When I reported on allegations of sexual harassment and sexism at City Light last November, one of the main sources in my piece didn't want to use her name for fear of retaliation. I used "Jasmine" as a pseudonym, but since publishing that story, Jasmine has resigned from her job. Now, she's also outed herself with her real name (Beth Rocha) and helped establish a group of city workers who say they've experienced similar instances of sexual and racial harassment. (Read more about that effort here.)
On Thursday, Rocha and the group "Seattle Silence Breakers" held a small rally in front of City Hall on the eve before a City Council meeting on the subject of harassment at City Light the following morning. Several workers held signs that read, "Me Too," or criticized the city's human resources department.
Denise Krownbell, an 18-year employee at City Light and a co-chair of the Silence Breakers, said that the group formed after the Stranger article was published and members of an activist group called Radical Women reached out to workers at Seattle City Light.
"Seattle calls itself such a progressive liberal city, and this stuff is going down on the taxpayer's dime," she said. "The one consistent message we've heard from anyone who's reached out to us is that they are afraid of retaliation. We need to end it at the city so we can end it for all workers, and that's why I wanted to get involved with this."
Other workers who attended the rally said they were frustrated that after decades of working at the city, mistreatment they had experienced as young women persisted today.
"I've been with the city for 37 years, and I've seen this stuff come full circle," one city worker, Natalie, said. "I remember what it was like to be sexually harassed as a young woman coming into an all-male department. And I was really sad to see, and to find out, that this stuff was still going on, to the extreme ways that it's happening, it's like, beyond me why it's happening today."
Natalie, who only wanted to use her first name, also tried to bring issues of racial harassment to the attention of the Ed Murray administration. Shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, Natalie and workers involved with various racial equity projects and affinity groups in city government sent a letter to Murray reporting an uptick in "hateful and aggressive behavior."
But Natalie said she was optimistic about the new mayor. "Basically, what Mayor Murray did was a soft approach," Natalie said. "It's always been here. It was here before I was even here. But I think [Mayor Durkan is] going to be the one to actually change it."
Still, the Silence Breakers circulated a "Valentine's Day shout-out" asking attendees to contact Mayor Durkan and the City Council to release data on the number of harassment and discrimination complaints the city has investigated over the last decade, as well as the amount of money paid out by the city in litigation and settlements. The Silence Breakers are also urging the City to make the Office of Civil Rights independent of human resources and the mayor to investigate claims of harassment and discrimination.
Yesterday, when I asked Rocha how she felt about the attention given to harassment complaints at the city, she said she supported Mayor Durkan's actions thus far, and supported updating policies. Still, she added that employees who reported harassment needed more support throughout that reporting process, and that she thought these things should be done sooner rather than later.
"The progress I've seen at [the Seattle Silence Breakers] has been greater than a lot of things I that I haven't seen happen a quickly in the city," Rocha added. "But, as you see, when you see a lot of people who are motivated and mobilized to act, change can happen faster than what people think cultural change is limited to on a slow, bureaucratic pace. For things like discrimination and harassment, it should happen at a more urgent, fast-track pace."
This morning, Rocha appeared at a City Council committee meeting to discuss her activism at City Light—just one part of what City Council members say is a much broader review of the city's sexual harassment policies and practices.