This is a transcript of an interview conducted on Sunday, October 25, 2020. It has been lightly edited. Anything in brackets ([ ]) was added by the editors for readability. You can watch the interview here.
Natalia Tylim: Hi, welcome to a conversation with Tara Reade. I’m Natalia. I’m a member of We Believe Tara, which is a national network of activists that organizes with Tara Reade. I’m also a member of the Tempest Collective, which is a new publication for debate, discussion and activism on the Left. And I’m a member of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America.
This event is co-sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, by the Pittsburgh Socialist Feminist Committee, by New York City for Abortion Rights, and by the Reform and Revolution DSA caucus.
We’re extremely honored to host this event. Despite the fact that Tara’s voice has been sidelined by progressives, [and the] liberal and feminist mainstream, we think it’s important to talk about this issue of a survivor’s story. This event is geared towards all the people who have their own stories of sexual assault that follow them around everywhere they go in life. It’s geared towards everyone who’s disturbed and dissatisfied with the option of two alleged rapists for president, even for those who will choose to vote for Biden, which we certainly understand. Whoever wins this election, we must redouble our efforts to rebuild a feminist movement that is fighting for a better world for all of us, regardless of party affiliation and at every intersection of oppression.
Again, I just want to acknowledge that this election is scary and it’s rough. None of us are satisfied with the options and all of us want to see Trump, and his authoritarian maneuverings, go down. With this in mind, what are the issues and demands that the Left and the feminist movement could organize around to be able to one day transcend these terrible choices?
In 1993, Tara was a congressional aide and she was sexually assaulted at her workplace by her boss, Senator Joe Biden. She chose not to come forward [publicly] at that time, but she filed a complaint and was soon let go from her job. Flash forward to 2020, and her assaulter is a front runner to be the presidential candidate on the Democratic Party ticket. On the heels of the #MeToo uprising, she decided it was time to come forward. In response, she has been met with unbelievable cruelty, with attacks and smears, in an attempt to protect Joe Biden. This allegation has yet to be investigated. It has been tried and supposedly settled in the court of the mainstream liberal media, but there has been no independent investigation and the pertinent documents that are being held at the University of Delaware have yet to be released.
If you choose to vote for Biden, we understand and we respect your individual voting choice. But we also believe that that choice need not go hand in hand with throwing Tara Reade under the bus. The mainstream feminist movement in this country has just failed a giant test. It has fallen into the trap of blaming a survivor because of who her assaulter is. And this is unacceptable and we need to rebuild a feminist movement on a stronger foundation, or it will be completely toothless. The feminist movement in the United States will not succeed if it is tied to the Democratic Party. This is a party that has demonstrated time after time that our rights and our lives are negotiable to them.
We are as concerned about Trump and the real threat that the strengthened Right poses to us all. And this is why we are insistent on the need to rebuild the feminist movement. The feminist movement is at the forefront of anti-fascist struggle. This is true historically, and it’s true today. From Brazil to Russia, to Belarus to Poland, to Chile—this issue is not a distraction from the fight against the Right and the fight against Trumpism, it’s the vehicle for combating it. We need to grapple with the fact that the feminist movement internationally is thriving and growing. So why is this not the case in the United States? And what are we going to do to reverse that reality?
With that, I’m incredibly excited to introduce Tara Reade. Tara is a former Senate aide. She’s a survivor, a poet, an activist, and I’m very excited to announce that she has a new book coming out, a memoir about her experience. It’s called Left Out: When The Truth Doesn’t Fit In. You can find the book at tarareadeauthor.com. It will be available as an e-book on Tuesday, the 27th of October, and the physical book will be ready for January of 2021.
Thank you so much for having me.
NT Thank you. I’m very excited to have you. I mentioned this in the introduction, but you chose not to go public in 1993 when you were assaulted. And I was hoping you could speak a little bit about what made you decide to come forward now. And how did you expect your story to be received? Were you surprised by the way you were responded to?
TR Well, I came forward the way I thought I was supposed to in 1993. I mean, my mother wanted me to call the police and go to law enforcement, which I did not. However I did report the sexual harassment, and used a form. And then recently, I was reminded by someone who worked in another Senate office that I had actually contacted them and asked for their phone number to also be on the form. So that should be there on that form as well, if they could find it. And I’ve tried, and emailed, and been sent in all different directions.
