Open letter to some ex-leaders of the ISO

April 11, 2019

In light of the revelation of a sexual assault accusation that was grossly mishandled by once-leading members of the organization, Tess Carter reassesses her own experience as a survivor of abuse committed by an ex-ISO member.

I AM a survivor of sexual and emotional abuse that I believe was facilitated by the culture you helped to create in the International Socialist Organization.

It took all of about 30 minutes of being in an ISO space before a man took acute interest in me. All of a week before he gave me his number and asked if we could hang out sometime. All of a month before he made it clear we were dating.

That man was a serial rapist.

He utilized the passive vulnerable position I was in during an intense period of grief — having suffered the loss of my mother, grandmother, good friend and dog in a very short time period — to not only be intensely emotionally and sexually abusive, but also to lay the groundwork for discrediting my word to people in your organization.

He spread rumors that I was a drug addict and was manipulative, and that I had sexually assaulted him. After I broke up with him, these rumors — combined with the distorted ways that capitalism teaches us to misplace our sympathy — meant that despite the obvious public knowledge of the severity of my situation, people in that political space made it very clear their sympathies were with him because he was a “heartbroken” man.

It was made very clear to me that I was not welcome in that space. I was bullied, overlooked and discredited by the adults around me. I assure you that had I not already learnt how to deal with insidious socially abusive situations (mainly via slut-shaming and “heartbreaking” shame), it would have been impossible to deal with.

However, I am used to being disliked, and I had the ability to politically assess, articulate and dismantle what was happening to me. With little aid from my local Branch Committee (after initial complete invalidation), I took this to national bodies. I found two other women in the ISO who had been raped by the same man (one of the women had been successfully bullied out by the abusive branch culture) and two more whom he raped in non-ISO spaces.

Here, things finally began to be dealt with appropriately. My case received national attention; I was flown to Chicago to talk about it at the ISO convention. I was given time and space and validation. The “PDX Crisis” became an event and term people knew. You all gave me your support; I formed strong bonds with some of you.

BUT AS information came to light about the way some of the same national leaders horribly mishandled a 2013 sexual assault case, it became apparent that you didn’t care for myself or any of the other survivors of the ISO.

Instead, utilizing your roles of leadership, you had merely picked and chose which sides you would take (always resulting in your success) given any case of abuse brought forward. Based solely on what was best for the image of the organization (both internally and externally), and for your own personal interests.

I now see that had it not been for #MeToo; had the member of national I had spoken to initially not been so validating and adamantly fighting for me; had you not had biases toward certain members who in this particular case happened to be victims; had I not, from the very beginning, made it clear that if this wasn’t dealt with aptly, I would be utilizing every platform I possibly could to publicly expose the ISO; things would have been dealt with very differently. Coming to terms with that knowledge broke my heart.

I do believe you have convinced yourselves that you are acting in a politically appropriate way. I do believe that what your brains and bodies have done allow you to tell yourselves that you haven’t done anything wrong. There is a term for this; it is called a defense mechanism, a reaction far more advanced and powerful than we typically give credit.

I am a huge believer in redemption. My father was an abusive alcoholic until I was the age of five. We’ve all heard this story before — and we know how it typically ends. Mine, however, was rather unique. My mother had started attending Al-Anon meetings two years prior and he then joined AA. They did the work to get better.

Due to my familial guidance, I have inserted myself into emotionally intelligent therapeutic spaces when and where I felt they were applicable to me. Despite, of course, having some critiques, this was a stage of my own psychological journey that I would never minimize in regards to my own recovery and growth.

By accepting — and rejecting where I found it apt — the emotional knowledge of therapeutic spaces and psychological theory, and fitting that into my political understanding of the emotional realities of capitalism, I gained a somewhat unconventional perspective in my criticisms of the left: namely, that without psychological and emotional understanding, we will be incapable of delivering socialism.

I still have much to learn, but myself and the comrades around me who are rejecting the ISO’s former ways all have a fundamental emotional and political comprehension that you all lack.

I have been granted a model of dealing with one’s demons — I cannot fully express what a privilege that is. I have been granted the necessary tools to walk the difficult path of tackling one’s very self. It’s one of the foundational features of happiness, and one that, it seems apparent to me, none of you possess. You would not be acting this way if you did. While that may be an explanation for your abusive ways, it is not an excuse.

THERE IS a way forward for you. Currently, you are festering in shame and hatred for the exposure of your ways. Currently, you are attacking survivors of your own abuse, covering up that abuse and denying of the necessity of being held accountable. Currently, you are perpetuating rape culture and abuse.

And while it may be understandable, as you are human beings raised under the harsh emotional mind-fuckery of capitalism, it is fundamentally inexcusable.

You have all been blinded by your egos. The celebritization — or at least unaccountable leadership and unqualified respect — you each experienced throughout your time in the ISO has gotten to your heads. You have all lost the ability to see any rationality.

There are others who were also granted this dysfunctional power dynamic and abused that power, but who have been able to acknowledge it and not defend it. The difference between you and them is that they are taking accountability and choosing the right path forward.

Furthermore, the insular culture within the ISO — you could even call it a cultish tendency, which is more common in political organizations than people think — granted you even more security in your abuse. Because, fundamentally, you made the rules. While you claimed that that there would be a higher standard in our organization than the judicial system and all the other unjust institutions under capitalism, in reality, you mimicked them all perfectly — like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

At least in broader society — from Hollywood to mainstream politics — major public figures have to deal with intense public criticism alongside the absurd levels of adoration. But you got to shut any criticism down. You got to silence and invalidate. You got to completely eradicate anybody, singular or plural, who would dare take a stance against you.

In so doing, you sent out the gut-wrenching message that anybody who dared disagree with you would meet the same fate. I shall spare you the obvious parallels of your actions with those of any number of oppressors in our world’s tragic history.

Do the work. That is your one option here. Take time — serious time (I will not be engaging with any of you further than this for at least a year) — and assess your selves, your demons, your motives and your actions. Be honest with yourselves. Take off your masks, at the very least in front of the mirror.

Sadly, you are not alone. Far too many on the left take your same positions, and make your same mistakes. It is, in my opinion, a major contributing factor as to why we have not yet achieved socialism.

The time has come for the left to drop the abusive assumption that the emotional is in anyway estranged from the political. That the private is divorced from the public. That feelings don’t goddamn matter. There are no such thing as “personal issues” that are not political. People are political — and therefore so are all of our issues.

You’ve broken my heart. Please try mending yours.