Marisa Adam has spent her spring break conducting what she says is a 17-day and counting hunger strike in front of the of the White House in the hope of getting a response to the harassment she says she experienced while interning for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election.
“I don’t think people understand the point that I really loved Barack Obama,” Adam, of Roselle, New Jersey, told TheBlaze in an interview in Lafayette Park across from the White House. “I remember being in college and no one thought, in my dorm, he could pull it off in 2008 and I said, I think so. People thought I was nuts.”
She says white colleagues at Obama's Chicago headquarters verbally harassed her, pulled her hair and touching her skin. After reporting it, she said she faced retaliation from her supervisors.
She says she's been on a hunger strike since the beginning of April, and won't stop until she gets acknowledgment from the White House.
“Not until they take responsibility for their actions,” said the 26-year-old part-time New Jersey charter school employee and graduate of the University of Chicago.
She said she frequently feels lightheaded. “I don’t know what happens. I am concerned about my health, what happens to your body if you go two weeks without eating and how that affects your health if you want to have children one day.”
Even as she wants a response from the White House denouncing the actions of some on the campaign, Adam said she doesn’t blame the president, though she does think differently of him.
“I’m not saying he intentionally wants people to behave that way,” Adam said. “What speaks the loudest to me is that they would only do that if they felt they could get away with it.”
Obama’s 2012 campaign gained attention for being dominated by white staffers.
Adam noted that Al Sharpton and other activists have launched similar tactics to demand the Senate confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general. She said that unlike Sharpton's cycled fast with other activists, she is going on a full-fledged hunger strike.
“It’s ironic their hunger is over perceived discrimination and mine is too,” she said. “I would hope even though I’m trying to hold a black president accountable and they are trying to hold white senators, Mitch McConnell, accountable, both should be viewed as the same struggle. It doesn’t matter what color the individual is on the other side.”
Though she filed a racial and gender discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August 2012, she said she felt conflicted about trying to publicize the matter. The EEOC issued a “notice of right to sue,” but she didn’t want to push it that far at the time.
“People don’t really know how much I loved our president,” Adam reiterated. “That takes time to understand when you feel conflicted, essentially, to realize what you need to do. I didn’t want to be blamed for any election interference.”
But she also says she didn’t feel in the right emotional state to push the matter, having gone through depression and anxiety and attending therapy. She said she began to gain confidence again after working in China teaching English to government employees there.
After getting no response to letters she sent to the White House in October 2014 and February 2015, and saying she can’t afford to file a lawsuit, she decided to go on the hunger strike, which she warned she would do in the February letter.
Adam said she interned at Obama’s Senate office and volunteered for his first campaign while attending the University of Chicago, describing the 2008 experience as “lovely.”
That changed in the next election cycle.
She said she began working as an unpaid intern for Obama's re-election in the political department in September 2011, which had the potential to lead to a paid job, according to the EEOC complaint filed Aug. 30, 2012. The complaint was received on Sept. 4, 2012.
“People pulled my hair and told me what to do with it,” Adam told TheBlaze. “People touched my skin and said 'ooh.'" She shook her head. "I wish I was making this up.”
When she first reported what was going on, she said a human resources staffer told her, “The president would not be happy this was going on.”
But that attitude from the campaign apparently changed: In her complaint, she said she applied for several paid positions that she did not get. She said supervisors noted the lack of diversity in the white and male-dominated campaign staff.
“I complained about discrimination and harassment that I experienced,” she wrote in the EEOC complaint. “As a result of my complaint, I was told to leave the campaign and that I could not work in a paid positions for respondent. I was then demoted to volunteer. All of the white males who worked with me in the political department who applied for paid positions were offered and/or hired for those positions.”
An EEOC spokesman told TheBlaze the agency can't comment on complaints it receives.
The White House did not respond to several inquiries requesting comment.
Organizing for Action is the outgrowth of Obama’s presidential campaigns and advocates for the president’s agenda. It is still based in Chicago with some of the same staff. Abigail Witt, managing director of Organizing for Action, did not return phone call requests for comment from TheBlaze. A phone call and email to a press inquiry line also went unanswered. However, an OFA staffer who was not a spokesperson told TheBlaze that an employee for Obama for America 2012 is not considered a former employee of Organizing for Action, because the two are separate entities.
TheBlaze also received no response from Barisa Meckler, the human resources coordinator for Obama for America whom Adam said she complained to. Meckler, now an employee for the General Services Administration’s Chicago office, did not return phone calls and emails.
In a Dec. 21, 2011 email Adam provided to TheBlaze, a supervisor at Obama for America wrote, “If it were me, I would probably just move forward at this point and don’t look back. Just capitalize on the volunteer opportunity you have starting next month … Happy holidays, please enjoy them and don’t worry about OLD drama!!”