What I was told is it would have been given back to Senator Joe Biden’s office at the time. And the chief of staff, who was Ted Kauffman, would have been in charge of it’s archival life, where it went. And, although Joe Biden said something about the Senate being in charge, that’s not true.
And he knows that, all of the personnel files went to the University of Delaware and are under seal. So I went ahead and emailed, and tried to get those personnel files, and was rejected under the Freedom of Information Act because Congress is not covered under the FOIA, and also because it’s a university and it’s sealed, so it’s considered private. Without his release, I can’t get the personnel file. In 1993, I had never considered going to the press at all. I only considered going through legal channels. And then when I went through what I went through with my daughter, where safety was more of a concern. The way we were living, it never occurred to me. In the 2000s when Obama ran, I was very pro Obama, very excited about him running for president and Biden happened to be on the ticket. And by then, my daughter was still under age and still young, and my concern was for her safety and welfare. And there was really no mechanism to come forward. I mean, people say, why did you wait? Well, you can contact press, but it’s up to them if they choose to print it or contact you, you have no control over that. You can reach out and that’s about it. And I didn’t plan to do that during that time. I wanted to simply live my life and heal. And there was just part of me that thought that maybe my experience was somehow unique, even though I had heard rumors that there was stuff going on with him, it wasn’t anything substantive. So I thought, well, maybe he changed. I lived with that secret.
Then 2019 hit and Lucy Flores bravely came forward and seven other women. And they were just really torn apart in the press. One was called narcissistic, you know, the same kind of things they said about me. They were “liars, narcissistic, wanting attention.” And I can tell you, nobody wants this kind of attention. I talked recently to a Weinstein survivor and her hope is that she’s not always going to be considered a Weinstein survivor. Instead she’ll be who she is and be known for her work or whatever, you know, how she’d like to be known; but it’s a tough legacy to just be someone’s accuser.
So, I saw and heard Lucy Flores bravely coming forward. And then I remembered when Whoopi Goldberg was really sarcastic about her and said, “well, if somebody put their hand on my shoulder, I would just tell them to take it off. I mean, what’s her problem?” And I thought, not if it’s your boss and no it’s not that easy.
And then a second thing happened. I was talking to my daughter, she knew by that time about what happened to me. And she just said, “you can’t come forward. He’s just too powerful.” And I thought, well, now I have to, because she’s 25 years old going on 26 and I didn’t want another generation having to be afraid of a powerful person.
And so when the opportunity presented itself—a local reporter that knew someone in my writer’s group called me—the first time I wasn’t sure. And then the second time he called, I took the call, and went ahead and kind of put my toe in the water and started talking about things for which I knew there were witnesses, and there was a paper trail, and that was sexual harassment. And I wanted to talk about the sexual assault, but I was too scared. And [the reporter] said something that really got to me, that kind of made me not want to say it. And it wasn’t his fault, but it just kind of gave me the excuse to not bring it forward.
So in 2019, the sexual harassment [story] came [out] and I was dismissed as a Russian agent. It was called a Russian disinformation story. I kept reaching out to Lisa Lerer at the New York Times. She acknowledged that publicly, that I kept reaching out. Finally, someone got back to me in 2020, and I thought I had the #MeToo movement behind me.
So that’s kind of the journey that I took. I didn’t know that I would be standing alone without support. You know, until the We Believe Tara committee came along to provide that beautiful support that has really helped me.
NT I mean, certainly you’ve been sidelined, but I want you to know you do have support. There are people who support you. It’s wild to think about that time in 1993, sexism at Capitol Hill was probably something that everyone was talking about left and right. I mean, with the Anita Hill hearings and the Juanita Broderick story. Was it something that was kind of just like a conscious secret? It’s just interesting to me, the way in which things have both changed and stayed the same in so many ways with the ways that people have come forward. It’s just incredible.
TR It was much more the norm to not talk about it. And in fact, Anita Hill was kind of silenced, right? Because of the way she was treated. And my memory of 1993 is there were a lot of male members of Congress, not as many females, there wasn’t that balance. And, as such, there were many that behaved badly and it was known on the Hill. And I think there’s some studies and if you look up the articles, you can find the history of how difficult it was to make a sexual harassment complaint. It was quite, quite hard.
