Concern about “people of color” is a concept that I hear all the time lately in San Francisco, and especially in the Democratic Party and clubs I attend across the city. But is “concern about people of color” just an empty buzzword, a flashy twitter trend? Personally, I am not a fan of the words themselves.
These hollow words reflect a reality that how racism plays out still doesn’t seem to be understood by the community and especially some members of the local clubs. I believe there are well-meaning people in these clubs who want to dismantle racist systems and have stood along with me to do that, but sometimes they have some blind spots in examining their roles in perpetuating them.
When I was a young girl, my Dad worked on the famous Cable Cars. He found glue in the keyhole of his car, and wood in his gas tank, when he had the audacity to visit his white best friend in the sunset district. I’ve watched how racism has persisted in my community. It has evolved, but it’s not new. It’s old and tired, and it is built into the roots. There are so many ways racism shows up in our daily lives.
For me, some of the most traumatizing and personal examples of racism have been false accusations. I’ve overcome some, myself. The story I am about to tell is one of how I witnessed a network of political critics mislead voters and smear a brown immigrant man for their own gain.
To this day, there has been no accountability for the racism inflicted in this situation and the trauma it has inflicted on so many people. I tell the story because I believe, deep down, that the members of these clubs want to do the right thing. I have a Grandson who will grow up to be an Afro-Latino man, and I hope that coming forward will help reduce the chances of him facing the same trauma one day.
Neither these clubs nor the Democratic Party have a right to say they care about racism, when this is how they did Shahid and lied to voters. Here’s the story of false accusation that I witnessed in 2020, tried to inform at the time, and was bullied and threatened for challenging before now facing smears, myself.
“I’ve been crying all night, Gloria!”
I met Emily Jones through the SF Berniecrats, and socialized frequently with her over the past two years. She called the evening of July 17. Her first words were that she had been crying all night. She said that Shahid Buttar, for whom she had previously worked as Finance Director for a few months, had done something terrible.
Shahid is a Muslim immigrant, lawyer, and artist who ran for Congress to replace Nancy Pelosi. In March, he became the first Democrat since 1987 to face Nancy Pelosi in a general election by winning the top-two primary alongside the Speaker of the House. On July 14, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front page story, above the fold, with the headline “Pelosi Ignoring Calls for a Debate.”
Emily’s call came three days later.
Emily said that we can’t support Shahid anymore. She went on to specify that Shahid had sexually assaulted a woman on the East Coast named Elizabeth Croydon 20 years ago. Emily specified that during a party at his home in Washington, Buttar had gone up to this Woman in his kitchen and poked her from behind with an erect penis. She also said that, at some other point, Shahid told the Woman that she won’t have sex with him because he is Brown.
I asked Emily how she knew about the story. She said that Raya Steier, another former member of Shahid’s staff, had talked to Shahid’s accuser, Elizabeth Croydon. I followed up, asking “How does that prove anything?”
Emily went on to say that she believed Shahid did this because he previously asked her five times during an event to get the phone number of a blonde who wanted to volunteer on his campaign. She claimed that when she was unsuccessful at getting the number, Shahid said she would not give it to him because he was Brown.
That explanation did not convince me. The more she talked, the more fishy it sounded. Every time I asked for proof, she responded with new, bizarre accusations that didn’t prove anything.
I later discovered that the campaign already had this volunteer’s number, and that the volunteer had asked Shahid at the event described by Emily to connect her to another volunteer so they could work together on hanging banners promoting the campaign. Emily’s story about Shahid pressuring her to get the blonde’s number conflicted with both Shahid’s explanation, and the volunteer whose story Emily contorted, yet was repeated by his critics to corroborate the dubious story from the Woman in DC.
Eventually, that volunteer came forward with text messages revealing that, like me, she had also been contacted by Emily, who urged her to join a group effort to speak out against Shahid. Like me, that volunteer shared outrage in her responses to Emily. Like me, she went to the press to expose the lies after they were published. Like me, she was ignored.
After hearing Emily’s story about “the blonde” the first time, I asked her, “How does that prove a sexual assault?” Emily answered that Shahid had a Blaaaaack (spelled this way to emphasize how she emphasized the word “Black”) friend, and that Shahid advised the same Woman whom Emily claimed he had assaulted that this friend could do some repairs on her house. After the repairs were done, Emily claimed that the Blaaaaack friend slammed the Woman in DC against a wall, and said she wouldn’t sleep with him because he’s Black. I told Emily, “I don’t see how this proves anything about Shahid.”
The smell of fish only grew stronger. Something here did not add up.
Emily then informed me that an article on Medium.com would be coming out Monday from Shahid’s accuser, and that I would be able to see for myself. I let Emily know that I would read the article, but that I wasn’t convinced. The fact that she knew about the accuser’s publication plans suggested to me that she may not have been a neutral observer.
Emily then went on to say she believed the accusations because, one time, while talking to Shahid in the office, Shahid put his hand on her shoulder while talking to her. It was yet another attempt to twist facts to convince me that a sexual assault happened.
I reminded Emily that she puts her hands on me all the time (someone had to tell Emily once to stop touching me after she refused to heed my request), and asked if she ever saw Shahid sexually assault anyone, including herself.
Her reply confused me. She said, “No, he only likes white women,” and went on to tell me, for some reason, that “I’m not attracted to him, anyway,” before adding that in her culture he would be viewed as a little boy. To this day, I find myself wondering what her replies had to do with my question.
I brought up to Emily that she had told me, before applying to work with Shahid, that she personally hated him. I said that I was not convinced that we should jump onboard with this until after the article came out. She got mad and rushed off the phone.
Following up on Emily’s call
Emily’s phone call left me concerned.
If Shahid was guilty, he should not be supported. The “evidence” used to attempt to convince me, however, was based on him allegedly saying to the accuser that he was Brown, and that Emily had also heard him identify that way. That was not convincing at all to me.
In retrospect, some things that never came up are significant. I spoke with Emily many times during the few months she worked on Shahid’s campaign. She disagreed with Shahid’s message, his style, and his strategy—but she never once complained about any gender-related issues in the workplace. If he had been “a bad boss,” I would have heard about it, or seen some reflection of it myself. I volunteered constantly for Shahid’s campaign, and never heard or saw anything even close to the stories I later read in the press.
I wondered after our phone call whether Emily’s concerns may have been rooted in politics. I had grown skeptical of Emily in the past, after she tried to convince me to endorse Michael Bloomberg instead of Bernie Sanders in the Presidential Primary in order to claim a $2,000 check. She suggested that I post an endorsement late at night, claim the check, and then delete the post by morning in order to sweep my own voice under the rug. That would have betrayed my values—as well as those she claimed in public.
Between the racial dog whistles, and having not yet heard about any evidence or reasons to believe the accuser, I really wanted to get to the bottom of this.
So, the next day, July 18, I called a member of Democratic Socialists of America-San Francisco (DSA-SF) who was also active in both the SF Berniecrats and Progressive Democrats of America-SF (PDA-SF) as an officer. She had enthusiastically supported Shahid's campaign and introduced him at several public events. Having endorsed Shahid myself, I was very concerned with what Emily had shared with me. This DSA/PDA/Berniecrats leader repeated the same accusation that Emily had shared with me: that Shahid had allegedly poked a woman from D.C. from behind with his erect penis during a party.
She also said Shahid had a Blaaack friend who had pushed the Woman, and who said she would not have sex with him because he’s Black. I was offended at this point by how the description of someone being Black was being emphasized to me for the second time.
I asked her why she believed the accusation. She said, “because when I talked to him about dressing more professional, he said ‘You’re treating me like this because I’m Brown.’” I reminded her that she criticized how I dressed and wore my hair when I was running for office, and explained how I felt offended when she did the same thing to me. At a rally for another candidate, she had criticized how I was dressed. I encouraged her to be herself, and not try to blend in with white people, especially if they say they “want diversity.”
Like Emily, she got mad and rushed off the phone.
From accusations to “investigations”
Later that evening, a different DSA-SF member called me and said that DSA had drafted a resolution to withdraw the organization’s endorsement of Shahid. I advised this person that the information didn’t add up, and that someone had called me to try to recruit me to support their claims about Shahid despite lacking any evidence. I also let them know that the initial caller, Emily, had inside information that Shahid’s accuser was going to the press, that an article was going to come out about it in a few days, and that I needed to read the article to help me understand what’s going on.
The resolution concerned me.
It started off with the sexual harassment allegation. That’s a common technique used by prosecutors, also known as tainting the jury or “stacking charges.” By presenting a case in inflated and outrageous terms, accusers set a tone of presumptive guilt. This is an especially typical approach when the evidence is weak, or —like here— when there is none at all and the accusations appear to be fabricated.
After talking to three people (two of whom were convinced that Croydon’s allegation were true simply because they had heard Shahid accurately refer to himself as Brown), I decided to call Shahid myself. He supported my campaign, and I supported his. I was not going to join in on smearing him without more information.
I called him that weekend. Having worked in law enforcement for eight years, and held a variety of positions including supervising investigations, I know how to ask hard questions. I asked him several, but each of Shahid’s responses suggested that he was genuinely surprised by everything I had heard from the rumors, and appropriately disturbed by them.
Shahid’s first answer was, “This is the first I’m hearing of this.” Buttar told me he had not heard about this allegation—despite the spreading whisper campaign—and that his accuser had posted various false accusations about him in the past, including absurd claims that he had conspired to murder a friend who had tragically died in a diving accident many years before. She had also previously accused other antiwar candidates of sexual harassment, dating back for over a decade.
I felt bad for Shahid, because I could sense his surprise and sadness that no one had asked him directly about any of these rumors as they continued to spread.
Shahid had seen the Woman in DC making various accusations about him on social media for many years, long before the rumor mill started by the staffers he had recently replaced. At least one of them knew the Woman’s history of previous accusation, but since no one else asked him directly, his accuser’s long history of accusing other antiwar politicians, as well as various people across a network of progressive organizers in Washington who Shahid had worked with, was known only to his critics. But they didn’t share that information with journalists, who suppressed it for months even well after the truth emerged.
Being a survivor of sexual assault myself, I wanted to do due diligence and give Croydon a fair chance. So I went online to hear her voice, and found a video of her insulting other women who were survivors. Her claims seemed insincere to me.
I then asked another DSA leader (who had served as a campaign manager for a white politician who was recently elected to local office) for a copy of the tweet from Croydon, the woman who accused Shahid of sexual harassment.
Her tweet read, “Dear @CornelWest, I’d like you to know that Shahid Buttar sexually harassed me and is friends w/the “ex” ‘gang banger’ who threw me into a wall disabling me for years. The left can do better. No further comment at this time.”
This tweet offended me for several reasons:
Dr. Cornel West is my favorite philosopher. Why would this lady tag him with this info? What did this have to do with him? What possible motivation would drive her to think this needed to involve him? Since Dr. West had endorsed Shahid, it seemed to suggest a political motive behind the accusation. The audacity of a Karen reaching out to a pillar of the Black community with this foolishness was highly offensive to me.
Shahid is friends with the “ex” gang banger, according to the accuser. What does that have to with anything? We can’t be friends with former gang members? Aren’t we glad this person is no longer gang banging? Why was “ex-ganger” even mentioned if the person is no longer involved in that lifestyle? What this other person allegedly did has nothing to do with Shahid, anyway.
This tweet did not mention race. How did Emily and the other DSA/PDA/Berniecrats leader spreading rumors know he was Black unless they spoke with the accuser? I felt like the tweet was a racial dogwhistle, aimed towards people with anti-Black and Brown biases to gain their sympathy and stoke their outrage.
Croydon retweeted and tagged Tara Reade and Monica Lewinsky on Twitter, despite insulting Lewinsky during her comedy acts. The political hypocrisy and opportunism was shameful.
I showed the tweet to some friends outside the San Francisco political bubble, and they all felt it was fishy. One friend said, “It’s July, right on time for the pre-election mudslinging.”
I then called another DSA-SF member and they didn’t have much to say, either. He had a different concern, saying that Shahid is a rapper and therefore shouldn’t be treated as a serious candidate. I was offended that being a rapper was considered a bad thing for a candidate, especially since he also has a Stanford Law degree and has worked at the highest levels of the national non-profit community. The rap I heard Shahid perform was about politics!
It reminded me of how much white supremacy—reflected by the other DSA organizer who helps lead the local PDA chapter—sets the standard on what a politician should look and sound like. I decided to sit back and wait on the article that Emily said was coming on Monday or Tuesday before I decided if Shahid’s accuser was credible, because the people who already didn’t like him had shared nothing convincing.
Watching DSA put its members’ lies before the movement
DSA San Francisco held a meeting on July 21—the same day that Croydon published her article falsely accusing Shahid—where they discussed a resolution first circulated on July 18 to rescind the organization’s endorsement. The resolution was based on Elizabeth Croydon’s tweet, as well as her discussions with Raya and another DSA member. But included in the resolution was a totally new allegation, in which former staff now accused Shahid of being a toxic male in the workplace.
Since all the folks I talked to were unable to provide an example of how Shahid was toxic, I listened very hard at this meeting, especially to Jasper Wilde, one of the only accusers I had not yet spoken to. The only example that Jasper shared in the meeting was a vague story about sharing an idea with Shahid that he rejected before agreeing to it the next day when a male presented the same idea. Two weeks later, she went on to publish a post accusing Shahid of “sexual assault” based on Croydon’s story, before admitting two months later that her accusation was untrue, describing it as “a mistake” the first time a journalist asked her about it.
On Sunday, July 19, I called another DSA-SF member who was actively spreading the rumors and worked on the campaign of another local politician. I asked him what information he had to share. He didn’t have much to say. I asked him, “What did Shahid do to his office staff?” He had no information, but felt entitled to assure me, “Trust me: it’s bad.”
I have 35 years of work experience, including management and supervisory roles. I recall a plethora of times where someone presented an idea, and at first not really feeling the suggestion until further perspectives convinced me later to change my mind. That’s a frequent pattern on political campaigns, where candidates constantly receive competing points of guidance.
Furthermore, when I volunteered in Shahid’s office, I observed plenty of bad ideas coming from Jasper. Once, I heard Jasper discuss spending money on campaign literature that she felt was a good idea. She wanted to say that Shahid is “the first leader to make being a leader cool.”
I was insulted. I know of several leaders who paved the way for being cool, including me. Although Shahid is cool, he is hardly the first political leader to bridge the divide between culture and politics. Jasper’s idea was a bad one. That’s because it was ignorant, not because she’s a woman.
It took more than a little convincing to get Jasper to understand, but she finally seemed to get it when I cited cool leaders of the past. At that point, I felt bad for Shahid. If these were the type of ideas Jasper had, then what else did Shahid have to shoot down? How frustrating to be running for high office with a manager who I, personally, did not think was qualified at all for the position.
