’s the same thing we tell parents. If your kid is withdrawn, if your kid is lonely or if that adult is isolated or – and I say kids, but this applies to everybody. If they change their behavior suddenly. If they go from very low self esteem and low self confidence to an extreme jump, then that that means that they’ve somehow been empowered in ways that they’re not comfortable sharing with you, but it’s still empowers them. like they found a movement and they don’t want to tell their parents what they’re involved in, but all of a sudden they’re more confident than they ever was.
It’s the same with drugs, behavior changes. groups of influencers change and isolation occurs even more so than before. Isolation is what pulls people to those movements and marginalization to some degree. But what they don’t recognize is once they’re a part of those movements, they’re actually more marginalized and more alienated than they ever were before. They’re just surrounded now by this warm blanket that is toxic.
so, you know, the warning signs are: marginalized, lonely, broken, pothole-ridden, insecure. because an extremist behavior could be like, I’m going to just do drugs to self medicate my pain. Or I’m going to commit suicide to self medicate my pain, or I’m going to hurt somebody else to self medicate my pain.
Julia: I also find myself wondering is on that kind of boomerang, of – what we’re describing is somebody who’s been in the far end of extremist behavior. Once their potholes get filled and they are awakened and they kind of boomerang kind of to the far end. I mean, maybe not quite the to the extent that you have, but they kind of become a full on really good person.
Christian: Or a full on bad person on the complete opposite end of the spectrum,
Julia: at least not being hateful, right?
Christian: I call that cult hopping. And it’s a behavior and a phenomenon that I’ve noticed – again, because people are searching for identity, community, and purpose and not ideologies. they will jump from one extreme to the other, that they will go from being an extreme far right Nazi to being an extreme far left anti Nazi. And I’m not in that boat. Like, of course I’m anti Nazi, but I wouldn’t call myself like a militant —
Julia: Would that be like Antifa?
Christian: Potentially. I’ve definitely seen people go back and forth. And I’ve also seen Antifa go to Nazis. it really is about this cult hopping. people are searching for identity, community, and purpose. it’s about repairing those potholes, but it’s also about replacing the identity, community and purpose with something positive.
`If you don’t – you can take somebody out of a Nazi group or make somebody stop raping women, but they’ll probably go into some other really nasty behavior, you know? so it really is about —
Julia: Again, the safety and replacing it with something positive. That’s where like, okay, I’m no longer filled with fear and uncertainty and self doubt and a feeling of worthlessness. And now I’m filled with a feeling of safety and a certainty that I am supported and that I am loved, and that it’s not, I’m not loved for what I do, but for who I am.
Christian: And I have agency and I can contribute, and I am now, you know, worth something, or at least they’re telling me, so.
Yeah. It could be a dangerous thing. I’m still a recruiter. You know, I was a recruiter 30 years ago. I’m still a recruiter. I still look for vulnerable people, and I still promise them paradise, except now I deliver. try anyway.
Julia: On that note – I could continue talking to you forever and ever. but you’ve got important work to be doing in the world.
Christian: Well this is important too. So thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Julia: Of course, yes. It’s been a very interesting conversation, thought provoking.
Of course. Thank you.
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In this episode Julia interviews Daniel Epstein, a lawyer and former candidate for the Illinois Supreme Court.
Daniel and Julia discussed a number of the shortcomings of our current criminal justice system – especially in Illinois, but also around the country – as well as specific recommendations for reforming them. They discussed everything from cash bail to the widespread use of private arbitration courts and NDA’s.
As the conversation turned to a discussion of how to implement transformative justice inside of American workplaces, Daniel had a number of interesting recommendations.
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On today’s episode of Solving #MeToo, I am interviewing Daniel Epstein – a lawyer, and a man who was a candidate for the Illinois Supreme court that election happened on March 17th of 2020. As I’m putting the final touches on this interview today for publication, we are now in mid-April of 2020. But at the time of this interview [in December 2019], Daniel was a candidate for the Illinois Supreme court.
It was a fascinating conversation because Daniel is well known for his progressive ideas about the law and criminal justice system and the judiciary. And the campaign that he was running was anti-racist and anti-corruption in ways that are very exciting. And he has a lot of ideas about how to reform our judiciary and our criminal justice system such that people receive actual justice. Particularly, women who are the victims of workplace sexual discrimination, assault and harassment.
A lot of what our conversation focused on was various ways that the law and the courts are flawed.
One thing we talked about, for example, is cash bail. And here in Chicago we have a State’s Attorney by the name of Kim Foxx, who has done a tremendous amount to reform the cash bail system here in cook County. And it’s made a big positive impact. She recently won her primary race, in March, but she’s got a Republican opponent in the general election in November. So that’s an important race to be watching out for as far as reforming cash bail. And Daniel and I in this interview talk quite a bit about why cash bail is such a problem and why it is really antithetical to justice.
And then we of course transitioned into talking about implementing transformative justice in corporate America. And I asked him, if you had a magic wand, what would we need to change in order that women could receive justice consistently?
His very first answer was about victim opt-in. He said in not so many words, we have to center the victim. That is an important aspect of any conversation about reforming the problems of workplace discrimination, harassment, and assault in corporate America. Or not just in corporate America, all workplaces in America.
But the problem with centering the victim is that, as Daniel himself said, maybe the victims want retribution. I fundamentally therefore question the idea of whether to center the victim.
Yes, of course we need to center the victim insofar as we acknowledge the truth of what happened to her. Or him, sometimes it’s a him. We can’t keep covering it up or insisting that abuse and discrimination isn’t happening. And we can’t continue minimizing the impact or maybe worst of all, blaming the victim for what happened to her. Or, him. we can’t keep saying that she somehow chose to be victimized or allowed it to happen. We absolutely must elevate the harm that is being done.
However, that’s not the same thing in my opinion as saying that we need to give the victims the power to decide what consequences should befall the perpetrator. Why should that be up to the harmed person?
For example, if two different women are murdered by their husbands, let’s say in a domestic violence situation, and the family of one woman finds their way to forgiveness while the other woman’s family demands retribution. Is it fair in that situation that the court in the first example should be more lenient than in the second? Should one murderer get a lighter sentence than the other murderer just because one murderer’s family is less vengeful than the other?
And that’s of course an extreme, but that’s fundamentally what we’re talking about when we say it has to be up to the victim, what does the victim want to get out of this situation? Well, what that leads to is what I just said. We’ll get consequences that are all over the board if it’s left up to individual victims.
And the answer that we often give as to why should it be up to the victim, or the victim’s family, is that the victim needs to feel whole. Right? She’s been harmed. Great injustice has been inflicted upon her. It’s now the highest priority to make her feel whole again.
But is it true that the victim’s healing – or restoration to wholeness – requires that the person who hurt her be punished? That since he hurt her, now he must be hurt? And does that really foster healing for the victim?
And I should acknowledge right at this point that of course, while women rarely see justice in examples of workplace discrimination, harassment, and assault, and also in our criminal justice system where they allege assault and rape and other things, women rarely see justice. And perhaps even more rarely do women see their need for healing be elevated, right? We never talk about bringing forth resources to activate healing – for victims or even for perpetrators, frankly. So for me to sit here and say that we should be focusing on victims’ healing rather than punishment of the perpetrators, I understand that that can sound completely pie in the sky.
And especially for people who have been in the trenches with these issues for years or even decades, what I’m saying can be hard to hear because it sounds so far out of reach. It sounds so in opposition to quote unquote, the real world.
And in fact, that very discussion came up in my interview with Sharmili Majmudar, an EVP at Women Employed, a women’s employment advocacy group. And you can hear that conversation in a future episode of this podcast. In fact, I might even publish it next. She took the position that for so many millions of women over so many years, men have just simply gotten away with the abuse. And so we had a whole conversation about that.
But what I’m suggesting overall with this podcast is, what if men no longer got away with it? What would a system look like that held guilty parties accountable for what they’ve done? One which reformed the systems that allowed him to get away with it in the first place. And then one which fostered healing – of course for victims, but even for perpetrators. What would that system look like?
And that’s one of the questions that I posed to Daniel Epstein, and he had some interesting answers to that question. In what ways would the system need to change?
So I invite you to take a listen to our conversation. I do hope that you enjoyed it every bit as much as I did.
And as always, if you’d like to participate in the conversation, you can email me feedback@SolvingMeToo.com. You can come to the Facebook group and there’s a link in the show notes for that, and you can come to the website, SolvingMeToo.com and make a comment on the blog post for this episode. We’re also on Instagram and Twitter with #TheSMTpodcast and #SolvingMeToo.
Julia: Daniel, thank you so much for making some time to come on the air.
Daniel: Oh, it’s my honor. Thank you so much for having me.
Julia: So I always like to start by giving our audience a little bit of an idea of who they’re listening to. what can you tell us about what brought you to this place in your life? What is the personal backstory and the professional experiences to the extent that they’re relevant, that have really kind of shaped you and made you be the person who cares about the things that you do today?
Daniel: Yeah. So I’m an attorney like you said, and I was serving clients in the Supreme court of the United States and more than a dozen jurisdictions across the country. I was working at a law firm called Jenner and Block, which handles some of the biggest cases in the world, most complex cases in the world, but more importantly is known as being the number one law firm for pro bono service in the country.
I did an enormous amount of pro bono work while I was there. So much so that I like to say to either had to fire me or give me an award, because I couldn’t have been making them much money. And luckily they chose the latter.
Julia: Yeah. You did get an award, did you not? For your pro bono.
Daniel: Yeah. I got the Jenner pro bono award for exceptional legal service to the vulnerable.
It was from my work in all kinds of courts and all kinds of contexts -helping to earn a man his freedom after 17 years after being found guilty based on a judge’s whim, rather than evidence; getting an emergency order of protection for a woman who was being abused by her boyfriend, and then eventually a plenary order of protection for her; immigration work, all kinds of work.