NT Yeah. I do think that Anita Hill exposed what happens when you come forward. But it also opened up all these things in which, like you’re saying, what was the norm at the workplace is no longer considered the norm. But at the same time, when you come forward about something about sexual assault, it’s treated in the same way—even after the #MeToo movement, it’s just astounding.
I want to change tack a little bit, and we’ll talk more about #MeToo and the Democratic Party shortly, but I wanted to talk a little bit about the Right. Because I know that you’ve given up a lot of speaking opportunities, both on liberal and right-wing media, because you’re insistent on supporting the survivors of both candidates. And Trump also stands accused by more than 26 women and counting. It’s absolutely disgusting. What do you have to say to the survivors of Trump’s assaults?
TR Just that they have my support. I mean, when someone comes forward, it’s really difficult and you can get a lot of weaponized political response that has nothing to do with what you’re talking about. So, I’ve always been supportive. I’ve reached out to a few, I haven’t heard back. I know that we’re at a time where everything is being politicized to such an extent that the environment, the pandemic is even politicized. We’re in a very strange point in history. But what I noted was that in the last three debates, no reporter or moderator asked the question of either candidate about sexual assault or sexual harassment. But not only that, they didn’t even talk about women’s issues at all, or gender bias or pay equity or anything, it was very toxic bro/male kind of vibe.
NT I mean, it’s kind of an obvious point, but it’s really hard for the Biden campaign to take on Trump for his vile acts because he also stands accused. And I’m curious, what do you think about the way in which we’re concerned about trying to limit the growth and the influence of the Right. How does the fact that the Democrats actually can’t take on this issue, how does that impact the fight against the Right? And do you think it actually strengthens Trump in a certain way because the Democrats can’t call him out?
TR Absolutely. It’s just hypocrisy. With Trump, what you see is what you get. With the Republican Party, you know what you’re getting. But with the Democrats, as you know, it’s wolves in sheeps clothing. I worked for these people. I know who they are. Ted Kauffman is still working with the Joe Biden campaign. I shared with everyone before about Anita Dunn, from the Knickerbocker agency, being elevated within Joe Biden’s campaign to do public relations. I mean, there’s a reason why he hired someone who smeared Weinstein survivors to do his PR. There’s a reason why Joe Biden did that.
If you look at the Federal Election Commission reports, they have paid her firm $2.2 million to date to make stories like mine go away. That’s a suppression of the media and that’s a violation of our first amendment rights. That’s weaponizing the media against truth.
And, you know, I may have faced some criticism because I went on a very conservative network—I don’t even think it’s aired yet, I believe next weekend. But the president of the network said that they were flooded with emails from people in that audience group that wanted to hear more because they were survivors themselves. So for me, it’s not about left-right media. It’s about reaching people that maybe feel disenfranchised politically, but are still watching, and maybe survivors and their stories are not being heard or told. And, so that’s why I’m trying to do what I can do.
Now, that said, I don’t want my story weaponized and used to help Trump. But I don’t want it weaponized and used by silence to help Biden. So I’m not going to help anybody. I’m just going to help survivors. And that’s basically what I hope to do.
NT Absolutely. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, which is that the #MeToo movement has put conditions on which survivors are worthy of support and which aren’t that fall on partisan lines. And that is not an acceptable way for a movement against sexual assault to handle these things.
TR You bring up a good point. I mean, how high does my credit score have to be for me for my story to have veracity?
Here are the people that I have supported all my life—and I’m a multi-generation Democrat—and I worked for some of these folks, and they’re shaming me because I’m poor or because I’m working class? I’m not ashamed of it, so they can do that all they want. But I’ve talked to other survivors where they may have something in their past, that’s unrelated to the sexual assault, but maybe they have a DUI or they have an arrest or something that scares them from coming forward. And, you know, it’s sad that anything like that would happen. So let’s say the New York Times narrative that I’m a poor, working class, Russian agent is true. Does that still mean it’s okay for me to be assaulted? No. So I just don’t understand the logic of smearing survivors. What, does that do to better our society in general?
NT Yeah. It’s never about the person who is coming forward with an accusation and how we can respect and give a due process to that person. It’s always about trying to find the thing that makes them a bad victim as if there is such a thing. Just absurd.
