M.C. NOW Mary Duan

Harassment of a woman candidate for school board in Carmel takes a violent and sexist turn.

Good afternoon everyone,

Mary Duan here. This week, I wrote a short news story with long implications. It’s the story of what to my mind is unprecedented harassment of a woman seeking elected office, with implications not only for her, but for the anonymous trolls doing the harassment and for women who will seek office in Monterey County in the future.

In my experience, having covered elections and politics in Monterey County for 10 years, women running for office in Monterey County go through a special kind of hell. There are  whispers about alleged private behavior that people try to drag into the public space. There are lies that take a tiny sliver of someone’s truth and try to turn it into something it’s not. There’s name calling and there are the nasty comments about physical appearance, of course. And from behind their keyboards, because so much of the harassment takes place online by anonymous trolls, nobody is ever really held to account for their actions.

This week’s story was about Jill Lewis, a woman who is running for a seat on the Carmel Unified School District board. A few months before she considered running, Lewis put up an online poll which garnered 1,400 signatures, and the subject of the poll was asking CUSD to reopen schools “safely,” she says, within the confines of county and state guidelines during the pandemic. For her time and trouble, grown-ups—actual grown-ups—started calling her crazy and a troublemaker. 

I’ve had only one conversation with Lewis, and a number of email exchanges, and I find her to be neither crazy nor a troublemaker, but that’s not the point. She’s an impassioned parent who cares about the voices of other parents being heard by the CUSD board, something she’s found lacking with the advent of Zoom meetings. There was a lawsuit, not initiated by her but by local attorney Charles Shivers, to force the district to comply with the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, in how the district was handling public comment during these virtual meetings. Shivers prevailed.

The harassment of Lewis started with comments on Facebook and Instagram. One social media account that’s since been deleted bore a name that referenced Lewis’ 5-year-old daughter. Another account, since taken private, accused Lewis of being racist and included a meme that referred to women as “godless whores.” 

But then came another, far more menacing post. On a now private Instagram account, a post featured a picture of an Uzi and a splay of cash, with a caption referencing Lewis that read: “Guys, who’s the lady who…is running for school board, come on fellas, help…it’ll be funny.” 

Yeah. An Uzi, cash and a reference to a female candidate. Wildly funny. 

The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office has started an investigation, and Carmel High School principal Jon Lyons sent an email late Oct. 20 to every parent in the district—it’s suspected some of the anonymous trolls are Carmel High students—saying the school, also, is investigating. He doesn’t go into what the consequences would be if the poster is found to be a Carmel High student. 

Before that, in relation to the school board meetings, Lewis says the harassment started with adults publicly telling her she was bringing drama to board meetings, after she called out what she described as a sexist culture in the district. 

“It’s sickening,” she says. “People think the sexist culture I’m talking about is a difference of opinion but it goes deeper than that. And then teenagers in the community feel it’s OK to write sexist, racist jokes and post something equal to a death threat.

“I’m an adult,” she adds, “and it’s going to be hard to sleep tonight. I’ve been ignoring it, but bringing my daughter into it and then the death threat, they crossed a line.”

What she wants, should she win, is for parents to have a greater voice on the school board. 

-Mary Duan, managing editor, mary@mcweekly.com

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(1) comment

Fred Dodsworth

The internet is a toxic spew of angry people trying to terrorize anyone and everyone who doesn't agree with their world view. I loathe anonymous comments and avoid sites that allow anonymous comments. NextDoor is especially toxic. In my local community, the on-line news"paper" allows anonymous comments and thus frequently the most horrific distortions and insults are allowed and encouraged.

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