But it was actually this one case that I had that got me into this campaign. It was defending an individual accused of attempted murder here in cook County. My job was to take on the DNA evidence portion of the case. I had kind of developed a reputation as being someone who could understand and handle science issues, so I was thrown at this part. My job was to learn everything I could about the DNA and to mount his defense. And what I found was that the state was actually using a faulty DNA machine.
Daniel: Pretty heavy. So, DNA evidence is the best evidence we’ve got when it’s done well. it finds people who we wouldn’t have found otherwise, who have committed crimes, and would have gotten away with it had it not been for DNA. It has proven people innocent who were found guilty wrongfully, it’s exonerated them. And it’s also proved that people will plead guilty to things that they didn’t do. DNA evidence, when done well, is amazing.
But the DNA evidence is performed by humans. And humans are fallible. And in this case, the human that was supposed to be calibrating the DNA machine, the DNA analyst for the state, failed to do so properly. And so it was producing false results. Which is pretty disturbing, right? Troubling for my client, but troubling also for who knows how many other people.
But I thought, we’re going to go to trial and I’ll put that DNA analyst on the witness stand and I’ll cross examine him and we’ll expose it. We’ll shine a light on it and after the trial, they’ll have to retrain that analyst. They’ll have to fix the machine. No one else will be hurt by this. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
I did a little bit more research and what I found out was that in Illinois, our forensic labs are entitled to extra funds if they produce an analysis in a case, if it ends in conviction.
Daniel: And I found out that in Illinois, our courts are entitled to extra funds if they convict. Real problem. Real problem, but I thought, we’ll go to trial. I’ll expose that and we’ll make the world a better place, one case at a time. That’s kind of why I became a lawyer. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But that’s not how it worked. What actually ended up happening was we went back in the judge’s chambers under something called Illinois Supreme Court Rule 402 – and I’ll tell you a little bit more about Supreme court rules in a minute – but these 402 conferences are like a preview of the trial.
So you go back behind the courtroom and the state tells the judge, Hey judge, this is what we’re going to show at trial. And we say, judge, this is what we’re going to show at trial. And then the judge thinks about it and says, all right, based on what you’ve told me, if I were to convict, I think an appropriate sentence would be 70-something years.
And then you back out into the hall and the prosecutor pulls you to the side and says, all right, you heard the man. 70-something years. But if you plead guilty, I’ll ask for 20-something. And so our guy has to decide, do I assert my constitutional right to a trial and defend myself and risk dying in prison, or do I take the plea? And he takes the plea. And that ends the case.
What that means is I don’t get to put the DNA analyst on the witness stand, and I don’t get to expose the bad machine, and I don’t get to expose the systemic funding issues. All that information disappears. And I wondered, how common is it for that to happen? And in Illinois, in 2017, 97.4% of all felony convictions were guilty pleas. 97.4%.That is a lot of disappearing information.
Daniel: But it solved a puzzle for me, which was this: how does John Burge do it for 20 years? John Burge was a Chicago police commander who electrocuted people and tortured people and helped to falsely convict people. And he got away with it for 20 years. Him and his cronies. And I understand how someone gets away with something once or twice, but I never understood how an officer of the law could get away with that for 20 years.
And this is how it happens. Because you can’t expose patterns of misconduct if nothing makes the record. And this relates directly to what we’re going to be talking about a little bit, which is, how do you stop serial abusers?
The first step is figuring out that they’re committing serial abuse. And there are processes in place that can help us do that, and we already do them in some contexts. It’s called discovery. In civil cases, when money is on the line, we do it. Depositions, interrogatories … Depositions are where you get sworn testimony on the record before a trial; interrogatories are where you get written testimony on the record before a trial.
We do that in civil cases when money is on the line. We don’t do it in criminal cases when a human life is on the line. And there’s a huge price to pay because it buries information that we need to improve ourselves as a society. It buries information about bad DNA machines, about DNA analysts who are performing poorly and about serial abusers, whether they wear a badge or they sit in a CEO’s office.
The Illinois Supreme Court writes the rules that determine how discovery works. They write the rules that determine whether we find out information and get it on the public record before a trial. Which is important because we don’t go to trial very much because we do so many guilty pleas.
So the Illinois Supreme court isn’t just a case decider. It’s actually a policy making body. It writes the rules of procedure, the rules of evidence, the rules of ethics. It determines things like design standards of courthouses, data and technological infrastructure that has an impact on access to justice and on and on and on. It actually has a massive policy making power.
And that’s really what brought me to this campaign because I saw that policymaking power being unused or misused in ways that were burying information that we need to protect ourselves from serial abusers like John Burge.
Julia: So I want to ask you two clarifying questions and then pick up on the thread of where you’re going. The first one is, is Illinois unique in this way or do most States in the country have a Supreme Court that functions as a policy making body as well as a case deciding body?
Daniel: Yeah. So Illinois is unique and not unique. It’s not unique in that it has policy making power. Supreme courts across the country write rules of procedure, evidence and ethics. The Supreme court of the United States does it as well. They write all the federal rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure and evidence and what have you.
But Illinois is unique in one regard, which is that they are really the final word on these rules in many instances. So, let me get a little wonky for a moment. The Supreme court of the United States writes the rules and procedure for the Federal courts, right? But they do that through the authority of Congress. Congress passed a law called the Rules Enabling Act that gives them the power to write those rules. Which means that if Congress passes a law that’s in conflict with the Supreme Court’s rules, Congress’s law wins.
In Illinois, it’s flipped. The Illinois Supreme court has interpreted our own state constitution to give it rule making authority directly from the [state] constitution, as opposed to from the [state] legislature. And what that means is if the [Illinois state] legislature passes a law that’s in conflict with the [Illinois] Supreme court’s rules, the Supreme court’s rules win. So Illinois is unique in that sometimes to get a rule changed, the [Illinois] Supreme court is the only place you can do it.
And this has panned out in real life. So let me give you an example just to kind of bring it to life, which is in Illinois, when a judge convicts and sentences you, they don’t have to provide a reason or an explanation. They say “Guilty. 25 years, next case,” they don’t have to explain how they got 25 years.
That’s a big problem because sentencing is an error prone process. People make mistakes all the time. And if they don’t explain on the record the way that they got the sentence that they did, it’s effectively impossible to get it fixed on appeal.
So the legislature, years ago, passed a law trying to fix that. They said, “all right, if you’re going to sentence someone to a felony, you have to explain on the record how you got the reason or the sentence that you did.” It’s called the statement of reasons. And the Illinois Supreme court said, “No, no, no, no. You don’t get to fix this rule. Only we get to fix this rule.” And they invalidated it. But then they didn’t fix the rule. And so it’s still this way.
So, Illinois is not unique in that it’s high court has policy making authority. It is fairly unique in that it is the final word with respect to much of that authority.
Julia: I want to ask you a follow-up question to that, which gets into your dissenters who are basically saying, who the heck do you think you are to come along and change this? Right? I want to ask that question.
But then another clarifying question, going back to what you were saying before about how in Illinois 97.4%, I think you said was the number?
Daniel: In 2017 97.4% of all felony convictions were guilty pleas. Yeah.
Julia: is Illinois unique in that area too? Or across the country, are the vast majority of felony convictions, plea deals?
Daniel: Basically across the country, it is in that kind of 93 to 97% range. it’s very high. It’s very high.
Julia: Because this issue got quite a bit of exposure a couple of years ago at Rikers, when there was that very high-profile case of the young man who was accused of a crime. And if I’m not mistaken, it comes to find out later that he was completely falsely accused. He had absolutely nothing to do with it. He was totally in prison for the wrong reasons.
And he ended up spending three years in jail, awaiting a trial, because the court system in New York is so backlogged, they couldn’t do anything about it. And because we effectively have debtor’s prison in this country – because the only way that you can get out of jail while you’re awaiting your trial is to pay bond – and a whole lot of poor people, they don’t have $5,000. Some of them don’t have $500 to get out of jail.
And so this young man, because he didn’t have the money to get out of jail, he had not been convicted of anything. He was innocent until proven guilty. And yet he spent three years in Rikers, a big chunk of that in solitary confinement. Because he absolutely refused to take a plea deal. He said, I am not freaking guilty. I am not going to take a plea and have this hanging over my head with the rest of my life. And it did finally get to court. It did finally get thrown out. The young man was released and something like six months later, he killed himself because – presumably, because of all the torment that he had gone through.
So this issue certainly has gotten a lot of exposure. So I wanted to clarify that it is in fact a nationwide problem. And you said that it is.
Daniel: And actually if you get a chance to listen to Robin Steinberg’s Ted talk on the bail project, it’s worth listening to. One of the things she mentioned is she talks about this extraordinarily high rate at which people plead guilty if they’re lingering in jail pending their trial. But when they bail people out, about 50% of their cases end up getting dismissed altogether. So the difference between whether you are out and can participate in your own defense and aren’t being exhausted by lingering in jail pending your trial, it makes a huge difference. It goes directly to the merits in some cases.
And it forces us to reckon with the question of how many of these guilty pleas are merited or not. And how many of them are just the consequence of people being exhausted by sitting in jail. And unable to participate in their own defense?
Julia: Yeah. And of course, institutionalized racism plays a huge factor in that because for all kinds of reasons, unfortunately, African-Americans are more likely to be in poverty on a percentage basis than white Americans are. And because it is poverty that in many cases causes people to be unable to get out of jail, it means that black folks are facing this conundrum at higher rates than white folks are. And so black folks are receiving these guilty convictions, based upon a plea, at far higher rates than white folks are. And so it’s a viciously compounding cycle.