In terms of the #MeToo movement, did it have an impact on your feeling that you could come forward at this time? Or was it more you felt like you had to for your daughter and for Lucy Flores and for other survivors?
TR No, I would say I was looking for safety. You know, I was definitely looking for a safe way to come forward. So the #MeToo movement was important. It was a mechanism. You know you can’t totally be protected, but I thought, well, okay, I’ll have people that if they check the veracity of the story will [support me.] I get privately reached out to, and they say “after the election,” they will support me, or they say, “we’d support you, but we’re afraid if he gets into office we’ll lose our funding.” And I don’t know what to say to that. When I went to Time’s Up for help, for that protection, it was January and actually Joe Biden wasn’t the only candidate. And they were talking about him stepping down. So I was still coming forward and he was not even going to be a candidate. I had gotten a lawyer and the lawyer said, okay, I can represent you after he drops out in Virginia, and then he didn’t drop out.
And as everyone knows, Time’s Up said that their nonprofit status could be at risk if they helped me. Well, come to find out their public relations agency [Knickerbocker] was the same one as Joe Biden’s. So, right as I left the very last meeting I had with the director [of Time’s Up,] they said to me, “could you give us more names?” And I said, “what do you mean?” And they said, “could you give us names of other people that may have survived something from Joe Biden?” And I thought, well, they’re trying to give numerosity to my story? I wasn’t sure what they were asking. And they asked again and said, “we’ll keep in contact … and if you remember names.” And I said, “well, it’s not up to me.” And I did know of a couple people that had incidents, but I said, “it’s up to them to come forward and if they choose not to, they won’t.” Now looking back, and the close relationship between Knickerbocker and Time’s up Legal Defense, it’s concerning me.
Also Hilary Rosen [vice-Chair of Knickerbocker] called the editor-in-chief of one of the magazines—Law and Crime, I believe—and told them not to do any more stories about me. And then she allegedly called other reporters, telling them not to print stories about me. And Hillary Rosen, apparently is a political operative—I didn’t know who she was, but she was also involved with Time’s Up—a big Biden supporter and involved with that campaign. I didn’t know all these entanglements and I was just trying to get help, trying to get my story out. I didn’t know about what was happening. It’s a pretty concerted effort to protect Joe Biden or any Democrat in power.
NT I’ll say. I’ve been an activist for a long time, and I’ve been active around these issues for a long time, and I’ve never gotten such a front row seat into how they actually use the media and the networks of the Democratic Party to shut out a story. I mean, it’s not surprising. I know they do this, but I’ve never seen it so firsthand. And I’m so sorry that it had to happen to you.
TR That’s okay. I’m hoping it won’t ever happen again. Maybe this is a unique point in history. When I’m talking to other survivors, like particularly [survivors of] Weinstein or Cosby, when it’s someone beloved—Weinstein originally was very beloved by the Democratic Party, he gave huge donations, Hillary Clinton was his huge supporter, but Rose McGowen talked about this recently and Hillary Clinton herself suppressed Rose’s story because of her friendship with Weinstein—so you have these powerful people deciding what the public gets to know. And I think what’s dangerous—going back to your original about Republicans and Democrats—this duopoly that we live in is really kind of harmful, and they’re both using the same tactics and they’re both using multimillion dollar ways to combat each other. And it’s kind of a wash as far as the good that comes from it. All it’s doing is enabling predators in the highest offices of the land.
NT One of the things about the two party system—I see this every time you post something, every time somebody posts something in support of you—it’s always like, “oh, obviously this is something that a Trump supporter is saying.” The idea that if you’re not on one team, you’re on the other and not that we’re trying to build a team that transcends those bounds. A team that’s for all survivors. And we don’t have that, you know, we don’t have organizational political representation yet. And that does damage to these issues.
TR It does, yeah.
NT I’m curious to hear more of your thoughts about this election, because I’m sure you’ve gotten so much pressure to just stop telling your story. And I’m curious to hear more about why you’re insistent on it, even though you don’t want Trump to continue his authoritarian rule. I’m curious to hear you talk more about that.
TR I am going to continue to speak truth to power as much as I can. I have gotten private texts from certain media outlets, mostly left, who have said: “if you go on this network, you won’t be on air again.” [They say] that I’m being opportunistic if I go on right-wing media. You know, just kind of veiled threats. First, they try to cajole you and then they threaten you and bully you. And it’s like, none of the psychological tricks are going to work, stop it. I already spoke my truth and I’m going to keep telling my truth and who will listen?
For instance, I gave that example of that far-right network that I was on, they were actually quite gracious with me and said “you can call out anyone you want, we know that there’s a Republican problem. We want to provide balance.” And when they said that, I was like, OK. Whereas with Fox, I was going to go on live and they still haven’t had me because they probably know I’m going to call out who needs to be called out, which is both.
I can only speak from my experience. Right? So the person that did this to me was a Democratic elite, that’s Joe Biden. However, I do support the other women who came forward and that’s essential. That is what we do, we give support to one another. I think one of the hardest things has been the betrayals. You know, I’ve been lucky that I’ve had all of you. You know, Rose McGowan has been amazing and steadfast. Other celebrities in the background, they don’t want to be associated publicly due to the backlash. But I’ve had other survivors who’ve tried to come forward for me and then had trolls attack them so hard. They literally feared for their physical safety because it’s already hard for them to speak up. And then you get some threats and you’re just afraid. It’s ridiculous and it needs to stop. And I think sometimes social media shows the worst of human behavior and definitely doesn’t elevate the best very often, or often enough.
NT That’s for sure. It’s a lot easier to attack a survivor who you don’t know on social media than it would be to actually have a movement where we were debating these things, and trying to figure them out, and you have to talk to each other and chart a way forward together.
I want to talk a little bit about your vision in terms of how these issues could be addressed? How do you think a better way for survivors to be treated, and how do we achieve that? And how is it connected to getting beyond the idea that everything people do is about which party they’re in?
TR Well, I think when you’re dealing with politicians you need to take out the equation of the political party affiliation. In other words, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been allowed to ramp up this troll farm thing—they’re saying they’re Russian, but they’re actually American troll farms—that are attacking private US citizens. I think one thing would be to get legislation to get tougher on the troll farms, on bullying, cyberbullying, cyber-stalking, and really have harsh penalties because that will be a deterrent. And hold the DNC accountable, and the Republican National Committee, if they’re doing it as well—and which they may have to Dr. Ford, let’s say, I know she got death threats as well. It’s kind of like the Wild West on the internet right now. … So I think one part of the movement is to update our laws legislatively so that survivors have some protections.
Also looking at ways that we can be protected when we come forward. You know, instead of Time’s Up—which is like a catch and kill for the predators to get the names of their accusers—having a legitimate Time’s Up that’s not beholden to the powers that be.
I think also we need to look at institutionalized rape culture as a whole. And until we look at institutionalized rape culture, I don’t see much movement happening. So that has to be addressed.
NT Yeah. I really think we need a Time’s Up that is for everyone, that does not put qualifications on who we support and who we don’t. And that strives for a movement that supports everyone.
I want to ask you about your book. So you wrote this memoir?
NT Everybody should, get their advanced copy at tarareadeauthor.com.
TR It’s in pre-order right now, but a preview is available Tuesday, October 27th, and then the hard cover is available January, 2021. It’s called Left Out: When the Truth Doesn’t Fit In. So that about sums that up.
NT What made you decide to write that book and what made you decide to put it out now?
TR Well the publisher decides that. I was writing already. I had been writing for a while about this, and then I had been writing a novel and had been using it like a way of healing through some of the things that I’ve been through. And then so much happened between March and now that it’s been incredible. So based on my journals, my notes, some sound recordings, some other things, I was able to write this. I try to tell the story, rather than just talk at people, it’s sort of engaging in the story and telling you more about who I am. There’s so many misconceptions. Like I don’t have a Russian online boyfriend. There’s no Russian boyfriend with a Siberian horse farm, although it does sound nice. I don’t have that. I don’t have any of those connections. So I was able to just kind of clear up some things about my life and who I am and about what happened.
NT I really can’t wait to read it.
TR Thank you. I’m excited.
NT I want to ask you about, because everybody’s always like, “oh, she’s a Russian spy.” What do you say in response to that? And where does that come from?