I watched Jasper interact with other office staff, including a queer indigenous Latina who worked under Jasper’s direction and was subjected to vicious disrespect. Jasper’s behavior ranged from snide comments to microaggressions, public rebukes, and dismissive body language like rolling her eyes, and dramatically sighing in exasperation when responding to her, before later firing her. It offended me at the time, and bothered me after watching it.
Later, I had the unfortunate opportunity to be marginalized by Jasper myself.
She often called on me to speak on Shahid’s behalf and appear with him at events, which I was always happy to do. Shahid supported me, as well, and encouraged me to bring my campaign literature to his campaign events to distribute to his supporters.
One weekend, joining their canvassing convergence required walking up a hill, which wasn’t easy for me due to chronic pain in my knees & back, plus the need to carry a heavy bag filled with flyers for my campaign to join the Democratic County Central Committee. Dozens of volunteers gathered, got trained, picked up their bags of campaign literature, and spread out across the neighborhood to distribute it.
I gave my literature to Shahid’s team, joined the volunteers, and walked a turf myself, thinking that other volunteers had access to my campaign literature, alongside Shahid’s. When I returned to the convergence area later, I discovered that Jasper had refused to let campaign volunteers see my literature, despite the candidate having endorsed me.
We sat and talked for a while as other volunteers returned to check in. I didn’t feel bold enough to call her out, and felt like the most I could do was collect my flyers to use them another time. They cost money, after all. While I sat with her, Jasper regaled me with tales about why she hates men.
It was not the last time that Jasper—who has publicly admitted to identifying as a Republican until the 2016 election—undermined me as a woman of color running for public office to represent my community.
The next time Shahid’s staff called to ask me to join them at canvassing a convergence to give a motivational speech to his volunteers, I felt nervous about what had happened last time, so I called Shahid to confirm whether it was okay for his campaign volunteers to also receive my literature.
He was adamant that they should. He wanted his campaign to intersectionally support other candidates including me, District Attorney Chesa Boudin, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, and Bernie Sanders. His willingness to support aligned campaigns in other races has been a big part of Shahid’s theory of change, and is an important part of why I and so many people continue to support him.
His assurance relieved me, until I found myself face-to-face with Jasper again. As I had before, I asked her about my campaign literature being available to volunteers. She hesitated, claiming that it was a problem and that she needed to check first. I explained that Shahid had already approved it, which prompted Jasper’s exasperation and a snide reply as she walked off in a huff. “See, that’s what I’m talking about. He never tells me anything,” she said.
As a black & brown woman marginalized in any number of ways not only by a white establishment, but also by this particular Karen, I couldn’t help but burst into tears. The election was near, and I did not have the same resources as other candidates for the same position who had formed slates. I had to work extra hard running independently against two slates with fourteen candidates on each of them.
Thankfully, a campaign volunteer who was taking photographs consoled me, asking me what was wrong. I explained how “I’m doing all this work to support this campaign, and I’m supposed to give a speech right now to motivate this crowd, but I’m dealing with campaign staff who want to just use me without supporting my voice.”
The volunteer got her son, who worked on Shahid’s campaign staff under Jasper, to work around her by doing the work that I had requested, and the candidate had approved, but the campaign manager for some reason proved repeatedly unwilling to do.
It felt to me like Jasper was trying to use my color and my voice to motivate the crowd, without showing the same solidarity that the candidate and his supporters did. The movement is more important to me than my own pain, however, so I put my frustration at this woman repeatedly marginalizing me behind me in order to put on a happy face for the crowd. I wiped my tears, took the megaphone and with red swollen eyes gave the speech for Shahid to the volunteers.
Political operatives telling lies
There have been so many lies told as the smear campaign unfolded, that it’s difficult to unravel them all. The failures of journalists, many of whom published these lies, makes it even harder to inform observers what really happened.
For instance, his former staff said that Shahid yelled. I’d never seen him yell, however, and the accusation does not match the character who I’ve consistently observed.
Even if it were true, that's not sexist. Connecting a false claim about yelling to an equally false claim of misogyny is just an attempt to justify one lie with another.
Raya also lied to me, claiming in writing that Jasper said that Shahid never expressed his support for my campaign to them.
Jasper later refuted her.
The liars can’t even get their lies straight among themselves.
Their actions also reveal their lies. Shahid’s former staff, including Jasper & Emily, met with others who joined his team after he won the primary. They have all confirmed that their discussions included the former staff’s concerns about his message and style, but no one ever discussed supposed misogyny at work. If they were so concerned about how he treated women, why didn’t they tell the women joining his team when they had a chance? Why didn’t they warn Raya, or any of the various people who continued to work for Shahid and declined to join the smears?
I honestly believe that if I was the candidate for that office, I would probably have blown a gasket. The only thing I would have done differently is fire them all sooner, especially if they had tried to turn me into a puppet as they tried—and thankfully failed—to do with Shahid.
