How mean girls work, or why the CCSD Trustees are the most sexist group I’ve ever seen

August 16, 2021 5:30 am

If CCSD Trustee Lola Brooks was speaking on a street corner, people would take her less seriously.

Last week I wrote about speech in public meetings. Today I want to talk about something courts have pretty much avoided, which is the ways in which people use speech. Not what is said, but how we say it.

A few years ago, I happened upon the movie “Seeing Allred” on Netflix. There was a scene of Gloria Allred on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1989. They were talking about the legitimacy of homosexuality. The panel was comprised of one lesbian couple and one gay couple, Allred and some middle aged white guy with a scraggly, graying beard. The bearded guy was against gay rights. He pointed out that not long before, every state in the U.S. had sodomy laws. Allred eviscerated him, pointing out that not long before that, it was illegal for black people and white people to marry, which, she said, was racist.

The bearded guy shook his head and then banged the side of it. It was clearly a physical manifestation of the words “This bitch is crazy.”

But if you had asked him, why do you think Gloria Allred is crazy, he might well have answered, “I never SAID that.”

That’s what Lola Brooks did in the July 8 CCSD Trustees meeting, when she castigated and blamed board president Linda Cavazos for the “off the rails” disruptions to the previous meeting, on June 24.

“You cannot allow a speaker to speak for 10 minutes because you like the message they are delivering,” Brooks admonished Cavazos. “It is one and a half minutes across the board no matter how much you enjoy the words coming out of their mouth. If you do that more consistently, I think we’ll be able to maintain order a little better.”

Here, once again, is the video of Brooks’ admonishment. Brooks’ tone is angry, frustrated. She is speaking from the dais of a school board meeting – a privileged “place.” She is speaking in the middle of a meeting at a particular “time.” She is speaking in a “manner” that implies authority, which is bolstered by the time and place. If she were saying this on a street corner, people would take her less seriously. And anyone watching this would not assume by her vocal inflections, body language and facial expression that she is joking.

After that July 8 meeting, when I asked Brooks if she was insinuating that Cavazos was playing favorites in public comment – something that is a violation of open meeting law – she didn’t give me a direct answer. “It’s not a riddle,” she texted. “I said what I meant, nothing more, nothing less.”

She did say what she meant. She just said it in a way that she could deny she said it. I believe that was purposeful. When Brooks has the facts on her side, she elucidates them. When she doesn’t, she avoids the question. I asked her numerous times if she was insinuating that Cavazos played favorites on June 24. She never gave me a direct answer.

Probably because she knows she’s wrong.

I went back to that June 24 meeting, and spent one painful day clocking the public comments. I got six categories:

  1. Administrative, which encompassed many topics. There was no particular “side.”
  2. Consent, which was comment on topics on the consent agenda and, again, had no two opposing sides. Also, the time rules for consent agenda comment are different.
  3. Pro-Storage, which was comprised of people speaking in favor of putting a sentence on some papers sent home with students encouraging folks to store their guns safely. There were nine people who spoke on this.
  4. Anti-Storage, which comprised absolutely no one. Seriously, no one spoke against it.

Which brings us to the topic that caused all the heckling and threats: the anti-racism policy. Presumably, this is what Brooks was talking about, since this was the part of the meeting that “went off the rails.”

There were 25 people who spoke on the anti-racist side. They spoke for an average of 1 minute, 50 seconds. There were 13 people speaking for the pro-racist side (which also comprises anti-maskers). They spoke for an average of 1 minute, 52 seconds.

Nobody spoke for 10 minutes. I’ll give Brooks the benefit of the doubt that she was speaking in hyperbole on this to make a point.

Two people on the pro-racist side went way over time. Tanya Jackson, who speaks with a Russian accent and gives the same speech every meeting railing against “American Communism,” spoke for 2 minutes and 33 seconds – almost half of which was done after the mic was cut off. Lorena Cardenas spoke for 2 minutes, 45 seconds. This does not include when Cardenas came to the podium out of turn because she was convinced her name had been purged from the list.

The only person on the anti-racist side that spoke longer than the two above was Akiko Cooks, whose organization, No Racism in Schools 1865, pushed for the law that the new anti-racism policy will be based on. Cooks spoke for 3 minutes and 22 seconds. That comment was given after the pro-racists had left. 