Daniel: Right. Then you have collateral consequences of having something on your record and it makes it more difficult even to participate as a witness in cases down the road. And I mean, it’s a disaster. It’s a disaster. It’s a solvable one. We can end cash bail. Other jurisdictions have already done it.
The Illinois Supreme court plays a role in that. That’s one of the things I’m advocating for. we’re not condemned to this fate. People in jurisdictions where cash bail has been ended, people come to court at the exact same rate. The only difference is less people in jail. We can do it. We can kind of have our cake and eat it too.
Julia: Yeah, that’d be amazing. So that kind of leads me into the next question, which is, what makes you think that we can do it? And what makes you the man to do it? Some of your detractors talk about how you’re this whippersnapper that comes along wanting to tell everybody how they’ve been doing it wrong for so long. Like he’s the only one that knows anything. So speak to that for a moment.
Daniel: Yeah. So for your listeners, I’m 34 years old, I’ll be 35 when the seat changes. There are eight candidates in my race, and I’m the youngest by about 35 years. If I get elected, I’d be the youngest on the court in about 101 years – in exactly 101 years – since Floyd Thompson was on the court. He was a 31-year-old when he joined the bench. And he actually came from the same law firm that I came from. I work down the hall from his great granddaughter.
Julia: Oh wow. Interesting.
Daniel: But here’s the really interesting thing. At 35, which is the age I’d be when the seat changes, I’d be the oldest justice on the bench if this were the first Illinois Supreme court. So things have changed. it used to be that our court was quite young. and over time it’s kind of crept up. So I’m not breaking any records, at my age.
But at the end of the day, this is about ideas, right? The people who criticize me can criticize me based on superficial things like age. But they can’t criticize me based on ideas, because all my cards are on the table there. And nobody has come at me saying that they’re bad or wrong. they just have been completely silent on these issues.
And look, my view is, we know right now that there are people who are sitting in jail who have been deemed safe to return to the community who are presumed innocent, but who linger there because they don’t have enough cash to afford bail. I don’t think silence is acceptable on that issue.
We know that right now we’re vulnerable to conflicts of interest in judicial corruption. I don’t think that silence is responsible on that. We know that right now we’re vulnerable to racist jury selection and biased sentencing. I just don’t think we have the moral right to remain silent on these issues.
And to the extent that people want to criticize me based on superficial things, they can go ahead. But at the end of the day, this is about the ideas for change to make our justice system better. And I’m happy to engage in dialogue with anyone who wants to engage on the ideas.
So if you’re a person who wants a better justice system tomorrow than we have today, I’m dismayed to tell you, you have one choice in this election. I wish it weren’t so, but we’re the only ones who are talking about the policymaking power of the court. And it’s innovative and it’s a cutting-edge kind of campaign. But it shouldn’t be. This should be the norm. If we’re going to give power to the court to do these things – and in many cases, exclusive power – then it’s really important that folks talk about it, and that we get this stuff out front. Because the reason some of these injustices persist is because they’re hiding in the shadows and because people aren’t talking about them.
Julia: So I want to draw a parallel between what you’re talking about and the #MeToo movement because the next push back against what you just said is, yeah well, if it was so easy to make these changes that you’re talking about, how come nobody has done it before you?
And that very question or argument brings to mind, to me, the Harvey Weinstein revelations. Sexual harassment and assault were pretty much just taken as a given in American workplaces until the moment that it was not. And I feel as though in some ways, you are catalyzing a similar moment in the judiciary. Or, your campaign and hopeful election has the potential to catalyze a similar transition. Do you see it at all that way? Do you get the parallel that I’m making here?
Daniel: Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the things I’ve been saying is this isn’t just a political campaign, this is an education campaign. Because one of the really big things that we’re trying to change is people’s expectations of what courts do. People’s understanding of what they can and should be demanding from their judges and their courts.
My view of democratic change and institutional change is one in which the people who are served by the institution have to understand what to be asking for and what to be demanding. If we start to change that, I think that’s not just something that’s about one seat. I think that’s about wholescale sustainable reform, whether it comes to the courts or whether it comes to the workplace.
That’s kind of what’s gone on in the last handful of years in the workplace. People are saying, no, we can expect something better. We’re not condemned to having to put up with this garbage. Look at how big of a change that’s made. It’s really about changing expectations. And It starts with one.
Julia: It is. And it’s also about being able to articulate clearly what we do want. One of the primary goals with this podcast is to explicitly articulate what it is that we do want. How do we want women to be treated in the workplace? How do we want men to view women? How do we want women to recognize and act from their own authentic personal power? How do we want men to recognize and act from their own authentic personal power? Not this false toxic form of masculinity and power that causes some men to exert themselves and force themselves on people in a way that’s not true power. It’s force and it’s manipulation and it’s harm.
And you’re saying the same things as far as what we expect from our court. What do we want? We’re articulating affirmative statements of this is how it should be. Rather than simply complaining about the suckiness that went before, we are articulating affirmative statements about this is how it should be.
Because that’s how change really happens, is people need to be offered something to grow into, something to feel into, to believe into. People need to be able to say, Oh, right. That’s what I expect. Oh, look at this – a human being CAN run a 4-minute mile because we have now seen one happen. Oh, I get it – I can now ask for a $250,000 salary, even though I am only a 33-year-old woman, because the woman before me did so.
We need to have these affirmative examples of what we can live into, not just a whiny, complainy troublemaker stance of what we no longer want to see happen.
Daniel: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Setting a, a goal, and a well-defined one, is huge in making people understand what they can and should – and shouldn’t – accept as normal. It’s hard to complain or advocate for change or agitate for change if you’re bathed in this culture of believing that something is normal. Right? And that’s something that I’m experiencing now.
One of the questions you asked is, how is this young whippersnapper gonna make change? Why hasn’t it been done? If it’s so easy, why hasn’t it been done already? And I’d say a number of things.
One is, I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m just saying it’s doable. But there are seven justices on the Illinois Supreme court, and in order to make some of the rule changes that I’m talking about, you need to get four to agree to that change. And many of these rules that I’m trying to change haven’t been changed yet. And so there’s a question, which is, how do you get people to agree to that rule change? You need at least three people to go along with you.
There’s a British poet who put this pretty well. He’s a guy named GK Chesterton and he said, “The terrible thing about all legal officials, all lawyers, all police, all judges, all detectives, is not that they’re wicked. Many of them are good. It’s not that they’re stupid. Several of them are quite clever. It’s simply that they’ve gotten used to it. They no longer see the prisoner in the dock. They just see the usual man in the usual place.”
I think that’s kind of what’s going on. These changes haven’t been made, not because the people on the court are wicked or unintelligent. On the contrary, I think they’re just very, very used to it. I think it’s important that in all contexts, whether it be our courts or our workplaces, we take stock of what we’ve grown used to. And we take intentional steps to make sure that they’re justifiable or not. And if they’re not, then we need to make change. And sometimes the best folks to be able to make change are outsiders who haven’t grown used to it. And that’s workplace, that’s courts. That’s everywhere.
Julia: So let me ask you this question then. I want to ask you to explicitly describe and paint for us your vision of – and I’d like to ask you to stay focused on the question of how we create greater justice for people bringing forth claims of workplace sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault.
And taking it as a given, as I do, that justice is actually not typical in those situations – that women are so often met with a lack of justice in a whole variety of ways when they bring forth claims of sexual assault and workplace harassment and even workplace discrimination. If you had a magic wand and you could just enact change, what would you describe as the couple of key circumstances or laws or procedures or mindsets or groups of people that need to be changed? In the law, in the criminal justice system, in order to allow justice to prevail 98% of the time.
Daniel: Yeah. Great question. So it’s pretty typical that the kind of claims that you’re talking about end up being civil claims. They actually don’t go through the criminal justice system at all. Let’s start with criminal justice though, because that’s the area where we can make the most progress, I think.
So if we’re talking about —
Julia: I’m sorry let me pause before you do. Some listeners might not really clearly understand the distinction between civil and criminal in this context.
Daniel: In a criminal claim, the victim is no longer a party to the case. The state is the party to the case, and they’re alleging that a crime was committed by the defendant. And the consequence can be jail time sometimes. For example, for a sexual assault, the consequences can be jail time. And it’s the state versus the alleged offender.
In a civil claim, the alleged victim is a party to the case. They are the one bringing the lawsuit. And typically it’s money at stake. It can also be something called an injunction, which requires specific activity or for someone to refrain from specific activity, but there’s no jail time at the end of it.
Julia: Okay, great. Thank you.
Daniel: But the easy way to distinguish it – criminal, typically jail time at the end of it, or punishment along those lines. Civil, typically a payment – money – at the end of it.
So if there’s a sexual assault, and someone is alleging a crime, then the really interesting thing is all of a sudden, there is much less opportunity to get information on the public record prior to the trial. Because our rules of discovery in criminal cases are very narrow. And if it were simply that issue, then it wouldn’t be such a big problem. But that combines with the fact that we actually go to trial very seldom; and in fact, push a lot of cases to guilty pleas such that they never get a trial —
Julia: And so all of this goes back to exactly what you’re describing at the beginning of our conversation. If talking about a break-in – a robbery – the same factors are at play when you’re talking about a sexual assault.
Daniel: Right. And so if you’re not putting information on the public record, you’re not really helping to understand what’s going on. Someone might get a record of a conviction that says they’ve pled guilty to a sexual assault at some point in their life. But it doesn’t necessarily give you details or information about how that happened. And so you’re not bubbling up truth that people can understand and respond to. And you’re not providing information that is really helpful, or as helpful as it could be.
So one of the things that I think we need to do is provide discovery in criminal cases that allows people to understand the underlying conduct at issue and the investigation that followed it. That’s a big important thing.