Everyone who has ever helped with my campaigns knew that I know my message and preferred strategy. I’m not going to stop being an activist, and neither was Shahid. That proved to be at the center of their complaints about him.
Their advice was terrible in my opinion, especially since it was coming from people who never got anyone elected to a federal or state office. It reminded me of stories I heard from both his critics, and Shahid, before and after a meeting in March 2020 that Shahid asked for shortly after he won the top-2 jungle primary and became the first Democrat since 1987 to face Pelosi in November.
People who criticized him publicly in July told me months before about their plans to disregard his agenda for that meeting in order to stage an intervention. I said at the time that it was senseless, given his success as a candidate and his staff’s repeated refusal to follow his direction. If anything, it was the staff who needed an intervention.
After the meeting, I learned that it was a disaster. The staff tried to stage a takeover of the campaign.
They encouraged Shahid to shift his message from emphasizing authoritarianism to instead focus on issues they thought mattered more than policing or surveillance or foreign policy. I’m glad that he declined. As an immigrant with an analysis developed over decades of advocacy at the national level, he has far greater depth on the issues than any of this inexperienced staff who had worked only at the local level.
They also reiterated “advice” about Shahid’s appearance that I, as a black & brown woman who has received similar guidance, recognize as racist. Barbara Lee passed a law through the House allowing black women to wear their hair however they wish. Why is that standard any different for immigrant men? The idea that supporters of his campaign felt entitled to try dictating his appearance offended me. They’re lucky I wasn’t in that meeting.
This group of young staffers also outrageously wanted Shahid to commit to running any proposed public comments by them before speaking publicly. They’d previously deleted posts that he wrote critical of U.S. foreign policy, presuming the authority to censor his voice, but that was apparently not enough for them. When they later claimed in public that Shahid didn’t know his own message, it reminded me of their own confusion.
There was a profound difference in their theories of change. Shahid is an experienced activist, policy advocate, and constitutional lawyer who came to electoral politics armed with 20 years of experience about how to make social change. His staff were political operatives with little experience beyond canvassing, who wanted to work for a puppet who they controlled, and presumed that their own political methods were better than the candidate who hired them.
Well, they weren’t. Even though Shahid had built a national following by showing solidarity with street actions and social movements, his staff wanted him to abandon that strategy. They also advised him to stop campaigning in Bayview Hunters Point—our city’s last Black neighborhood, where I lived—because “there aren’t any votes there.”
Vague accusations and transparent manipulation
During the July 22 meeting in DSA-SF, Emily Jones kept saying Shahid belittled the women on his team, but could not present even a single example. The men in the meeting who worked in Shahid’s office said they saw him belittle women, but also were unable to offer any examples.
I shared in the meeting that I had been contacted by Shahid’s critics and invited to join in on this smear before they went public—but no one seemed to care about the information I had.
I left this meeting feeling like white supremacy had infected the process. The facts were conflated between false accusations of sexual misconduct, on the one hand, and concerns about Shahid’s management style from former staffers who did not want Shahid to be supported after they had been replaced on his team. But the same network was spreading both sets of lies, in order to enable what was ultimately a political beef.
It was transparently manipulative. I’ve seen it all my life, whenever a mob wants to take out a Black or Brown person. Also, I felt bad for Shahid because he had to walk a fine line between people insisting for others to “believe women,” yet he had been accused of all sorts of absurd things by women telling severe lies for their own political purposes. And the women who supported Shahid and the truth, like me, were not believed.
Additionally, Raya Steier accused Shahid’s continuing campaign staff of being manipulated by him. I am very close to two of them, both of whom are strong women capable of resisting anyone’s manipulation. One of them is even a founding member of DSA-SF!!! This DSA member shared with me that she felt insulted by Raya’s patronizing and offensive accusation towards her.
Croydon’s article was published on July 21, the day before Shahid’s birthday. I could not believe my eyes! There was no mention of Shahid poking the accuser with his penis. In fact, what was published was an entirely different story from the previous one that both Emily and the DSA/PDA/Berniecrats leader had shared with me. There was no mention of a sexual assault at all!
Why would Emily, Raya and another DSA member tell one version in private of what happened—which was a very serious accusation—and the accuser tell a different story in public?
Both stories included the kitchen. I brought this up to DSA at their July 22 electoral meeting. Their response was that victims sometimes don’t remember what happened when they’ve been traumatized.
Two different women in the meeting noted that several white politicians elected to local office have demonstrated more aggressive management styles than Shahid. Some of them, like Supervisor Aaron Peskin, have been exposed since then as abusive only after decades of offensive and unprofessional actions that went unreported. 28 members of the DCCC endorsed this man, except for me and John Avalos. Why is the immigrant politician the only one subjected to this public criticism, based on relatively trivial allegations lacking any facts?
At this point, I realized that DSA-SF is set up like a gang. Solidarity for a comrade (even if they are a liar) rather than the movement is something they go by. To this day, I can’t find one person that believes in the sexual assault allegation. They need to apologize for putting Shahid through a white supremacy process, and let the public know they either jumped the gun, or were involved in smearing Shahid from the beginning.