TR Nyet. Nyet. Nyet. No, not a Russian spy! As glamorous as that sounds, I guess, on some level. And it’s weird because when it happened 27 years ago that would have been Soviet times. So I would have had to be a Soviet spy and like somehow projected this 27 years in the future. So I’m not a time traveling, Russian spy, bottom line. I was trying to remember the first time I saw that narrative. It was by Edward-Isaac Dovere. He works for the Atlantic, and put out some tweets implying that. But guess who sits on the board of the Atlantic? Jennifer Palmieri who works for Vice President Biden. It’s that Biden connection. It’s like, they’re all connected.
NT They’re all connected. We got to get our side all connected.
TR So we need to stop the “Russia, Russia, Russia,” default, it’s ridiculous. And we need to look at our own country and figure out what’s wrong and look at the hypocrisy. Because right now what the Democrats are doing in any scandal or with anyone who disagrees with them, is calling them “Russian.” And that’s ridiculous. It lacks emotional intelligence and it’s xenophobic.
NT I also think I can be critical of both parties in this country and also be critical of Putin, which I am.
TR Yeah, exactly.
NT We don’t have to choose one or the other. In fact, actually we have a lot in common with the people who are struggling against Putin in Russia.
TR It is true, hypocrisy is part of both parties right now. And again, back to the duopoly, I think if you look at the hit pieces that were done on me and the hit pieces that are done on other people, there’s a template. And it starts with going after the person’s background that might make them vulnerable. Like in my case, it was a bankruptcy. They try to look for a criminal [past.] Then they go after the education, they go after the family, and it’s just a template. And if you look at the New York Times, they use the template on Melania Trump, they try to suppress anything positive, or that was good and make it sound negative. Like I was in [the movie] La Bomba. I was just a dancer. I started out as an extra and then auditioned and got the dancing part. They made it sound like I lied about it. And then when they were sent the clip with me in it, they had to retract it. But it was just things like that, what does that have to do with what happened to me in 1993?
NT Yep. That’s what I keep coming back to. What do any of these non-sequiturs about somebody’s life have to do with somebody being credible or not when they say they’ve been assaulted? It’s the world upside down.
I do want to ask what do you have to say to people who support you, but also feel like they have to vote for Biden because they’re very scared and sick of Trump.
TR I have friends and family voting for Biden. I have no problem with that. I have friends and family voting for Trump. I know people that are not speaking to each other over this, and it’s just stop the nonsense. We’re going to have to live beyond this November 3rd election with each other. It’s interesting because when I was in DC recently, for some of the publicity that I did—they were kind enough to get me out there and kind enough to bring a good friend of mine who stays off the record. I call her Mave in the book—she and I were reminiscing about when we were working there just wasn’t that tension, that people were just much more cooperative about Republican, Independent, Democrat, it didn’t matter. The Green party was just kind of starting to get off the ground then. You put it aside at some point and just went on with your conversation, but it didn’t end friendships, you know, or end family relationships. So it’s been a very ugly election cycle. I think one of the ugliest in history personally, putting my story aside.
NT Yeah, it’s bad. It’s a bad one because it’s obviously like, Trump is atrocious, a monster, a racist, a xenophobe. And we don’t want that.
TR And I would say the same about Biden. He’s a racist, misogynistic monster. That’s my opinion.
NT I don’t think that Biden is going to be able to stop Trumpism. That’s my contention. We need a bigger force that has principled politics to be able to take on the racist, xenophobic outlook that Trump represents for sure.
TR I think we’re just in some growing pains with our country with who’s kind of taking the reigns of leadership and it’s sort of the last gasp of the white male power structure. I think we’re tearing it down in that sense. And so with that happening, you’re getting this pushback. They’re trying to hold on. 80 years old and going strong, but they’re trying to hold on.
NT Can that be the title of your next book? The last gasp of the white male power structure? … Is there anything else that you want to say to people?
TR Yeah. I just want to thank you for having me and for all your support and for rallying people that really cared. I also want to want to say that I’m really sorry that you all got attacked personally by trolls for supporting me and I think you’re brave to support me and I appreciate it. It’s meant a lot. So thank you.
NT You make all of us brave, honestly. You really do. So thank you.
We want to hear what you think. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natalia Tylim is a New Yorker, an unemployed socialist, and a founding member of DSA's Restaurant Organizing Project. She is also a proud member of the "We Believe Tara" committee.