From a civil standpoint —
Julia: And I’m sorry, before you move into civil, explain again – because I’m having a hard time grasping it, so I’m sure our listeners are as well. Explain what exactly is it that is currently preventing discovery like what you’re talking about. Because we all watch movies, we watch Law and Order and we’re accustomed to like, you go to a deposition, you do discovery. That happens. What are you talking about Daniel Epstein? How is it that discovery isn’t happening? We see on TV that discovery happens all the time. So, what are you talking about?
Daniel: Yeah. So there’s two models for how cases proceed. And the old model was one that relied on this idea of trial by ambush. It says, the best way to achieve truth, to find out what’s going on, is to dump all of your information on the table and all of your arguments on the table at trial.
And the reason you do that – ambush the defendant or ambush the state – with all of your best information and arguments at trial, is that Perry Mason moment. “Aha. But where were you on the night of Friday the 12th?” That’s one model. And the reason that It was designed that way was so that basically people couldn’t plan their lies. The idea was if you put your information, your arguments, on the table before the trial, people are just going to be able to speak to other folks that they can get to give alibis. You can coordinate, you can prepare to lie.
And so that’s the model that essentially we have in our criminal cases where, with few exceptions, information comes to light for the first time just before trial or at trial itself.
In civil cases, it’s different. There’s a long process before you even get to trial, called discovery. And that’s where you get to discover information that relates to the case and put it on the public record in many cases and even interrogate some of that information. If one of the parties says they have a witness to a specific incident – let’s say an incident of sexual harassment – then you might get to depose the individual witness and get their story and probe it and make sure that it’s legit. That’s super important because it gets information on the record and it helps promote the integrity of the proceeding. and the efficiency.
Julia: And so in civil proceedings, do people just come to court filled with lies because they have had access to the deposition ahead of time?
Daniel: [chuckling] No, I don’t think that’s what we’re finding out. I can’t give you a number as to how often it is that people lie, but my sense is that it’s not that people are suddenly organizing their lies for civil cases. it’s a pretty difficult thing to do, especially because you’re going through cross-examination. It is hard to lie in the face of a cross examination and get away with it. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s not the thing to be feared of, that I think the original trial by ambush model was designed to prevent.
Julia: So we can extrapolate from that, that in a criminal case, if you were to put all of your depositions, all your discovery, on the table ahead of trial in a similar fashion, it would not tend to obscure truth at the trial. Which is why you’re advocating for discovery to happen a lot more in criminal cases.
Daniel: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And this is a policy change that has been made in other States, by the way. Florida, Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, I know all have depositions in criminal cases. there very well could be more, those are just the ones that I’m aware of.
But it ain’t a disaster there, right? So it’s not to say that because it exists elsewhere that it is justified. But we do it in all of our civil cases. When moneyed interests are on the line, when people with billions and billions of dollars get to choose their forum, they choose forums that provide for discovery often.
And so there’s reason to believe that it is more likely to result in fairness and truth. And that the reason that we don’t have it in criminal cases now is mostly just because the people who are at the end of it are largely disenfranchised individuals.
So that’s a big area where we can improve. There’s a second area, which is in civil cases. even in civil cases where you have discovery, there’s still room for improvement. And actually this is some work that I’ve already done, through the creation of an online court of arbitration.
So courts of arbitration are like private courts. We’re seeing them more and more in civil cases. People are choosing to go to courts of arbitration rather than to our state civil courts or federal civil courts. and there are a number of different reasons for that.
One is just the time and expense of going to a government court. It can take a very, very long time. It can be very, very expensive. And so, sophisticated litigants are oftentimes choosing instead to go to arbitration where they get a little bit more control over the pace and price of the case. So that’s kind of a background.
But there’s a problem with our courts of arbitration, which is that they are private and sometimes have been used to bury information. When you go to a government court, the proceedings are public unless they’re sealed or redacted for certain reasons. But in courts of arbitration, typically the proceedings are private.
So let’s say that an employer and an employee have an employment agreement, a contract. And in that contract, it says that any disputes springing from the employment – including sexual harassment, sexual assault, these kinds of things, sexual discrimination – shall be carried out in a court of arbitration. And typically, the employer is going to give this very long contract and they’re going to be the ones who decide which court of arbitration they’re going to use, because there’s a bunch to choose from.
So one of the things that they are likely to do is send it to a court of arbitration where the proceedings will be private. The result of that is that if someone sues based on sexual harassment or sexual assault, they may be prohibited from talking about it, and the information in the proceedings may never come to light. So that’s a big problem.
Julia: And if I’m not mistaken, the individual who is going through arbitration with the company might herself receive justice, might receive a payment, might receive something that’s beneficial for her. But there is no possibility for the big sweeping changes to be brought in, the way it happens in a public court, because nobody else knows that it’s happening.
And quite frankly, the other women at the same company who are experiencing the same behavior don’t get the benefit of finding out that one of their colleagues is experiencing it too. So every single woman who’s being harassed or assaulted at a given company perpetuates the falsehood that she is the only one. And she continues laboring under that false belief that it’s only happening to her. And it could be that there’s 15 different women going through private arbitration and none of them know about each other.
Daniel: That’s right. That’s right. So there could be patterns of misconduct, patterns of abuse that we’re failing to uncover because there is this kind of structural impediment. So we’re not going to get rid of arbitration. it has too many advantages and it’s come too far to do that.
And so rather than try and get rid of arbitration, what I decided to do with some friends and eventual co-founders was to create our own court of arbitration, one in which you couldn’t bury that information. We created an online dispute resolution platform, and I wrote the rules for that platform. And one of the rules that I wrote is that the court will not accept cases alleging a breach of a nondisclosure agreement, in which people talk about their sexual assault or sexual harassment.
The way that the information gets buried is it combines a nondisclosure agreement or a confidential settlement with the court of arbitration. So the proceedings in the court of arbitration are private, and there’s a provision in the contract that says you can’t talk about it. And what we did is, I wrote rules that said, well, if someone talks about it, you can’t sue them here. and in fact, you have to go to a public court to do it.
Julia: So why would any company choose your court of arbitration then to do their arbitration? Because didn’t you just say a minute ago that the company chooses which court of arbitration to go to?
Daniel: Arbitration agreements are signed by both parties, so I don’t want to say that it’s just the employer that decides. But typically, when you take a new job, you get this big contract. You don’t really have a part in writing it, right?
And so somewhere buried in that contract, or even in your, you know, your iPhone contract or whatever, it’s going to have a little clause in there that says, we agree to arbitrate under the following organization’s rules and the following forum. So both parties opted into it. But in reality, the one who came up with the forum in the first place is the more sophisticated party and the one who is the repeat player, which is typically the employer.
Julia: And the one that holds all the cards. Because as you just said, you’re excited to have gotten this big fancy job and the last thing you’re going to do is turn down the job because there’s an arbitration clause that makes it disadvantageous for you, should it turn out that at this fabulous new job you’re looking forward to, you get sexually harassed and assaulted by your boss.
Daniel: Yeah. And so to answer your question, I think that there are companies out there that strive to be morally responsible. And if we’re talking about corporate social responsibility, I think that this is a part of it. People – to the extent that we can raise awareness of this issue – we can promote companies using arbitration responsibly and choosing arbitral forums that don’t bury information and that make it easier for information of serial abuse and misconduct to come to light and to not be buried.
So, I don’t know where this goes necessarily, but my hope is that in the same way that certain companies have chosen to be green and to have sexual harassment training, that some might say, “well, you know, if you have sexual harassment training, people are more likely to file claims.” Well, yeah, but it’s still the right thing to do. And my hope is that there’ll be companies that will choose moral and responsible forums like this. And so that’s something that we’ve tried to address on the civil side as well.
Julia: And so that gets into another area that I wanted to talk to you about, which is, I’ll say, a severity of consequences or a range of consequences. Because it seems to me that if you’re gonna invite a perpetrator — a company that knows that they’ve had a problem with this in the past, like they know they’ve got 15 people that have gone through arbitration for sexual harassment in the last five years, right? Or 30 or whatever the number is, right? They know they’ve got a problem.
And the only way that you’re going to induce the people who run that company – because there might be just one or three people that are committing the actual abuse. However, there’s potentially dozens who are well aware of what — That’s part of the story of Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein companies. There were all kinds of people who were complicit in what was going on.
And so if you’re going to get the leadership of a company to essentially open their books and say, “Look, we have been doing it really badly up until now. We have seen the light. We are no longer going to put up with this. We’ve weeded out one or two really atrocious apples, and now the rest of us basically want to make amends.”
We as a society, as a culture, as a legal system, in my opinion, have to create a pathway for people to be able to do that without getting their own nuts in a sling, so to speak. There has to be some sort of a pathway to leniency, at the very least, if not outright — what’s the word, when you let someone off the hook? There’s a word for it.
Julia: Yeah, sure. We can use that. If there isn’t outright exoneration, sure.
It’s a question that I have discussed with a number of other attorneys because it’s my big idea that what companies need to undergo is essentially a truth and reconciliation process, similar to what Nelson Mandela heralded in South Africa to end apartheid.
And there were lots of problems with the truth and reconciliation process. Lots of South Africans today feel as though it was just terrible, the way these horrible human rights violators got off scott-free. And they feel as though that was a real miscarriage of justice that that happened. And also I am not trying to equate workplace sexual harassment with the magnitude of the atrocities that occurred under apartheid. However, I think that there is something to be learned from comparing the two and from suggesting to companies that they undergo a similar process.
Since the first step is for a company to basically throw open the doors of their HR department and say, okay, victims, come forth and tell us everything that’s ever happened to you and there’s definitely going to be no career dings against you. We’re not gonna fail to promote you, we’re not gonna call you a troublemaker, there’ll be no consequences for you for coming forward.