The signers of that resolution initiated an attack not just on Shahid, but also on the voters of San Francisco. They need to be held accountable, and DSA needs to both apologize to the city, and reveal who was behind it all.
Who signed the original DSA resolution? It included multiple false allegations of sexual misconduct, but DSA leaders now claim not to know who wrote or signed it, even though the original drafter admitted to having written it and the resolution was reported to have been signed by 40 DSA members. None of them have ever been held accountable for supporting false racist accusations towards a brown immigrant candidate.
I also was very bothered that the same people that I heard did not like Shahid, the same people that felt they had the right to hold an intervention with Shahid because they did not like him being an activist and did not approve of his appearance, the same people that left his campaign, were the same people who thought they were qualified to contact Elizabeth Croydon and report back.
Raya even had the audacity to unequivocally state in the July 22 DSA-SF meeting that “Brown men rape.” I talked to a co-chair of a DSA working group who agreed with all my points, including the observation that Shahid’s critics were telling lies. She added herself that there is a party vendetta against Shahid—yet this member still voted to rescind the chapter’s endorsement in order to support her comrades.
When DSA-SF eventually held its chapter-wide discussion on whether to rescind its endorsement of Shahid, I wasn’t allowed to speak in the closed session because I’m not a chapter member. Nor were any number of character witnesses who were poised to inform the group, including people who knew his accuser and her long record of false accusations.
Two months after her story was published, a journalist finally explored Croydon’s claims. What they revealed was a long history of false accusations towards not only Shahid (including ridiculous accusations of murder and human trafficking akin to Q Anon conspiracy theories), but also other antiwar congressional candidates who she previously smeared with sex harassment claims for well over a decade.
When a political group makes a public decision while intentionally blocking information from its members, the result—not only the process—is indefensible. Here, the outcome was worse than indefensible. It reflected white supremacy, with tactics taken straight out of the Jim Crow South.
Me, Too vs. Not Me, Us
On July 22, the San Francisco Berniecrats held a meeting to discuss their support for Shahid, whom they had endorsed since 2018. I have long been a member, so I joined the meeting. It really bothered me that they entertained the idea of rescinding their endorsement based on liars from DSA and from within the club like Emily Jones.
One founding member of the club, for whom I hold an abundance of respect, shared that Jasper Wilde’s methods of running a campaign were local-level strategies that may not have been well-suited for the more ambitious methods that Shahid pursued based on national case studies. Jasper reportedly liked doing work herself, like directing campaign videos, that Shahid insisted should be done by empowered volunteers, rather than senior campaign staff. Volunteers have greater expertise within their fields, and campaign staff time is expensive.
Jasper was frustrated with Shahid not listening to her—but perhaps she needed to listen to him. He was her boss, and he hired her to manage a campaign that she wanted to lead herself.
I am not the only volunteer who felt this way. One, a gender non-conforming member of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, routinely participated in staff meetings until the staff cut them out. They wrote:
“Misogyny was not the cause of disconnect with ex-staffers. I witnessed open insubordination and huge failures to perform, that in any other office setting would have resulted in immediate dismissal. Shahid tried to work with them but they didn’t try to work with him. I stepped back from volunteering because the staff, specifically the campaign manager, was mismanaging the campaign and dismissing serious concerns about the decisions.”
That volunteer faced retaliation for speaking out to challenge the lies, both among the SF Berniecrats and by the Milk club’s leadership.
Our experience was widely shared. Shahid has spoken publicly about how frequently volunteers complained to him about the unresponsiveness (and even disrespect) they encountered from his campaign staff. They did not serve him, or the movement, well.
We were all grateful to see them each leave the campaign when they did. I had volunteered in Bernie Sanders’ office, as well as the offices of Dean Preston and Chesa Boudin. Never in their offices did I feel anything like the toxicity that I felt from Shahid's staff.
I presented the information that I had to the SF Berniecrats, and I’m thankful the accusers did not get enough votes to remove their endorsement of Shahid. It gave me hope that people could see through the shenanigans.
The same night that the club’s leadership lost their vote to the members, however, they changed the club’s bylaws in order to give the club the ability to rescind endorsements without specifying a reason. They later changed the voting threshold in order to downgrade their endorsement for Shahid to a recommendation despite the continuing support of the members. This was procedural sabotage, an abuse of power.
The bylaw was changed to support bad faith accusation. It enabled an action contrary to the club members’ interests that would not have been possible under the previous bylaws. It wasn’t just underhanded. It was racist.
After this process was contrived by the Berniecrats, Raya offensively suggested on the group’s Facebook page that they seek a rape mediator, further poisoning the well with insinuations of severe misconduct lacking any evidence.
When organizational leaders change an organization’s bylaws to contrive a result they seek after losing a vote before their members, that reflects corruption. The SF Berniecrats are my favorite political club as the only one in the city to endorse me outside my own neighborhood, and I love Bernie Sanders and his deep-rooted care for Black & Brown people.
