A young black woman who worked for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns is entering the third week of a hunger strike in front of the White House, protesting the 2012 campaign for racially discriminating against her.
She says she has not eaten a meal since March 31.
“I want the Obama administration to acknowledge what happened to me was wrong,” said Marisa Adam, a 26-year-old University of Chicago graduate, who says she left the Obama campaign in early 2012 because of the bias against her.
Adam, a New Jersey native, said that she has been campaigning for Democrats since she was 11 years old. But after her second round of campaigning for Obama, Adam no longer wants anything to do with politics, going as far as abstaining from voting.
The campaign denies discriminating on the basis of race.
According to her, in the fall of 2011, she was the only black female intern working at the Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago.
She said she worked with a group of six white men and gradually started to feel like an outcast in the office.
“It started with them leaving me out of meetings, then it became more drastic,” she said. “One of my supervisors told me that I couldn’t work there and that I could only intern on the African-American Leadership Council.”
She believes that the campaign was channeling her to work in the African-American Leadership Council, because she is an African-American. However, Adam had no interest in joining the council and claims she started to receive backlash for not switching departments.
Adam said that as a recent college graduate working in her second presidential campaign, her supervisors told her that she would receive assistance in finding a full-time position with the campaign.
However, after filing several complaints about mistreatment in the workplace, Adam said that her contract was terminated and she was left without the same opportunities that her co-workers had.
In the process of verifying these claims, TheDC obtained the discrimination charge that Adam filed Aug. 30, 2012 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. TheDC also reached out to several of Adam’s supervisors at the 2012 Obama campaign.
“It’s unfortunate that Ms. Adam has felt compelled to resort to such measures, but the facts are that race played no factor in the political department’s hiring,” former Obama for America national press secretary Ben LaBolt told TheDC in an email. “83 percent of the staffers were people of color at the time of Ms. Adam’s internship and after her internship ended, the next staff member hired was African American.”
As a lifelong Democrat and with family and friends devoted to Obama’s 2012 re-election, Adam said she hesitated to come forward with her allegations.
“For a long time I felt like I had to protect a lot of people that did me wrong, because I felt like I had the obligation not to hinder the Obama campaign,” said Adam.
She said she didn’t expect that anyone would believe the Obama campaign was discriminating against her, as a young black woman.
But Adam now thinks she has no choice but to protest outside the White House.
Surviving on nothing but hot tea and soup broth, Adam has come to the gates of the White House each day since March 31 with a pink sign that reads, “Second Class Citizen on a Hunger Strike.”
She keeps a running tally of the days on the bottom.
Adam said that she never wanted to become a racial activist, but that she has no choice now. The injustice of her experience is a systematic problem stemming from the top down, she concluded.
“This happened to me, but it could have happened to anyone. I was the only non-white male,” Adam said. “I was just the one there to take the brunt of it.”
In 2012, TheDC reported on the lack of diversity in the Obama campaign headquarters.
Adam, who said she is missing from this photo of the campaign headquarters, said it accurately reflects the campaign employees.
Adam said that her protest is part of a larger conversation that Americans need to have.
In her mind, the Democratic Party takes the African-American vote for granted, and people need to be educated about who they are supporting at the polls.
She wanted to make it clear that she is in no way trying to “tear down the Obama administration,” but she says that she now feels compelled to speak out in the interest protecting others from racial discrimination.
As a young worker in his presidential campaigns, Adam said that she loved Barack Obama — but that the affection is now marred by her poor experience.
“I want to make the point that, yes, we know that there is a very intimate relationship between the Democratic Party and black people, but that intimate relationship needs to be examined,” Adam said in an interview.
In her words, she believes that “it’s our duty as responsible citizens to make politicians fight for our votes and earn our votes regardless of their party.”