And also perpetrators, and people who are complicit – we want you to come forth too and tell us what you know. Who did you give penis injections to before he met with a new intern? What kinds of private hotel rooms did you arrange and who walked into them? come forth and tell us these things.
And every attorney I’ve ever talked to about this says well, obviously you can’t do that because you’re getting people to walk in and confess to a crime. You know that that’s not going to work.
So. Mr. Epstein, with all your big, fancy ideas about reform, how do we do this? What could happen? Or again, going back to my earlier question about if you had a magic wand and you could just wave a magic wand and make it be so, what would need to happen in order for some kind of a process like this to be workable inside of a corporation? What would need to happen in order to make something like this at all feasible?
Daniel: Yeah. So the good news is that there is kind of a model for this, right here in Cook County actually.
Julia: The restorative justice court of cook county, right?
Daniel: Exactly, exactly. Restorative Justice Community Court. Let me give you the very short answer first, which is the thing that we need is victim opt-in. Whether we want truth and reconciliation is, I think, first and foremost a question for victims, right? It’s not for non-victims to say that they need to accept that. Maybe they want retribution. And that’s for them to decide.
Julia: Maybe victims want retribution.
Daniel: Right. And that’s really for them to decide. Because if we’re talking about a restoration, if we’re talking about reconciliation, that’s something that first and foremost has to be the decision of the victim. If they don’t want to reconcile, then I don’t think that there’s necessarily a path for it. But, to the extent that they do want to reconcile – to the extent that they do want to be restored themselves in ways that our traditional systems don’t allow for – we should create a pathway for them to opt into that path.
So let me give you an example of how this works, in our restorative justice community courts.
And just to give a little bit of background, underlying all this is the idea that sometimes restoration and retribution are at odds. Sometimes, the desire to punish those who did wrong actually makes it harder to be restored – either from the standpoint of the victim, from the standpoint of the community and from the standpoint of the alleged offender as well.
Julia: Yeah, absolutely. Which is why one of the drums that I keep beating in this podcast is the need for all of us to find our way to greater compassion and forgiveness. Whatever it is – and I’m not saying that it’s easy – but whatever it is that creates in a victim, the desire to see their perpetrator harmed, punished, that’s not a useful impulse. It’s a human impulse. It’s an understandable impulse. It’s not an easy impulse to let go of. But it’s not useful, even for the victim, to hold onto that desire for punishment, in my opinion. But please continue.
Daniel: Yeah. There’s research on this. And the research suggests that victims report better outcomes themselves when they engage in a path towards restoration, for all parties involved. But like I said, I think that’s really for victims to decide because that research was based on people who opted in. And I don’t know how it would turn out if someone didn’t opt in, but was kind of funneled into a process that was aimed toward restoration. If you have a retributivist who is funneled into a restorative process, I don’t know whether that works or not. But the good news is for those who opt into restoration, the early research suggests that outcomes are better for all involved.
Not everyone knows what restorative justice looks like. And so let’s talk about that briefly. If you watch law and order, you have kind of a sense of what a traditional court looks like, right? It’s the state versus an alleged offender, and they kind of go to battle.
Restorative justice works very differently. It starts with something called a peace circle. And a peace circle is literally what it sounds like. It is a circle, where people come and sit together, and talk. And that includes the victim who must opt into it. It includes members of the community who are impacted by the alleged offense, who must opt in. And it includes the alleged offender, who must opt in. It also includes what’s called a circle keeper, who manages the process.
And what they do is talk about what happened. The alleged offender talks about what they did. The victim talks about how it impacted them, how it hurt them. The members of the community talk about how it impacted them, how it hurt them.
And then they talk about creating a plan for restoration. First and foremost, to restore the victim. Second, to restore the community. And third, to also restore the offender.
it sounds kumbaya, right? It’s even called the peace circle, right? It sounds like some like summer camp, pipe dream kind of thing, but it just so happens to work. And that’s the bottom line for me, which is if it works, let’s do it. Particularly if it works for victims, and that seems to be the case.
Julia: Speaking of it being kumbaya, and also to me it sounds an awful lot – I personally have had no experiences with addiction for myself personally or anybody who I love, but from what I know about 12 step programs, what you’re describing sounds an awful lot like the basic process that you go through when you’re recovering from addiction, right? Same basic process, which we also, we know works, right?
Daniel: Yeah, this is a process that’s being put into place here in cook County for nonviolent offenders who are 26 or younger who are from the North Lawndale community. This is already in place and it’s having good outcomes. It’s expanding into Englewood and hopefully beyond. It’s potentially a process that could work in our corporate environments too. I think we need to figure that out.
I will say that there is a role for the Illinois Supreme court in this process. And it relates actually to this workplace part too.
So, those peace circles rely on open and forthcoming communication. The communications within those peace circles are not privileged. And what that means is, things that people say within the peace circle can be used against them in court. As a result, there’s reason for people to not be open and forthcoming.
And, my concern is that if someone says something in one of these courts – and not even necessarily the offender, it could be the victim or members of the community – that the thing that they said could be used against them in court. And if it is, then people will stop opting into the process. Or if they opt in, they won’t be open and forthcoming and that lawyers will actually start telling them, Hey, don’t go to this because it’s a trap. Or if you go, just be really careful about what you say. Or let me be over your shoulder while you do it.
That’s not really in the spirit of the process. And my concern is that if someone ends up getting convicted based on something they said in these peace circles, that it will in fact reel back all the progress we’ve made on advancing restorative justice courts.
So a coalition of groups proposed a rule change to the Illinois Supreme court saying, Hey, let’s make communications within the peace circles privileged. And the Illinois Supreme court rejected the rule without explanation. So that’s one of the things that I want to revisit.
It relates back to the workplace thing for exactly the reason that you mentioned, which is lawyers are going to tell companies or employees, “Don’t participate in this process if it means that you have to talk about what you are alleged to have done, because it could be used against you.”
And so that’s a critical piece that we need to solve in order to make it work in the corporate environment. And what it might mean is, kind of agreeing to some sort of privilege arrangement or something along those lines to make it so that people can communicate in an open and forthcoming way. I think it’s possible. We have some work to do in that regard, but the positive news is there is a model where this could work.
Julia: So what I also want to get from you, if you can speak to, is, some of the ingredients in the restoration plan. Because I think that’s another piece to making it work on a larger scale. Going back to this whole idea of telling people what we want, explaining this is what you’re going to get. You know, these are some of the things you can ask for if you’re participating in this process and you’re saying, I want to be restored, here is some of what that could look like.
And I wonder if you can speak to it first in terms of the restorative justice court, which is mostly talking about, if I’m not mistaken, not workplace sexual harassment situations.
But if we could talk to, what is part of the process in that context and then extrapolate it to what could be part of the process if a company was to do this? If somebody was to bring a sexual harassment or assault claim, and asked to do basically a restorative justice process with her boss that did it to her, what could be possible?
Daniel: In terms of restorative justice plans, I think the most unique thing is that they tend to include a plan for changing the conditions, the underlying conditions, that contributed to the offense in the first place. So, if addiction is part of what contributed to the offense, then it involves a plan to undergo addiction treatment. If unemployment was part of the underlying circumstances that led to the offense, then gainful employment becomes part of the process.
And that’s why it’s important to have members of the community there too, right? Because members of the community might be the ones who offer the offender a job to prevent them from graffitiing their establishment or what have you. So that’s why it’s really a community process, where everyone has to be engaged in changing the circumstances that led to the offense in the first place.
And in a corporate environment, I think that that could look really similar, right? If you’re talking about a pattern of abuse or a pattern of harassment or an unhealthy or unsafe work environment, that’s more than just about one incident. That’s about changing underlying circumstances.
And so a restorative justice plan might be, what are we going to do to make sure that this person gets the treatment or goes through the education that they need in order to understand what’s appropriate and what’s not? what do we need to do, in order to make sure that there’s a pathway to not re-offend? And to make sure that if they do, that it can’t be kind of swept under the rug. that’s a community plan. and a plan for restoration that I think could apply in a number of different circumstances.
instead of saying, “you did this bad thing, you’re going to jail,” or you did this bad thing, you’re paying a fine. It’s saying, “you did this bad thing. What are we going to do to make sure you don’t do it again?” And you might also pay, right? you might still have to compensate someone, but we’re also going to make sure that you’re involved in a community process that changes the underlying circumstances that led to the problem in the first place.
Julia: Wow. That just opens up so many additional avenues for conversation right there. I noticed that we are well over an hour at this point.
Daniel: When you’re having fun, right?
Julia: Yeah, this has been a really, really good conversation. Would it be asking too much to have you consider coming back to talk to me a second time at some point in the future?
Daniel: Anytime you’d have me, I’m happy to join. This was really nice and also important. And so it’s a conversation, I think we all get better by talking about it more. And so anytime you’re willing to have me on, I’m happy to join you.
So that just about wraps it up for this week’s episode with Daniel Epstein. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did, and found it to be illuminating and thought provoking.
And I do hope you check out our episode with Sharmili Majmudar, who is an executive vice president with Women Employed. She and I talked about this very same issue of restorative justice within corporations. And she brings sort of the opposite perspective, of, decades of experience in the real world of watching and experiencing men just getting away with bad behavior. And if you want to find out about all of our season one guests – we are less than halfway through with the first season, there’s information about all of them on the website.
You can check that all out at solvingmetoo.com and that’s also where you can make a financial contribution if you enjoy having these conversations going on.
Or, click below to open in your favorite podcast player:
In our mission to Solve #MeToo, we must be on the lookout for people who are deeply personally empowered – and Karine Jean-Pierre is one of these people.