It hurt to see the then Chair, Brandon Harami, influence the process to contrive support for his lying friend Jasper Wilde. Even to this day, he continues to smear Shahid, and now, me, too. My only comfort in this saga was watching Brandon eventually replaced as a co-chair. At least the (mostly grassroots) Berniecrats are no longer co-opted by his self-promoting “leadership.”
Betraying the Legacy of Harvey Milk
The next political club to discuss Shahid was the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, which was recently accused of racism based on the organization’s comments about our city’s Black Mayor, before apologizing for them.
I presented my info again to the Milk Club, naively thinking it would matter to them. But again, my concerns, and the facts that I brought to the table, were disregarded.
It’s one thing to falsely accuse a brown man without any evidence. But each of these clubs also dismissed the facts I explained when I tried to speak up.
Unfortunately, that’s not all.
One of the club’s board members and Officers, Jackie Thornhill, was a City legislative aide at the time and had previously worked as a campaign manager for Ryan Khojasteh, a candidate for the CA-12 congressional seat in 2018 who finished in fifth place, well behind Shahid.
Jackie had also published a hit piece in 2019 policing Shahid’s gender presentation and identity, and had the audacity to private message me during the virtual meeting in the chat. She felt comfortable to write that, by defending Shahid, I’d “go down with the ship.”
“Go down?” What is that supposed to mean?
I felt deeply offended. How dare this Karen type that to me!
She also felt it was necessary to remind me of the number of votes Shahid received in the primary, as if that were in any way relevant to the discussion. It’s both naive and offensive to suggest that I was standing up for racial justice only because I thought Shahid could win.
Are we only supporting justice for people poised to win an election? First of all, Shahid won more votes for this seat than any challenger in a generation, and that was in spite of the orchestrated lies that Jackie and others continue to spread.
But why does a political analysis matter at all? Jackie Thornhill obviously does not know me very well. I don’t maneuver for political career purposes. Jackie’s unsolicited comments continued beyond the level of bullying and included a threat. They were so offensive that I ended up asking her—publicly, in front of the entire group—to please stop messaging me.
The accusations were not that Shahid wasn’t going to win—they were a series of false claims of sexual misconduct and misogyny in the workplace to make sure that he did not win. But the points of concern cited by his critics in the Milk Club meeting were all political in nature.
Ultimately, the Milk Club confirmed the political motivations underlying their attacks on Shahid by endorsing Pelosi, despite their public claims to support policies (from Medicare for All to the Green New Deal) that Shahid promotes and Pelosi opposes.
While endorsing Pelosi, the club also appointed to its Board Jasper and Raya, both of whom organized the campaign to smear Shahid and promoted false accusations of sexual misconduct.
People have been running around saying, “Believe women,” while refusing to believe a Black Woman survivor of rape & sexism. I have also been falsely accused of things that are not true. That was the fire behind me getting involved, even before people involved in this smear campaign started lying about me in retaliation for me speaking out to expose their lies.
Not only did Jackie Thornhill threaten me, but she also disingenuously accused me of transphobia in early 2021. I felt this was in retaliation for me defending Shahid and the truth. That accusation carries on the pattern of lies by an organized partisan network that began a year before.
After I observed the character assassination mounted by the newest board members of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club towards a brown immigrant man, I spoke out in a club meeting to challenge their complicity in white supremacy. It didn’t seem like my facts mattered.
I grew concerned about the possibility of them continuing to mislead voters and attack other elections, so I decided to take my concerns to a wider audience. I posted a petition to change.org in February, 2021 calling out the racism in the Milk Club, in particular, where the architects of the lies about Shahid had been promoted to positions of organizational leadership. It received 501 signatures.
My petition was hacked—not once, but twice—before being taken down entirely by persons unknown. Each time it was hacked, it was changed to remove the name of Jackie Thornhill, the city employee who threatened me in writing. After it was taken down, I lost the signatures of the several hundred supporters who had joined my petition. Refusing to be silenced yet again, I responded by cross-posting my petition to medium.org, where it was also taken down before later being restored.
To watch so many people who performatively profess to care about “People Of Color” join in on the lynching of a Brown immigrant triggered me. It reflects a lot of what has been happening to me—and too many of us—for too damned long.
I don’t identify myself as a survivor when it comes to being a victim of white supremacy, because ongoing harm is still being done until this day. The mob that joined in on smearing Shahid hurt me, too. And they remain active today, continuing to spread lies and inventing new smears that could undermine another election unless they are exposed.
Feeling like I watched a KKK rally
DSA-Silicon Valley met on August 16 to discuss its endorsement of Shahid. This was the meeting that forced me to publicly reflect on having felt like I watched a KKK rally.
I watched, via Zoom, a white woman say she believed women, while refusing to listen to me.
I began to learn what “Solidarity Forever” really meant in the gang of DSA.
A now elected official, Redwood City Council member Lissette Espinoza-Garnica, despite having never even met Shahid, spoke presumptuously at length about Shahid’s supposed decades of undiscovered sexual predation. I was appalled.
