The Rutgers University – Newark College Democrats’ Statement Regarding Recent Events in CDA and CDNJ
In light of recent events rippling throughout the College Democrats of America (CDA), we thought it was appropriate to shed light on similar racially insensitive and exclusionary interactions our chapter’s members have experienced with the College Democrats of New Jersey (CDNJ). We find it all too ironic that CDNJ joined a coalition of State Federations seeking the resignation of the CDA President along with a number of reforms to usher in greater racial inclusion and accessibility, while also being the perpetrator of similar offenses themselves within their own state. It is clear that this is not simply a problem that exists at the highest levels of CDA leadership, but is part of a pervasive culture of racism and classism that is alive in New Jersey’s Democratic Party and that is fostered through the College Democrats of New Jersey.
New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation, and our campus — Rutgers University – Newark — is the most diverse college campus in the country. Our chapter leadership and membership consistently reflect that diversity. The income inequality that plagues New Jersey plays a major role in the fact that such a large number of our students come from poor- and working-class backgrounds. This has meant that the majority of our chapter is unable to participate in many of the events and out-of-state conventions organized by CDA or CDNJ, due to a lack of financial support to travel or obtain housing. However, many CDA members who come from middle-class and wealthy backgrounds were routinely able to travel to these events and gain positive experiences from this level of involvement. Over the course of several years, many CDNJ administrations have promised that they would prioritize providing financial support and resources to local chapters but our chapter has never received any of that described support in any shape or form. We know now that we are not alone in this situation and that this problem of accessibility is reflective of the classism that is common throughout CDA.
On April 18, 2019, our chapter took steps to impeach our then-Political Director. Our cited charges outlined a general dereliction of duties, as well as a continued display of behavior that was unbecoming of an Executive Board member and representative of our organization. This included a failure to demonstrate respect towards fellow Executive Board members, members associated with the organization, and Rutgers-Newark students in general. Our former Political Director took actions that included but were not limited to displays of racially-charged and insensitive rhetoric, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. Throughout his time within the organization, we received a number of complaints from many students that their interactions with him made them feel unwelcome and unsafe, making them less inclined to partner with our organization in the very important work we were engaging in on-campus and throughout the City of Newark. After numerous discussions with our former Political Director regarding his actions and behaviors, our Executive Board decided it was imperative that we took swift action so that these instances would no longer continue. This behavior and character is especially unwelcome on our campus, where we pride ourselves on the diversity of our membership and seek to celebrate that in every way.
Also on April 18, then-CDNJ Vice President made a telephone call to the then-Vice President of Rutgers-Newark College Democrats in an attempt to intimidate our chapter and encroach upon our First Amendment rights of free speech. This call was made after a number of Rutgers University – Newark students staged a protest at Senator Cory Booker’s kickoff rally for his presidential campaign. These students were there to demand that Senator Booker realign his values and stances on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and support the liberation of the Palestinian people. Although these students were all affiliated with our chapter, they were not there on behalf of our chapter. They were there in conjunction with the Rutgers Students for Justice in Palestine organization. Despite these facts, the then-CDNJ Vice President attempted to paint our chapter as troublemakers in the Democratic party who cast a negative reputation on all of CDNJ. He went as far as to even fabricate facts around the incident, such as stating that the protestors were holding a banner that read “Rutgers Newark College Democrats.” When informed that this couldn’t possibly be true because our chapter did not have a banner or any type of merchandise because we lacked the resources the then-CDNJ Vice President alleged that someone had reported this to him, despite the fact that he was on site himself and knew this to not be true. Our then-Political Director who had been appointed to be the North Jersey Regional Chair and had access to the inner conversations of the CDNJ reported to us that there were contemplations to revoke our charter following that incident. This is the kind of suppression that the Democratic Party criticizes the Republican Party for, but that they routinely engage in themselves when it threatens their own interests.
Following the impeachment of our then-Political Director and our call with the then-CDNJ Vice President, the then-Presidential Candidate for CDNJ engaged in a conversation with our then-Vice President. During this call, our former Vice-President requested that the former Presidential Candidate remove our former Political Director from the team of people she was running with for CDNJ leadership. We did not believe that anyone who was impeached from their local chapter for the reasons we charged would be an appropriate addition to the State Federation’s leadership. Despite persistent urging, our concerns were largely ignored and we were merely assured that he would not have any direct interaction with our chapter in his future role as Membership Director. Following the official election of the then-Presidential candidate and her team, she once again reached out to our former Vice-President to inform her that she was still working on our chapter’s concerns but doubted anything could be done because there were no constitutional reasons for the removal of our former Political Director. Our former Political Director was allowed to remain on CDNJs Executive Board throughout the remainder of the following academic year.
In light of the recent events occurring throughout CDA, it is very clear that CDNJs handling of this situation was unacceptable. Concrete action should have been taken at the time to stop this type of harmful behavior from continuing unfettered, but was instead rewarded with a Statewide leadership position. Our former Political Director recently became the Executive Director of the Sussex County Democratic Committee. We have no doubt in our former Political Director’s ability to climb the ranks of the Democratic Party while engaging in the type of behavior that the Democratic Party publicly condemns, but privately ignores is emblematic of the toxic culture that permeates the Party.
Perhaps most damning of all these offenses — we were not even provided with the opportunity to elect our representatives in a democratic election. This year CDNJ did not even host elections, and merely self-appointed themselves to their positions. If this is not the case, then we were merely never reached out to by any representative of the previous Executive Board to notify us of the voting procedures or timeline. It speaks volumes that they thought it appropriate to completely disregard and exclude their most diverse chapter from statewide elections.
This letter highlights the most glaring incidents that have occurred in recent years. We believe CDNJ should not simply be concerned with publicly demanding reforms of CDA, but should prioritize making its own reforms to the State Federation. It is irrelevant that CDNJ calls out homophobia in elected officials or states their support for Black lives, if they do not root that out within their own organization or take action to make the organization more welcoming for Black lives and all those who identify with historically marginalized groups. They must take action that is not merely symbolic or superficial, but will have a positive substantive impact on the lives of their members.
Our chapter has decided that we can no longer remain a part of CDNJ or CDA in good conscience. Effective immediately we will be relinquishing our charter and will no longer participate in CDA related activities. We want to be clear that we are not leaving solely due to the actions of any one individual. We are leaving CDNJ and CDA because they are institutions designed to resist consequential change from within and are aimed at upholding archaic power structures. Going forward, we will only be associating with and organizing with organizations whose values and conduct are in line with our own.