I knew it from the way she leapt up to protect Senator Kamala Harris when, onstage in the summer of 2019, a protester charged the stage at the MoveOn.org Big Ideas forum. And both her power and her heart were on display the night we met, when I broke into tears in a very public way on her book tour.
We talked about heart, and courage, and the importance of taking action in these critical times we’re all living through.
To pick up a copy of Karine’s book, Moving Forward, click here.
To get involved with MoveOn.org, start here.
Would you like us to keep making more episodes like this one? Make a contribution here. Join the Solving #MeToo community: email: firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/199718984507390/ Twitter: @Julia_Kline, @SolvingMeToo #TheSMTPodcast, #SolvingMeToo
I’m so honored to have as this week’s guest, Karine Jean-Pierre. She is the author of Moving Forward, a story of how she found her call to action and how you can too. And we talk a lot about in this interview taking action and what kinds of actions we all need to be taking. And she had a lot of specific suggestions for all of us.
Her roots are in politics, from grassroots organizing to running presidential campaigns. She worked in the Obama white house. She’s managed political campaigns nationally and locally, and now she serves as an MSNBC political analyst and she’s also MoveOn’s chief public affairs officer.
The reason I wanted to have Karine on the show, besides all of that, is because of the night that we met – and I’m not going to tell you about it now, it’s all in the interview. But the interaction between the two of us the night that we met was so powerful and moving. And it revealed to me a depth of character in Karine that isn’t particularly common, I don’t think. And it made me feel a really strong impulse to want to connect with her.
In our mission to Solve #MeToo, we must be on the lookout for people who are deeply empowered, who have an authentic sense of personal empowerment, which is not the same thing as worldly power, not at all the same thing as the ability to force other people to bend to their will. That’s abuse of power. That’s not authentic personal empowerment. Authentic personal empowerment is the exact opposite. It’s, it’s reflective of a feeling of uh, of, of safety and protection and confidence.
Virtually all people have experienced hardship. That’s one thing that all of us are being awakened to if we’re paying attention. Lots and lots of marginalized populations are demanding to be seen and heard and respected and valued in ways that they haven’t been before and in ways that are terrific. What we’re getting is a backlash from the straight, white Christian men – and the women who support them – who feel offended. Who feel like, what?! Are you telling me that I haven’t had hardship? I’ve had hardship! My life’s been really fricking hard.
And so the reality that we must acknowledge is that everybody goes through things that feel hard. And while we can certainly say, Oh, well, that person’s life has been way harder than your life, that’s not helpful. It’s just not useful for anything.
If we simply acknowledge that through the lens of any one individual person’s life, they’ve had some hardship. They’ve gone through some things. Life hasn’t always been a bed of roses.
What we can do with that next is say, all right, well, given what life has dealt you, how are you responding to it? And how powerful do you feel as a result? Do you feel victimized and traumatized and unsafe and wounded and brittle? Or have you gone through some sort of a healing process? Which, you know, depending on your view of the world, you might not call it a healing process, but another way of saying it is, have you grown up? Have you matured? Have you become a better person because of the traumas and the hardships and the life’s lessons that you’ve had to go through?
The people who have matured, the people who have gone on some kind of a path of personal transformation, the people who have experienced difficult things and said, you know what? I don’t like having those experiences anymore, so I’m going to take responsibility for my own behaviors and words, and I’m going to make changes to myself. And I’m going to start behaving differently in expectation that my life will start to be different.
People like that are demonstrating authentic personal empowerment. Taking responsibility for the things that have happened in your life, and recognizing that the only real person that you can change is yourself. And that by far the most powerful change that you can make is to yourself.
Other people who are unwilling or unable to go on a path of personal transformation, but who decide that they don’t like the way that their life turns out when they are at effect of bad things happening to them, turn out to abuse power. Those people decide, screw you. It’s totally not true that the only person I can change is myself. I can force other people to bend to my will.
That is fundamentally abuse of power and at core, the person who abuses their power fundamentally feels, if I am not forcing other people to do what I want them to do, they’re going to force me to do what they want me to do. In other words, it’s me or them. One of us is going to be under the other person’s heel and I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to be under their heel.
That’s how somebody who abuses power fundamentally views the world. And it fundamentally comes from a place that’s pretty brittle. A place that is, um, if this feeling of I don’t have any real power, I don’t have any control over my life, and the only way that I can get some semblance of control or power in my life is to force other people to do what I want them to do.
And that’s not authentic. You might be able to get away with it for a little while. And you know, the cynics among us might say, look, the patriarchy has been getting away with that basic premise for however many decades, centuries, millennia, you want to list.
But the tides are turning. We’re seeing, globally, really a shift in individual people discovering a sense of their own personal power and rising up against authoritarians and dictators – essentially patriarchs, abusers – who are trying to inflict their will upon people who have no say in the matter.
And at core, this is what Solving #MeToo is all about. The people who have been abusing their power up until now are examples of the brittle, fundamentally insecure people who feel at effect of the things that happened in their life. And as a result, they try to force their will on the people around them. Those are the people that are out there committing workplace discrimination, harassment, and assault.
And the way to solve that problem – one of the ways, one of the ingredients – is for those of us who have been victimized or marginalized to reach down deep inside and say, Hey, you know what? Just because you were able to take advantage of me back then when I was vulnerable, when I was alone, when I was poor, when I was, whatever the condition is that allowed you to take advantage of me, Just because you were allowed to take advantage of me, then you were able to take advantage of me then doesn’t mean you can do that now.
I have become stronger and more certain of my own value, and I have found my voice, but I’ve also connected with other people who are like me. And so when you had isolated me all by myself, maybe you were able to take advantage of me and exert your will upon me. But when a bunch of authentically empowered people get together, wow. That’s when seismic changes start to happen. And that’s what we’re feeling happening now in our culture.
All of this is a long windup to say that Karine Jean-Pierre is absolutely an example of somebody who is authentically, personally empowered. As she describes in her book, she’s gone through some stuff in her life. She’s gone through some hardship. As we all have, right? I’ve already acknowledged we all have. But her response to the hardship that she’s gone through is that it has sparked in her a path of personal transformation. And it has awakened in her a sense of her own value and power and strength, that is not because of any worldly capacity that she has to force her will on others – the exact opposite. She’s found a deep well of strength in her own heart, in her own spirit. And she has developed an ability to connect to other people like herself, including me.
And so the night that she and I met, sparks flew. It was powerful and moving and very public, the connection that she and I had right from the very beginning. And I’m not going to spoil it here, because we talk about it in the interview, but when that interaction happened, I sort of went, ahhhh, she’s one of us. She’s one of us. She’s one of these deeply, authentically empowered people who knows her own value that comes from her heart. It gives her an ability to connect to others from a place of heart. And, and she recognizes strength that comes from heart. And that’s the kind of people that I want to have on my team. Those are the kinds of people that I want to be interviewing.
So I couldn’t have been more thrilled and excited when she said yes to my invitation to appear on the podcast.
And I hope that you enjoy this conversation as much as I did, and I do hope that you go out and buy her book, Moving Forward. You can also connect with her on all the socials
And if you want to contribute to the conversation that she and I had reach out at email@example.com. And of course, you can join the group conversation either on the website or on the Facebook group, all of which are linked to in the show notes. So with that, please enjoy this conversation that I had with Karine Jean-Pierre.
Julia: Karine Jean-Pierre, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Karine: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Julia: Wonderful. So I like to start all of my interviews by talking about how I met my guests. Because the topics we discuss here on the podcast are ones that go to people’s hearts. So establishing that little bit of personal connection creates that possibility that we can have a more heart centered and tender conversation than perhaps is the norm. And in your case, our meeting was the epitome of a personal connection —
Karine: yeah, yeah, I remember, yeah,
Julia: I broke down in tears when I was asking you a question at a recent stop on your book tour.
Karine: Chicago South side, Hyde Park, love it.
Julia: Love it. And so here I am crying in your book tour, and your response was the most human of all responses – you offered to give me a hug. And even though you were in the middle of your book tour, you had to like get up and walk over and into the audience and give me a hug. And it told me so much about your heart that not only was it your natural impulse to be warm and comforting in that way, but then you acted on it. And that is just not so common.
Karine: Well, I appreciate that. It’s so funny I think about this, that moment is such a, it’s such a part of so many moments or it’s connected to so many moments that I’ve had on my book tour. And what I mean by that is, you know, in my book, I share a lot of personal stuff. I share a lot of heavy stuff. I talk about mental health. I talk about sexual abuse. I talk about coming out. And I do it in a way – I try to do it in a way – that was incredibly honest and in the hope that it would help. It would help people change minds, maybe, you know, even save somebody, Right?
And I think, I think that’s a responsibility that we all have on this planet, on this earth. And so in those moments when I talk about my book, that book is so interesting because it’s, it’s a memoir, but it’s also a call to action. So there’s a lot of, like – it the urgency of now get involved, this is how I got into politics. But then there’s this really personal story and it.
And almost every stop that I did during my book tour, people would cry, you know, people would cry. People would get emotional because of the personal story that I told. And the chapter that I read is chapter three, which talks about my mom’s kind of life and my, my relationship with her.
And I think people just cry. And, and I think that’s kind of been a big part of my book tour, which is being honest, being open, creating hopefully a safe space for people and having those real raw conversation.
And after a lot of my events, I’m hugging people. Because they have a story about a son, their son committed suicide, or they have a story about, you know, their relationship with their mom, or they have a story that they want to personally tell me and it becomes this, you know, this really, this moment that we have. That moment was just much more public. It was a very public moment between us in that space.
Julia: Yeah. And I wanted to start the interview with it not only because it’s how we met, but also to kind of center the conversation around that kind of a moment. Because in these interviews that I’m having with people about how to solve #MeToo, and one part of that is how do we hold perpetrators accountable? One part of that is how do we fix broken systems? But another part of that, equally as important as the first two, is how do we heal. How do we heal?