Council member Espinoza-Garnica’s statements at the meeting lacked not only any evidence, but even any underlying accusation. She—a young, aspiring, “socialist” of color, seemed to think it politically legitimate to simply invent a long litany of lies about an immigrant Muslim who has spent 20 years fighting for others’ rights.
As with DSA-San Francisco, I was allowed to speak briefly but disregarded because DSA-Silicon Valley was interested in heeding only the voices of its members. Again, I was naive to think my information would make a difference in groups that hold a code of solidarity—not to movements or principles, but their members—forever.
Each of these clubs ended up leaning into the lies, ignoring the white supremacy despite my efforts to call attention to it. It was incredibly frustrating, not only because I watched an innocent immigrant get publicly characterized as a predator based on nothing more than his interest in helping protect the future from the corruption of an establishment protected by his critics, but also because my own voice was widely ignored—even by non-whites who claim to stand for racial justice!
I ran for office myself because our communities need leaders and representatives who stand with us against institutionalized power. Shahid is like me that way. That’s why we’ve supported each other.
And these clubs know it. That’s why they endorsed him in the first place.
But to see those organizations use our voices when convenient, then throw us under a white supremacist bus at the first hint of racialized accusation—without any care for facts, or truth, or awareness of how white supremacy operates in practice—was the point at which I saw how bad it really is.
What does it say when an Afro-Latina elected party official can’t speak in public about encountering racist lies and threats without being silenced? Silencing me compounds the racism of the original attacks on Shahid—which played out in broad daylight, observed by literally hundreds of thousands of people, without the facts ever being included in the public discussion. I’ve tried to fill that gap at every stage, only to be silenced first by local San Francisco journalists, then DSA-SF, then the Harvey Milk Club, then DSA-Silicon Valley, then change.org, and finally, medium.org.
This is not an isolated incident. This is a pattern that unfolded over months, embroiling the entire progressive establishment in San Francisco.
Beyond the racism and white supremacy that I witnessed, I’m also disturbed by the reeking hypocrisy of the voices who falsely accused Shahid and then piled on. Each of these voices have shamelessly talked about how “black lives matter,” marched in the streets, and performatively commemorated community holidays like Juneteenth—all while repeating well-worn racist patterns of false accusation.
Some might think that the lies spread by the board members of the Harvey Milk Club are politically motivated, and therefore reflective of political beef, but not racism. The irony here is that the attacks on Shahid, and the efforts to silence me, didn’t reveal the sort of racism that’s supposed to be tough to detect. This wasn’t institutional racism of the sort that lacked a face. This was an in-your-face, out in the open mob led by people attaching their names to it in public.
And just to be clear, political motivations don’t make false accusations any less racist. If anything, they only further indicate white supremacy by revealing the interests and implications of institutional power. The political interests that inspire lies targeting leaders of color ultimately reflect white supremacy no less than Klan robes or burning crosses. I had no clue I was presenting my facts to a group of people that already had their mind made up. Shame on me.
Others might think, because our city is led by a Black Mayor, our Board of Supervisors led by its one Black member, and because we sent to Washington the first Black Vice President of the United States, that we can’t possibly have a problem with racism. But that reflects a misunderstanding of how racism works. The same misunderstanding was apparent in the attacks on Allison Collins, a Black San Francisco School Board Vice President who was falsely accused of racism, and then removed from her position.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described racism as one among several “intersecting evils” because racism is not entirely about race. It also implicates power. That’s why Black individuals who serve the establishment can find their way to opportunities despite systems of entrenched oppression.
But when non-white people confront the establishment, an entirely different pattern emerges. Shahid was smeared as a misogynist after rejecting bad advice from inexperienced, entitled people who put themselves before the voters. Allison was publicly dragged and removed from her position for supposedly being racist, by people who don’t understand the words of Malcolm X.
Now, to this day all I hear people say is Shahid needs to move on. Sometimes they even add, “for the sake of the movement.”
What kind of movement is this? Certainly not one that cares about “people of color.” Would these same people say this to someone else who is a victim? It’s insulting.
Black people are often told to move on from the fact that we were enslaved decades ago, but these type of right wing statement makers don’t comprehend that the damage can have lingering effects. The smears harmed Shahid’s historic campaign in 2020, his ability to promote values and policies that I care about, too, and his ability to be hired for any other job in the future. His personal relationships have been harmed.
How do I know? It happened to me. I lost a relationship due to lies that people spread about me.
I’ve seen people not from San Francisco repeat the false info that was put out. He still gets called a rapist to this day based on lies spread by political critics.
But political differences are not a legitimate reason to fabricate racist allegations of sexual misconduct.
Shahid deserves an apology. So does the public, which was misled when these organizations put out false information. They need to correct the record, apologize, and hold their leaders accountable.
Racial justice and democracy are important. They deserve more than lip service.
Gloria Berry is a native San Franciscan, U.S. Navy Veteran, grandmother, former law enforcement sergeant, and elected member to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. Her affiliation with the DCCC is listed for identification purposes only.