Sarah Pearson/Courtesy of K.C. Cayo
On Tuesday night, K.C. Cayo’s photo of Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden went viral on Twitter. In the photo, Biden, the current frontrunner, is pointing his finger in Cayo’s face with his eyebrows raised.
Cayo, a student activist based in Wisconsin, said they had attended an Iowa campaign event as part of a loosely organized group that “bird-dogs” candidates, a tactic that involves seeking out opportunities to ask candidates where they stand on particular issues. Cayo, who uses they/them pronouns, and the two women with them had wanted to ask Biden about his views on the Hyde Amendment, a provision that bans federal funds from being used for abortion. Decades ago, Biden voted against a measure to create exceptions within the Hyde Amendment for survivors of rape and incest, which later passed into law. Then last week, he flip-flopped on the issue, first saying he still supports the amendment, and then later reversing his stance, saying he would repeal it if elected president.
Cayo said they would have liked to ask Biden about some other issues that have plagued his campaign, like the accusations of unwanted kissing and touching from multiple women, and making light of the incidents at public events. But they didn’t get to it. “I wasn’t able to even finish my 30-second elevator pitch—I never got past the first sentence,” Cayo said. “Just the fact that he wagged his finger at me in such a condescending manner is very telling.” The Biden campaign did not respond to VICE’s request for comment before publication.
Here’s the rest of Cayo’s story in their words:
Every weekend, a couple of us have been going to events to ask Democratic presidential candidates where they stand on Supreme Court and lower court reform. We’re hoping that if they get asked about it enough, it will become an issue at the debates and if a Democrat wins in 2020 we’ll get to see some real reform. There are about a dozen of us, and we all met protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation last year.
We’ve spoken to every candidate at least once now. But this was my first weekend getting to bird-dog with them because I just got out of school for the summer. I got to bird-dog Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang, and then, yesterday, Joe Biden.
Usually we catch candidates at the end of a selfie line. It’s a version of us telling our story—whether it be as survivors of sexual assault, someone who protested Kavanaugh, or just someone who’s interested in social justice—and then bringing up the decades-long plot to stack the courts with conservative judges and asking where they stand on that. For the most part, the candidates have been pretty willing to speak.
We rearranged our flights on Monday to get to Ottumwa, Iowa, where Biden was speaking. We changed our questions for him because we wanted him to answer for some of his stances regarding reproductive rights, especially his statements in the last two weeks on the Hyde Amendment. We wanted to tell him why his stance concerned us and then tie it back to the courts.
We got in Biden’s selfie line. First he got to Fran, the woman in the photo with me. She asked him if he was willing or interested in reforming and restructuring our courts. He said something noncommittal—something along the lines of, “I need to think about it.”
Then I reached out to shake his hand and pick up where she’d left off. I said, “Ok, that’s great, because we’re personally very concerned with your stance on abortion, which is a lot more conservative.” Specifically, we were concerned about his less-than-24-hour flip on the Hyde Amendment. That’s where things got confusing: His tactic to deflect us was to keep talking about the Violence Against Women Act [which established the Office on Violence Against Women and funded groups providing resources to victims of gendered violence], as if he didn’t understand what the Hyde Amendment was, so I said, “No, we’re not talking about that.” We asked him to protect survivors. Then he leaned in very close to my face, and started wagging his finger at me. He said, “Nobody has spoken about it, done more, or changed more than I have.” When he walked away I shouted after him, “We deserve better.”
We left after that because we didn’t want anything to escalate; we didn’t want to be in a shouting match.
I’m behind the I Believe Survivors movement, but aside from that, I can now make the connection between the man I saw and the man accused of harassment by multiple women. I saw a man capable of those things: A man who can’t take responsibility, who doesn’t respect women, and who gets in their personal space. He got angry and started to raise his voice, and I think it was an intimidation tactic. There’s no reason to wag your finger at a womxn or reprimand them for asking questions about things you have been in the press for just last week.
Ideally, Biden would have said, “I see where you’re coming from; I see where what I said [about the Hyde Amendment] was harmful or problematic. Here are some ideas I have to protect women.” Or he could have said, “I plan to come up with some ideas.” He could have taken any amount of responsibility for his views. Going in, none of us really believed that would happen, but there’s always a possibility for someone to show they’re capable of change.
With all of the recent anti-abortion bills, now more than ever it’s really important to have a progressive stance on bodily autonomy. Almost all of the other Democratic candidates, especially the frontrunners, have a very progressive stance on reproductive rights. If Biden really wants to win, he needs to fix his ideas on this issue.
The fact that my tweet got this response shows that women and our allies are not going to tolerate politicians like this anymore. We’re sick of it.
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