In the conversations I’m having with a whole bunch of powerful political activists like yourself, people who are out there not just fighting for the collective good, but also in very real and personal ways, fighting for ourselves and fighting for people just like us back home or in our circle who maybe haven’t yet found their way to quite as much of their power or their voice yet. I, I’ve come to really appreciate the power of human connection to catalyze political change.
And Ai-Jen Poo, who is of course the director of the national domestic workers Alliance, who I’m sure you know,
Julia: um, she perhaps crystallized it the best when we were talking. And she said that healing and action are two sides of the same coin. And I’m paraphrasing, that might not be exactly how she phrased it, but she credited Tarana Burke with having first shared that basic idea with her. This idea that taking action to fight against injustice is healing.
Julia: And that by the same token, doing our healing work – which by that I mean courageously telling our story in front of a community who not only believes us, but then is prepared to go out there and fight shoulder to shoulder with us – in turn leads us to more powerful action.
So healing leads to action and action leads to healing. And so in a similar way, I feel at that moment you and I shared at your book talk was a moment not just of warmth and tenderness and human interaction, which of course it was all of those things, but it was a moment of profound empowerment. I mean, look where it’s gotten us, right? You’re here on my podcast,
Julia: and it was the result, quite frankly, of another moment of profound empowerment that you stepped into last summer on stage with Senator Kamala Harris. And I’d like for you to tell listeners the story of what I’m talking about.
Karine: Yeah. So, you know, there’s, that moment has so much depth, more depth than I had ever, ever realized. So on June 1st of 2019, MoveOn held a big ideas forum. It was a presidential for the presidential candidates to come and talk about their big ideas. We were in San Francisco, we got 8 of the 20-odd candidates that were, that were out there running. And Kamala Harris clearly was one of them in San Francisco, in her home state.
And, um, we’re sitting on stage. There are three women of color, actually, sitting on stage. I’m in the middle, Kamala’s to my left and my co-moderator Stephanie Valencia, is uh who’s Latinx, uh was sitting to my right.
And we are having a conversation about her big idea and she’s going into – and it was very interesting cause she was talking about women. She was answering a question about women, women of color. And so here she is answering this question, we’re all standing on sitting on stage and this guy from way back of the room starts sprinting to, to, um, towards the stage and, and jumps up, hurls his body onto the stage.
So he comes towards us – really, clearly, he’s making a beeline for a Senator Harris. I step up, stand up and block him. And he grabs her microphone. I grab – try to grab it back from him. But at the moment, I didn’t know – none of us knew – what was going on. And thinking about this woman, woman of color, black woman sitting on stage, who’s running for president of the United States in a climate that’s incredibly dangerous for women, for black women, because we have a divider in chief in 1600 Pennsylvania. Because of the ugly, ugly rhetoric that it’s continuing to see out there. You do not know what’s going to happen. And I was also, I’m sitting there and it was just a reaction. It was a gut reaction. I just went into a one into action and, and tried to stop him.
And also afterwards, I was thinking too, is like, wow, Virginia. The Virginia Beach mass shooting happened the day before. You know where we lost – we lost lives. And I’m thinking, we don’t know who this guy is.
And so I, you know, afterwards I had to tell you, Julia, afterwards, I didn’t think much of it, you know, it was, my heart was pumping clearly. And I was, I had this kind of rush because I was like, Oh my gosh, this just happened. But I never thought it, it was a moment that people would connect with.
And I have to tell you from that day, that moment, it has connected with women. In such a big way. And that’s the conversation we were having the night that we met in Chicago, right? At the University of Chicago, a couple months ago, and it was – ot was how women were feeling and how they reacted to what they saw.
The reaction that I got from people was in – like I said, in particular women who would say to me, you know, I feel this. I feel this, this guy, this white male privilege male coming to you, towards you guys. I feel this every day. Not to that – clearly to that level, but it, it was so representative of how women were living their lives day to day and having to be in that room or to be disrespected, or to feel like they constantly have to stand up and protect themselves. And it was, it was pretty heavy. It was heavy.
And, it’s been something that I have a conversation about almost at every event that I do. Every interview that I did, it comes up. And we have this conversation about how much it resonated for women, and what it meant for women.
I had a public official, a woman, a black woman, I’m not going to share her name, but she texted me and she said to me, I wish somebody would have done that for me. I’ve been in similar situations and no one has done that for me. And then she says to me that, you know, she says, black women are the most disrespected human, which is a quote, from Malcolm X, I believe, on this planet. And it’s sad. It’s sad that people feel that way.
And so yeah, it started this big conversation, important conversation, key conversation about women and how women feel in the workplace or out there in the world and how they’re treated and how they feel like they’re disrespected or how they feel like they’re being violated physically. And, and what do you do to protect yourself.
Julia: Yeah. And I’m sitting here fighting back tears as you’re telling the story. And for me, what is so impactful is not the specter of the man charging you – the unsafety that’s communicated in that act. But for me what is so just viscerally primally moving is the act of you jumping up to defend the Senator – and I, I’m crying again, just saying that.
And it is that ferocious impulse to protect one another, you know? And as the woman you just referenced said, I wish that somebody had been there to do that for me. I’ve never been sexually assaulted, but there were two scary moments where it was very much on the table and there was nobody there to protect me. And I am a tall, affluent, well-educated white woman for God’s sake. And I have felt moments when I didn’t feel safe. And so this idea of not just being unsafe, but then the more powerful emotion and going a little bit off of what Alicia Garza said, that, you know, it rage is hard to connect to, but it’s love where we make the bond.
Karine: Yeah. It’s so funny because I’ve heard that in that interpretation as well for many, for many women who are mothers in particular, who are mothers themselves, and they feel like, wow, that’s such a, that’s how I would have reacted for my child. It’s such like a mother instinct. And, and that’s how they’ve connected it.
It’s like being that mama bear. And getting into action to protect somebody. and I am a mom. We have this beautiful five and a half year old. She’s amazing. She’s wonderful. And I definitely have that instinct. But I just honestly, I just felt it wasn’t okay. And I wish I could explain it.
And I have to tell you, I spoke to someone who’s a therapist, who’s a friend of mine, and we talked about flight, fright and freeze. And she said, you know, those are usually the three reactions that people have. And you, you went into fight. You know that’s just something that is built within you that is something that you just wanted to do, was fight. And maybe it’s connected to the way that I grew up. I don’t know, maybe it’s connected to the environment that I grew up in, or the household, or my mom, or I have no idea. But, but I just knew that I needed to fight.
And it’s so funny. I think the only time that I got scared at that moment, or I should say interesting, is afterwards when a friend of mine – a colleague of mine – came up to me and hugged me and he said, you put your body in between them, in front of Kamala Harris. He could have killed you. He could have hurt you. And he got emotional. And I had never thought about that. I didn’t think about it at that moment, but when he said that I got emotional cause I thought, Oh my gosh, yes. I could have gotten hurt. And I have a family. I have a five year old and I have a, you know, I have a partner — like I have my own family and what would that have meant for them? And so I that’s probably the only time that I — and I have actually never shared that. This is the first time I’m sharing that. That moment afterwards where my colleague was like, you put your body in between them. Something could have happened to you.
Julia: I think that’s absolutely a part of why it’s so moving to watch that video every time because of that. I mean, it was, he was a big guy. Yeah, tall. He was like 6’4″
Karine: And I’m small. I’m small. I’m about five, two,
Julia: Yeah. You, you are quite little. And, Well, I think that’s part of why it is so moving to watch you do it because – you threw your body, you spread your arms out to just block him, you know? And it was that just instinctual impulse to protect, with your own physical body. That was just so moving
Karine: Thank you. I hope that never ever happens again. I really do, but if it will, I would do the same. I thought about this. It’s like, would I ever do that again? And I’m like, yeah, I would do that again, without a thought. And, you know, I, it will forever stay with me and stay with so many people.
And I got to tell you too, the next day, Kamala Harris called me, just to check in to see how I was doing, which I thought was, was nice. You know, it was a nice thing for her to do. And she said to me, she’s like, okay, you know what? You need to, you need to hang, go hang out with your kid. Don’t think about this. Spend time for yourself. Have a down day. And she thanked me and, and, wanted to see how I was doing, which I thought was – which I thought was, was a really special and a nice thing to do. I was not expecting it. I never even thought of it. And she called me and I was like, Oh, wow, okay.
Julia: Yeah. Well, it, it rippled through the pundit class, certainly, but the, the listening audience as in general, for days, it was a thing.
Karine: Yeah, it was, it went viral. I thought it would go away after a couple of hours and you know what it is to Julia, things don’t play out for you in that moment the same way it plays out for people watching.
Karine: And I think that’s a big part of it. It didn’t play out the same way that it did for people who were, who were looking out and look out and looking in.
Julia: Yup. Yup. So, after we had that tearful moment, and then, you know, I was standing in line at the end of the book, talk to buy my book and have you sign it and I mentioned to you while you were signing my copy of your book that I had this podcast called Solving #MeToo, and I would love you to be a guest on it. And you paused in writing whatever you were writing in my book, and you looked up with this thoughtful and contemplative look on your face, and you slowly started to nod and you said, yeah, that’s something that I could make time for.
Julia: so I always like to ask you, why? What is it about this topic that speaks to you?
Karine: So this topic is just, it’s just so key and important. And I, for me, I don’t want it to fall by the wayside. I don’t want #MeToo to have a moment and, to have a moment and you know go viral, but then it goes away. And, because it’s so incredibly important for, you know, I – as I mentioned, I think about my daughter and all of the things that I have to teach her and protect her from and, and make sure that she’s prepared and ready.
