Two years ago at this time I would be exhausted from the end of the legislative session, assessing the wins and losses of bills, and excited to attend bill signings. Now, I have just finished midterms and have weeks to go before the end of spring quarter, and I’m struggling with a personal ethical quandary.
Although I’m not inside the Capitol now, I’ve been watching. I think many of us have been this year. How could we not? It’s been like a car crash you don’t want to see but can’t help gawking.
It was good to see bipartisan compromises on the last day of the session to move beyond impasses like transportation, the Civil Rights Commission, and the “all-important” predicament of alcohol in groceries or liquor stores. However, one huge loss for the state Senate this session is what many of us will remember most of all.
It has been painful to watch so I can’t imagine what it felt like from the inside. The pressures the legislators felt (particularly members of leadership) must have been unbearable at times. Through many torrid stories and a cultural survey, the legislators discovered that the sexually harassing culture at the Capitol is much worse than originally thought. However, this was no surprise to some of us.
When I first entered orientation as a brand-new senator, I asked for the human resources contact only to find out there was none. When I attended the workplace harassment training in a room full of 100 legislators, I saw how ineffective it was.
Over time, it became clear to me, as both a woman and HR professional, that misogyny, sexism and sexual remarks and advances were more common than any workplace I had been in for decades. Even so, long after my freshman year, I said nothing. Other than ensuring my own office was a safe working environment, I did nothing. Although I personally experienced men calling me darlin’ or hugging me a bit tighter and longer than usual, or even suggesting we “talk about it over a fun time at dinner,” I fell short. Yes, I said something directly to the men when I felt offended. But no, I didn’t mention anything to anyone else.
So this session, although I experienced it as a citizen this time, was one of the most profound for me, and possibly for many. I saw a former colleague get criticized for coming forward, another one expelled from the House for victimizing women, numerous stories of survivors, and no meaningful action taken by Senate Republican leadership against one of their own predators. This is how I learned just how complicit I was in the terror of sexual harassment at the Capitol. If only I had stepped up AT THE TIME, perhaps there would be fewer victims today.
Why didn’t I speak up? That’s a whole other column for another day. But today I can plead with anyone else out there, no matter your gender, that if you see something, please say something. The days are over for all us second-wave feminists who whisper our way out of our harassment dilemmas. It’s time we ALL become conscious of our surroundings, name it when we see it, and admit when we’re complicit with the systems that maintain the abuses of patriarchy. Time’s not only up for the offenders. Time’s up for all of us. And to you fellow survivors at the Capitol, I’m so sorry.
Formerly a Colorado state senator and now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell, of Littleton, is a filmmaker, writer, speaker, and consultant. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.
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