Hours after revelations that a half-dozen women of color had fled Elizabeth Warren’s campaign in Nevada—and just over two weeks before that state’s critical Democratic caucuses—the senator from Massachusetts issued an apology on Thursday night, acknowledging the staffers’ “bad experience.”
Speaking to Politico, three of the six women described “a toxic work environment in which minorities felt tokenized and senior leadership was at loggerheads.” Furthermore, the women, part of a team of about 70—said the internal grievances, campaign suggestions, and issues they raised with senior staff or human resources mostly went unresolved or unacknowledged, beyond “an earnest shake of the head and progressive buzzwords,” as one staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, put it.
At a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Warren told reporters she didn’t dispute the validity of those claims:
“I believe these women completely and without reservation. And I apologize that they have had a bad experience on this campaign. I tried to build a campaign and an organization that is diverse and welcoming, that celebrates people, that encourages people to bring their whole selves to work every single day.
“I take personal responsibility for this, and I’m working with my team to address [these] concerns,” Warren added.
Still, a spokesperson for Warren’s campaign seemed to imply that the departed staffers didn’t represent the presidential contender’s vast 31-state organization: We strive for an inclusive environment and work hard to learn and improve,” Kristen Orthman said in a statement. “We have an organization of more than a thousand people, and whenever we hear concerns, we take them seriously.”
In a speech last November on the campus of HBCU Clark-Atlanta, Warren made her case to black voters—and black women, in particular—saying the federal government had institutionalized racial inequity and tension in America and that “the federal government has a responsibility to fix it.”
She was introduced by Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley (D-Mass.), a rising star in the party who has given Warren a key endorsement. The senator went on to invoke the Atlanta Washerwomen Strike of 1881, an action that saw thousands of black women laundresses organizing for better wages and labor practices—less than 20 years after the official end of slavery. But as the unrest in Warren’s campaign proves, these oratorical flourishes and appeals are hollow if diversity on your own doorstep gets trampled on.
According to Politico, ex-staffers recalled that efforts to advocate for outreach in Nevada’s large Latinx communities were stymied: from a dearth of bilingual ground organizers to Spanish-language voter pamphlets. The lack of support and a sense of being “marginalized” led to frustration. Presidential political campaigns, which have been historically white and male, will continue to struggle if their attempts to diversify are only skin-deep. One former field organizer insisted to Politico that real change to these organizations cannot be delayed.
“Every election will always be the most important election of our lifetimes,” said Megan Lewis, who worked for Warren from May to December 2019. “Organizing culture needs to change because the fact is our well-being is more important than any election. I hope this starts a conversation that helps facilitate personal reflection about ways we can change campaign culture.”