Posted by: Rachel Piazza
“We should do something.”
With these words, Montana National Organization for Women President and Young Feminists & Allies supporter, Marian Bradley began a crusade to demand justice for Cherice Moralez, a 14 year old who took her own life after she was raped by her 54 year old teacher, Stacey Rambold.
It all started with a news headline on the Billings Gazette Facebook page. The Yellowstone County District 13 judge, Todd Baugh, who had just announced his plans to run for re-election, had sentenced Moralez’s teacher to a measly 30 days in prison. Stating that the victim was “older than her chronological age,”he let Rambold off with barely a slap on the wrist.
“Let’s have a rally!”
Immediately outraged, Bradley and some friends decided they would hold a rally. Not expecting more than 15-20 people, Bradley created a Facebook event page, and contacted the local media. The Billings Gazette wrote a story, which she fervently promoted on social media. She got busy contacting community members and officials. Four days later, Bradley stood in front of a crowd of 700.
Perhaps brought together by a common sense of injustice for a young girl from their small knit community, the diverse crowd in Billings, Montana ignited a national campaign to oust Judge Baugh, who arrogantly stood with police that day as the large crowd rallied to unseat him.
“Mobilizing in the local community is vital to success”
Turns out, the national media has a hard time ignoring this kind of community outcry. What Bradley assumed would be a local story was quickly becoming a national outrage. After the rally, the Associated Press and Reuters picked up the story. Soon after, national television news outlets were contacting her. CNN, MSNBC, Al Sharpton, Katie Couric, Good Morning America and the Today Show all wanted to cover the story. Melissa Harris Perry even wrote and read an open letter to Judge Baugh on air.
“Women have come out of the woodwork. It’s unbelievable.”
With the national spotlight shining on Billings, MT, women from all over the country began joining forces to take action against Judge Baugh. With the help of UltraViolet, over 140,000 signatures were collected from people across the country demanding that Judge Baugh be unseated.
Tapping into her NOW networks, Bradley linked up with Pennsylvania NOW who worked with the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum to go through the official process of filing a complaint to remove the judge.
It’s clear to Bradley that women are deeply connected to this story. The sad truth is that no matter our age, race, income, religion or geographic location, we can all relate to Cherice Moralez. We all, in some way or another, can remember feeling threatened by the advances of a male authority figure when we were young. Deep down we know that Cherice Moralez’ story is not unique. It’s one that plagues us all, whether rape occurs or not. Judge Baugh’s behavior has reminded us that the sexual exploitation of girls and women is embedded in the very institutions that are meant to protect us.
Tapping into this emotional connection, Bradley and a network of activists were able to shine the national spotlight on the injustice, inspiring a national dialogue and creating real, tangible change. Although Rambold has now been released from prison, he faces a mountain of over 50 restrictions that Bradley believes have been placed on him in response to Judge Baugh’s infuriatingly light sentence. Failing to comply with these restrictions, which limit his access to the internet, ban him from visiting public places where children might be present and require him to submit to annual polygraph tests, could place him back in prison serving the 15 year sentence that Judge Baugh suspended all but 31 days of.
Additionally, Bradley’s goal is to make sure that Judge Baugh will no longer serve as a judge. Whether he decides not to run for election, is voted out, or is unseated, the success of this campaign will likely ensure that Baugh will never exercise this kind of judicial bias again.
“It’s been a process.”
It’s hard to believe this all started just over a month ago. In that short time, a powerful campaign came together, piece by piece. Without the actions of Bradley, the response from the community and the media attention, Cherice Moralez’ story would have gone unheard, and Judge Baugh would face no consequences. Further, the social forces that allowed Judge Baugh to blame a 14 year old girl for being raped by her teacher would have gone unchallenged. By standing up and demanding justice for Moralez, Bradley and her community demanded justice for all girls.
Keys To Success
Knowing the keys to Marian Bradley’s success, we will be better equipped to replicate it when we encounter injustices in our own communities. Here’s the recap!
“Everything we did was driven by social media.”
First and foremost, Bradley credits social media. She initially discovered the story through Facebook, and used the technology to assemble the large crowd at the initial rally. Further, activists across the country have shared the story and the accompanying petitions through social media.
“Newspaper needs to be your friend.”
Without the cooperation of the Billings Gazette, the story would not have made an impact locally. The local paper’s story on the impending rally provided the necessary boost to mobilize the Billings community. It was that response from the community that made this story something the media couldn’t ignore.
“You better know your politics”
Knowing the landscape of her state and local politics allowed Bradley to move swiftly. She was immediately in contact with her elected officials. She has worked with the Attorney General’s office and local authorities to take the necessary legal steps in waging the campaign to oust Judge Baugh.
In addition, Bradley was aware of her state and local demographics and how the issue might resonate with members of her community. As a “middle of the road state,” she knew that the story of injustice for a teenage girl had the potential to rouse both conservative and progressive groups alike. This was an issue that spoke to everyone.
“Women across the country worked together.”
Bradley was able to tap into a network of activists who offered their help and expertise. The National Organization for Women, which has local and state chapters across the country provided invaluable help, as well as other groups and individuals who were ready to act. The success of this campaign is a testament to feminist organizing, both online and on the ground.
“We should do something.”
Perhaps most of all, it took one person saying these four words. Bradley implores other women to believe they can make a difference. When we see something in our communities, it’s up to us to take action. One person can truly change the world.
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead