This is one of those bizarre stories that could only happen in a few ultra-liberal conclaves in the country. Nancy Rommelmann is an author living in Portland. Rommelmann partnered with Leah McSweeney, who is best known for a recent expose of the Women’s March published by Tablet magazine, and created a podcast where the two discuss some hot topics, such as #MeToo, R. Kelly, etc. This really shouldn’t be a big deal in America but, as I said, this is Portland.
Rommelmann is married and her husband owns a chain of coffee shops in Portland. She has helped out with the business so people who work there know her pretty well. Last month, a former employee wrote an email co-signed by current and former employees of the chain attacking Rommelmann for the views expressed on her podcast. In particular, Rommelmann had expressed some criticism of elements of the #MeToo movement. The email, which was sent to numerous local news outlets, suggested that the coffee shop might not be a safe place for employees because of Rommelmann’s opinions. From the Oregonian:
Thursday, a letter of protest signed by 30 current and former Ristretto employees was sent to Portland media outlets.
“We believe it is a business owner’s responsibility to create a safe and supportive working environment for their employees,” reads the letter. “Invalidating assault survivors throws into question the safety of Ristretto Roasters as a workplace and has the potential to create a demoralizing and hostile environment for employees and customers alike. This cannot be tolerated.”
“It’s important for customers to be informed” about the ideology Rommelmann is promoting, Camila Coddou, who sent out the letter on behalf of the employees, said Thursday.
Camila Coddou has a long blog post where she described her reasons for sending the letter to the media. Here’s the bottom line as she sees it:
…lots and lots of people exercised their own free will and right to the first amendment to say either out loud, on the internet, or to their friends, that they disagree with Rommelmann’s views as shared by her on her #meneither Youtube channel. The leap from there to not patronizing a business she is closely linked with and benefits from is really not such a stretch. People have the right to make that choice. To boycott her business doesn’t “shut her up,” as some people imply is happening. She continues to say what she wants, how she wants.
Participating in a capitalist system that is meant to keep people down is not my first choice. But when you are left with very little recourse, you use the tools available to you. We are living within a structure that champions white supremacy, endangers queer and trans bodies, questions women and survivors at every turn, and protects people with money. We can argue both “sides” of a situation until we are blue in the face, but unfortunately, we don’t get results fast enough, or often not at all. And within this broken system, sometimes the only thing people feel, the only way they hear our calls for equality, is through their wallets. So its pretty simple- that is what is happening here.
Why bother talking about what’s right when you can get fast results by simply punishing your enemy. Yesterday Rommelmann wrote a piece for the LA Times about the situation titled “Outrage culture is out of control.” She describes her initial reaction to Coddou’s email:
I told my husband it would blow over. After all, there was no suggestion in the email that he’d ever been inappropriate; only that my views were dangerous. And I hadn’t worked in the business in anything but a supportive capacity for two years.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It blew up, and in less than a month, a 15-year-old business with a spotless track record is now in danger of collapse. Baristas quit and wholesale accounts fled, their unease fed by a local press that keeps banging the drum.
This is the current pitch of outrage culture, where voicing an opinion someone says she sees as a threat qualifies you for instant annihilation, no questions asked. Why ask questions, when it’s more expedient, maybe more kickass, to turn anything you might disagree with into an emergency?…
It can be enlivening, certainly, to get caught up in a fight. However, one should come armed with courage, rather than, say, surreptitiously taking photos of me in public and posting them on social media, or anonymously calling all my husband’s vendors and telling them to stop working with a company that supports “rape culture.” Yes, that’s a quote. This campaign, led by so-called feminists, sees no irony in trying to drive a man out of business because his wife voices opinions of her own…
I have been asked whether I hate the people who started this. The answer is I don’t. I see them as afraid of the ideas of others. With this in mind, I have several times offered to have conversations about issues they evidently find dangerous enough to go to war over. No one has taken me up on the offer.
The problem isn’t Coddou. She’s just one cog in the left-wing outrage machine. The problem is the machinery itself, an approach to political disagreement that skips discussion and heads straight for personal destruction. Here’s a sample of Rommelmann’s YouTube series. Her co-host Leah McSweeney says, “It’s like if you’re not far left than you’re the enemy and that’s crazy. I don’t want to be there.”