And I really wish I didn’t have to do that. You know, I hope that she doesn’t have experiences that many women have on a daily basis on, you know, that is very common. And so I think about that all the time, and I think about my experiences. I think about the experience my mom has had and stories that I’ve heard from friends and strangers really.
And I feel like, I have a platform. You created this platform, which is amazing – this podcast, Julia. And I have a platform, and I think that it’s really important that I use my platform, and if I’m able to lend my voice in any way to help this, to continue to elevate this conversation, then I should. And shame on me if I don’t.
And that’s probably what I was thinking when you were telling me. I was like, okay, I’m on this book tour, I connected with this woman who clearly has a path and is fighting for an issue that she cares about. She has this podcast that is resonating with me. I have a platform. I have a story to tell. Let’s make this happen. I’m probably thinking about all of this. Let’s make it happen. And, it took us a while to make this happen because it was so crazy. And then the holidays happened. but I’m glad that we’re talking and I’m glad that we did make it happen.
Julia: Well, I am too, and I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you what you think is unique about the way that you view this Solving #MeToo issue through your lens as an openly gay black woman. In your answer just now, when you mentioned why it’s important to you, you referenced your daughter and how raising your daughter in this world. What about your lens? As you already mentioned, black women are the most disrespected humans on the planet, and then throw in that you’re openly gay on top of that. How does that give a slightly different shade to the lens through which you view these issues?
Karine: Yeah. it does. I mean, being a woman is tough. Just in general. You add being a black woman, that’s another layer of toughness. And then you add being openly gay. That’s three things that makes my life a little bit tougher, a little bit harder than anyone else.
I mean, being a woman, you can’t hide that. Being a black person, you can’t hide that. I cannot walk outside and people not see that I’m black. And being out as a gay woman is something that I choose. It’s a decision that I made that I wanted to be who I am.
And I have a family. We live in the suburbs of Maryland. I have this child. And we are probably the only gay couple in this little community. But I’ve always felt it’s so incredibly important to be who I am and live the person – my fullest life.
And I know that I’m privileged to do that. And what I mean by that is there are so many people, women just like me, who can’t. Who feel scared, who feel threatened, who feel that their parents or family will disown them. And while I had all those thoughts too, I took a chance and I owned it and now I think it’s important for my voice to be out there, for women who still feel very scared. Who still feel like they can’t live their true self. And not to tell them, you can come out and you can live your true self, but to tell them that it’s okay.
And I think that’s the lens that I see myself and it’s really interesting, Julia. I actually don’t think about it all that much, and I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve been in this, in this vessel, in this space for so long. I’ve been out for a long, long time. The only thing that’s new is I’ve been a mom. Only for the past five, six years, like that’s actually the, the one thing that I probably struggle with the most is being a good mom. How do I do that? You know, we talk about it, my partner and I, we talk about it all the time. Are we raising her the way we want to? Like that’s probably the only, the one thing that I struggle with more is being a mom to this wonderful, beautiful little girl. And being gay is, is something that I’ve lived with so much for so long now.
You know, racism, it’s part of the system. It’s part of the foundation. It is a institutional racism that’s just part of part of the life and the life that I’ve lived in. And so of course, you’re fighting that all the time. And being a woman, you’re fighting that sexism and misogyny all the time. So I don’t wanna – I don’t want to lighten that. But that’s, you know, that’s kind of how I see myself in the world is someone who’s been out for a long time, who’s lived it, who’s been in this space. And I hope that what I’m putting out there is confidence is someone who is brave, is someone who is successful, is someone who’s made it, is hopefully that I’m inspiring and motivating people.
Julia: And speaking of that inspiration and motivation, one of your I think goals with your book, is that there is a call to action in the book. You want every person to understand how important it is to get involved right now. And I certainly agree with you, but I want to offer you the opportunity to make your case. Why do people have to get involved? Why- why can people actually make a difference now? Why does their vote matter?
Karine: So we’re living in a time, at least in my lifetime, that I have never experienced before. And while America has a very complicated history with slavery and racism and we just talked about institutional racism, the moment that we’re in currently – if we do not get out and vote and not send a very loud message to Donald Trump and his supporters, it will – it will literally change the direction of this country into a place that is … That is outwardly racist, that is homophobic, transphobic that is xenophobic and people will be okay with it. You know, people will look the other way or just be okay with it, as I just said.
And we cannot, cannot sit back and not get involved. We cannot sit on the sidelines. Just imagine four more years of Donald Trump. Imagine that. Imagine the damage that he’s done in only three years and how he’s changed the complexion of this country. Not just domestically, but internationally. And we have babies in cages. We have the Muslim ban, we have transgender ban. We have women’s rights that are being erased on the federal level. We have neo-Nazis and white supremacists who are feeling emboldened. This isn’t three short years that he has done this.
Julia: I think just yesterday he approved a plan that allows people to dump toxic chemicals —
Karine: Exactly right. Right. I mean, the deregulations, the pulling us back and, it’s so we cannot, we cannot sit on the sideline because it’s not just our generation. It’s your children’s generation, your grandchildren’s generation. I mean, this is will have a rippling effect for a long time to come.
So you have to ask yourself, where was I? What was I doing during this time? Was I sitting back and just not paying attention and not caring? Or did I get involved and try to make a change? And so that is going to be on you.
And one of the things that I always think about is, I have been talking a lot about my kid and I talked about how she’s five years old. And I think about this, I think about when she’s 12, when she’s 15 when she’s, I dunno, 25 and she’s reading history or looking back and looking at this moment, this moment of the Trump era. And if she ever looks at me down the road in the future and says, mama, what were you doing during this time? What was going on? I want her to be easily look it up and say, okay, you know what? Your mama did this. Your mama did that. And to be proud, to know and understand that I stood out there and fought not just for, for me and for, you know, my peers and for people I didn’t even know. But for her. And her peers and her generation.
And so that is the key. It’s like it’s, the thing is we can’t afford to sit back. We can’t afford to not go out and vote. And I say this all the time, and I probably said this that night when we first met. If you are not white, male, straight and wealthy, there is a target on your back.
Karine: And you have to stand up for everyone because if we do not stand up for everyone, we will all fall. It’s not just about black people, Latino people, or – it’s all about all of us. It’s all of us standing together and fighting this. Because that’s the only way we’re going to win, and that’s why I asked people to please get involved. That’s what my book is about. It’s about people please getting involved – and laying that case out and what’s at stake. The urgency of now. We cannot wait four years from now til 2024 and say, Oh, you know what? He’ll be out. We’ll be fine. No, we won’t be fine. We won’t.
Julia: What I hear you saying also is that it’s not, it’s very much so about creating a different outcome and also it’s about making a decision. Who do you want to be? Do you want to be the person who fought what – even if it looked like it was a losing fight, but you were still out there fighting. Or do you want to be the person who hunkered down, made yourself small, ducked your head and did as much as you could to stay out of the line of fire? Who, who are you? Who do you want to be in this moment?
Karine: Exactly, and that’s a decision that we all have to make come November. That’s actually the message that whoever’s the nominee has to be very clear about. Who are we as a country? Who do we want to be? What direction do we want to take this country in? And that is the message that you have to take to everybody out there and how you get folks out there to vote. Who are we as a country, as an individual, as a person? Who are you and are you going to fight? Fight for what is right.
Julia: Yeah, 100% and so I like for these episodes to be very action oriented. And I’m wondering, do you have any particular pet calls to action very specifically? I know in your book you talk about voting as a big one. What website would you like a listener to go to? What initiative would you like a listener to sign up for? What specific actions do you want to get – encourage people to get involved in?
Karine: You have to get involved in your community. Yes, voting matters, but it’s more than that. You not, not only do you have to vote, but you got to get your community out to vote, your household out to vote. You have to actually work a little bit harder, a little bit harder this time around to get that movement that we’re going to need to win.
I tell people, I work for Move On, an awesome progressive organization, the largest independent organization, more than 5 million members. I’ve been with move on for about three, four years. And if you are looking for something to do and you don’t really know where to go, go to MoveOn.Org. We have petitions that you can sign up to and get involved in, or create your own petition.
We are going to be training people. We will have our move on members out there, getting their communities organized. You can join our move on members in that. There is so much to do because – it’s so funny. Before we get to voting, there’s so many fights. There’s the impeachment trial, right? There’s keeping the, the president, you know, making sure that he’s held accountable.
There’s so many fights that we have to do from now until then. So there are, are different ways to get involved. And so join move on, become a member. We will get you ready to go. We will train you. We will make sure you’re not left in the cold if you’ve never done it before, and we will make you part of the family and you can be part of this fight, part of this movement that we will need to win in November.
Julia: I love that. Karine, that’s just fantastic. So listeners, MoveOn.org is the place to go. And, , I hope that you’ve gotten a taste of the incredible heart that Karine brings to her fight and if you want to be a part of that kind of heart-centered, passionate, organization and movement, move on.org is the place for you to go next.
Karine, thank you so much – much for making time in your busy life.
Karine: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this platform that you’ve given us, this amazing podcast and putting all of your heart into it. It’s so important to have these conversations, so thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
Thank you listeners for tuning in to solving me too, and this interview that we’ve just had with Karine Jean-Pierre.
Make sure that you check out her book Moving Forward, and if you want to participate in the conversation, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also come to the website, SolvingMeToo.com, to join the conversation happening there or over on Facebook.
Thanks a lot for listening.
Name: Kevin Quinn
Role: Former Aide to IL House Speaker, Mike Madigan
Accusations: Quinn was accused in a Federal lawsuit of inappropriate texting by a female campaign worker.
Consequences for his actions: Quinn was fired by Madigan on Feb 12, 2018. Quinn was additionally arrested for violating violating a protective order because of texts and calls to another person,