A couple of weeks ago, a video of the city council’s public hearing period went viral, spurred on by local conservative media and amplified by national right-wing talk show and podcast hosts. The video showed a man, Richard Schwartz, asking council member Debora Juarez, who was chairing the meeting, to stop the two-minute timer so that he could address her directly about the fact that the council didn’t seem to be listening to him with the kind of rapt attention he felt he deserved. Schwartz, who has met one-on-one with council members and complains to them frequently about cyclists going “too fast” in the Westlake bike lane, was breaking the public-comment rule that requires commenters to speak to items on the agenda; I’ve watched the council for a long time and seen them cut off many people’s mics over many years for violating this rule, but they didn’t do so in this case. (If you want to know more about Schwartz’s pet issue, KUOW did a piece about him two days after his viral public comment). Instead, Juarez told him the clock was running and said he had her attention. Once the two-minute video clip started to spread via Facebook and Reddit, of course, none of that context mattered. The only thing many people saw was a kindly old man begging for attention from a bunch of rude government officials, mostly women, who ignored his sincere pleas for “just two minutes” of their attention.
That part was predictable: Right-wing bloviators love to crow about government (particularly liberal governments) not listening to the little guy. But so was what happened next: A torrent of abusive phone calls and emails from around the country, directly primarily at Juarez but also at every woman of color on the council, including one who was not even at the meeting. This was predictable because it’s basically what happened the last time the women on the council did something controversial. Last time, the council’s five female members voted against vacating a public alley for would-be stadium developer Chris Hansen. This time, they failed to pay sufficiently rapt attention to an older white man who was demanding that they hang on his every off-topic word.
I went through more than 1,000 emails that poured into council offices over the five-day period when the video was at its viral peak. Strung together and put into 12-point type, they made a 216-page Word document more than 130,000 words long. Some of the abusive emails went to subsets of the council, or to every council member (including the two, Bruce Harrell and Teresa Mosqueda) who weren’t there. Many others were targeted specifically at the female council members. In fact, more emails were addressed explicitly to Mosqueda—who, again was not even at the meeting—than to Mike O’Brien, who was.
In reading the emails, a few themes emerge. The first is sexist name-calling, most of it targeted at Juarez, who is referred to as “that cunt”; “a vile piece of trash”; “an entitled bitch”; an “uppity bitch” whose “ugly ass really should pay more attention to the citizens immediately in front if [sic] you, instead of looking up recipes for tortillas”; “A grotty, lazy, rude good for nothing stereotype”; a “disrespectful bitch”; a “vile old clam”; an “ugly fucking cow”; a “fat disgusting cow”; “the literal scum of the earth” whose “dusty old bones will most likely fill up all 6 feet of space [in her coffin] just by itself”; a “bitch” who should “suck my fucking dick,” and a variety of other slurs. Writers also targeted council member Kshama Sawant with sexist and racist slurs, including “a truly revolting individual and a cancer that plagues the Jewel of the Pacific Northwest”; a “racist hypocrite against the usa [sic] worthless politician”; a “piece of shit” “fucking Muslim” who should “go back to your ducking [sic] country”; and, of course, a bitch. Callers to Gonzalez’s office left messages saying she “should honestly get the fuck out of this country because you don’t belong here”; that she should “go fuck yourself, you fucking piece of shit”; and calling her “a vile and disgusting load of shit, you fucking bitch.”
Other themes: The council is being racist and sexist against Schwartz because he’s a white man (“Are you a bunch of misandrist [sic] (look that word up dummies) or just a bunch of chauvinist [sic] that are sticking up for the women but, really attacking men?.”); “I am appalled at your callous and arrogant demeanor toward the white male CITIZEN”); “Kiss America’s Ass & My White Male Veteran Ass. Now sit your Fat Ass Down.” They’re “arrogant” (a word that shows up 38 times in the emails), “entitled” (22) “elitists” (20) because they’re “Democrats” (or “Demo-craps” or “DEMON-CRAT[s]!!!!!” or “DemocRATs”). And they deserve to be “hit,” “slapped,” have someone “beat the fuck out of them” because of the way they acted. These comments, while sometimes directed at the entire council, were most often directed at Juarez, and often tended to be gendered, suggesting that while the entire council may be “DEMON-CRATS,” only the women on the council needed to be told (as Juarez was) that they are “Smug, elitist, dismissive, bored, annoyed, ignorant and ugly both inside and out.”
People often wonder why more women don’t go into politics, and there are many reasons—sexist double standards that require women to “prove ourselves” capable of roles men are assumed to be able to do by default; sexist societal expectations that make women primary parents, caregivers, housecleaners, and errand runners even in “progressive” cities like Seattle; gendered ageism that says that women are too young to be effective right up until the moment that they’re too old to be relevant. But the fact that women in public office are far more likely face threats, harassment, and gender-based verbal abuse is another reason, one we shouldn’t just ignore. In the weeks since the initial burst of hate speech that a staffer described as “the hurricane,” the media has moved on and the cameras (many of them trained directly on Juarez, demanding “answers to the questions” people commenting on the video were raising) have gone away. But we shouldn’t just ignore these attacks, or say the female council members “knew what they were signing up for”—or, as some members of the Seattle media did, fan the flames in order to juice our own ratings or clicks. Putting up with sexist, racist harassment and gender-based threats shouldn’t be a job requirement at any workplace, particularly one where women have to work three times as hard to be taken half as seriously.