The pro-racist/anti-maskers never stick around to hear what other people have to say.

In all, five people on the anti-racist side spoke longer than 2 minutes. Four people spoke longer than 2 minutes on the pro-racist side.

Almost everyone spoke longer than the 90 second limit.

So, no one “side” was given more time than the other. Cavazos did not favor anybody. And the incorrect implication by an officer of the board in an open meeting that the president of the board did favor some people is despicable.

People watching that July 8 meeting and Brooks’ castigations may walk away thinking, “Wow, Linda Cavazos plays favorites with people she agrees with.” They would think that because an officer of the board said it with confidence. And, the words from an officer of the board are given more weight than the words of a member of the public at the podium, or someone yelling outside the building. There is an assumption of insight and knowledge. There is an assumption that she did her homework before speaking.

She did not.

This does not rise to the level of slander, but it is a form of communication that I find deeply disturbing. It is damage by insinuation, and sometimes outright lying, that every 5th grade teacher sees, as girls decide whether they will continue to value friendships with other girls or see other girls as rivals.

Even more disturbing is how Brooks weaponizes sexist tropes as dog whistles to discredit the people she wants to shut down. Brooks did the same thing to Trustee Danielle Ford last year. As soon as Cavazos became president, she set her sights on her.

The stereotypes she’s weaponizing are well-worn. With Ford it was that she was a rule breaker when she asked questions that Brooks (and perhaps Supt. Jesus Jara) didn’t want to answer. In doing so, Brooks was not only deflecting when she felt cornered – something she has done with me numerous times – but she was whistle blowing to the prejudice that pretty women can’t be smart. And if they are, they are witches who must be shut down.

With Cavazos, who is a therapist in her other life, Brooks is weaponizing the sexist trope of the addled older woman who is not strong enough to act.

Let’s be clear, these kinds of tropes work because we are all brought up to see them as “just the way things are.” Actually, we’re brought up to not see them at all. This is how we get around First Amendment restrictions in public forums, by weaponizing community expectations of who should be able to speak, and how they are allowed to speak. We don’t have to use horrible speech. We just have to point out, surreptitiously, that someone has violated those unspoken rules.

The U.S. has been overwhelmed by this kind of speech – this kind of plausibly deniable insinuation – since 2015. We were ill prepared to identify it, and to fight it as it was happening.

We are still falling for it. And it is incredibly dangerous.

CCSD and Mean Girls. A Parody

Let’s put our CCSD Board of Trustees in the halls of North Shore High School, with Regina and her Mean Girl friends. This is how the scene might play out:

LOLA, standing at her locker, surreptitiously sticks her foot out as DANIELLE is walking by

DANIELLE: (sprawled on the ground) Lola why did you trip me?

LOLA: I did no such thing!

STUDENT WHOM LOLA HAS PREVIOUSLY TRIPPED: Yes you tripped her. I have it on video. Here is the evidence.

Airdrops video to DANIELLE

LOLA: MISS Ford, you didn’t go through the proper channels to acquire and present that evidence.

DANIELLE: Well I expected to get to the root of why you tripped me and provide you with an opportunity to assure me that you won’t do it again, but instead you’re lying. (She checks her phone) Someone else just sent me a picture from another angle, and you can clearly see your foot. Why did you trip me?”

LOLA: MISS Ford, many people walk by me daily and don’t trip. If you feel that you haven’t had proper walking training then I’d be happy to connect you with a walking coach.

DANIELLE: I don’t need a walking coach. Here is the evidence. Principal Jara, please look at this video.

PRINCIPAL JARA: Oh, you girls are catfighting again. That’s so cute. (He walks away.)

LOLA: (smirking) MISS Ford, have you considered that maybe you’re wearing the wrong shoes? You wear different shoes than the rest of us. Perhaps I can help you get shoes that match.

DANIELLE: My shoes are fine. Like I was saying…

LOLA: (heavy sigh) MISS Ford, we’re clearly not going to get to a solution and this is taking up too much time. This is why people think you’re such a trouble maker. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for class.

LOLA saunters off, laughing.

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Carrie Kaufman
Carrie Kaufman

Broadcast, digital and print journalist Carrie Kaufman writes the You're Overthinking It newsletter on Substack. She has covered the Clark County School District for public radio and The Nevada Voice since 2015. Follow Carrie on Twitter: @CarrieKaufman