6 thoughts on ““You Uppity F*cking Bitch”: The Response to the Viral Public Comment Video Was Predictable and Avoidable”
I agree with all of the concerns raised in the article. This kind of treatment of not just elected officials, but the press – and well – really any human being is just awful. 🙁
However, the one piece I missed is how the author thinks it was ‘avoidable’?
Anger and hate seems to have become such an entrenched part of online ‘life’ these days… :'( Not sure what the solution might be…. but online civility has obviously become a real problem in our society. I myself have no answer for the problem.
It feels like random things can go unpredictably viral – and esp. when mixed with a bit of disinformation, the result can lead to unexpected messages being spread, w/real consequnces a result…
1000 mails over a 5 day period?
that’s an average of 200 mails per day which spread across 9 CMs would be just over 20 e-mails per day.
Curious if there were filters applied to the records request, for certain keywords?
If not, then then I’m curious what an average e-mail week look like… (if this was a flurry?)
I would have actually expect CMs them to deal with a heavier inbound e-mail burden on a regular basis given how many negative comments seem to be directed towards them via the Interwebs…
Maybe people just hide behind their avatars, and dump grievences on social media, news comments feeds, etc. but don’t ever bother to try contacting the CMs themselves?
Finally, re: phone calls & hateful voicemails – would be interesting to know the area codes of the inbound callers. As the author notes – some (but presumably not all) of this hatred likely came from out-of-towners – but I wonder if it would be possible understand how many callers were of local origin. (e.g. 206, 360, 425)
@Deryl “You are wrong to think first that this is a boy-girl thing”
Then how do you explain that more emails were addressed explicitly to Mosqueda—who was not even at the meeting—than to Mike O’Brien, who was? Seriously, what is your explanation, other than sexism or racism?
“What the city council did is show the ultimate disrespect – ignoring a humble plea and an ordinary citizen.”. Nonsense. Read the article again. The video was taken out of context. Other people deserve the right to speak and be heard as well. If someone — like Mr. Schwartz — hogs the microphone, then others won’t have a chance to speak. He was doing exactly this. It was Mr. Schwartz who was arrogantly disrespecting the council and those in attendance by speaking off topic. The council was well within its right to simply cut him off. But they didn’t! They granted him extra leniency — extra courtesy — which meant that everyone else suffered. At that point — after he continued to stray off topic — the board simply endured it, rather than cut off his microphone. Are you saying that every should be able to talk for however long they want, on whatever topic they are interested in? Seriously, I wonder if you think government would be more productive if every meeting — about any subject — became one where people rambled on about the weather or the Mariners?
Furthermore, as has been reported repeatedly, every one of those board members has heard exactly the same speech. He wasn’t saying anything new, which is why they all tuned him out (well, that, and he was off-topic). It was Mr. Schwartz that was being rude, while the council was being overly polite.
my heart hurts to read these misogynistic, violent messages. thank you for wading through them yourself.
Erica, You are wrong to think first that this is a boy-girl thing. It isn’t. It is a direct result fostered across the nation of the disrespect we show our leaders and institutions and each other in every endeavor. You call him Trump or that SOB or whatever. We should call OUR president “President Trump” even in the blue newspapers of Seattle and Tacoma. We should call our teachers Miss, Ms, Mr., etc. To a child, an adult is Mam or Sir.
What the city council did is show the ultimate disrespect – ignoring a humble plea and an ordinary citizen.
Nothing, but nothing, makes an American madder than our government not listening to us and taking action (or not) to preserve, protect and defend us. You should be happy that four-letter-invective is the result you are seeing. President Trump was the result of lots of governments across the nation not listening. So was President Reagan. So was the Gingrich revolution overturning a 40-year Congressional Democrat rule after WWII and the Korean Conflict.
Americans – and that includes Seattleites – will likely soon stop the invective and just simmer until the ballot box, and then those who ignored the plaintive voice of the city will be replaced by those who their fellow citizens think might listen.
As far as your point about women not wanting to participate in the political process because of the invective; you are partially right and partially wrong. It is tough to get ANYONE to run for office nowadays because of the disrespect we show our political folks and each other. We expose their every picadillo – even those we have ourselves – in scorched earth campaigns to the death, on both sides of the aisle.
Hence, what you get is candidates from one extreme or another who are inured to the invective. They develop a blind eye and deaf ear to the rhetoric and hence to the citizenry. They then appear imperious and fail to represent those who placed their political trust in the City Council or Congress or …
My candidate-finding philosophy is based on the physical and spiritual (kinda): God gave each of us (99.9999%) two ears and one mouth, and He expects us to use them in that proportion.”
Unfortunately, many politicians – especially those on the Seattle City Council – don’t have enough ears.
Well this is bloody unacceptable. People should go to jail for this bullying…
Also bloody unacceptable: Alex Tsimerman who on Monday threatened sexual ASSAULT – https://youtu.be/50WbFAYjLtA – and still is let into Seattle City Hall. Note how the chair’s opinion overrides the concerns of minority Councilmembers… how long until a motion of no confidence is made in Bruce Harrell’s failed Council Presidency? I hope Monday and tickets are sold to fund OneAmerica.
Also bloody unacceptable: The fact Sound Transit Boardmember Paul Roberts allows personal attacks at meetings he chairs from Alex Tsimerman. The fact the Chair of the Sound Transit Board doesn’t strictly enforce the new rules of Sound Transit Board Public Comment.
This is a hair on fire moment. Tsimerman is just as bad as Trump is.
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