When Republican Congressional Candidate Rayla Campbell prayed for an opportunity to run for office, she had no idea just how elaborately – and at times hurtfully – that prayer would be answered.
Yet, that answered prayer brought her to a home on Eden Street on July 22 for a house party in her honor with a healthy group of Charlestown residents and movers-and-shakers ready to back her campaign for the 7th Congressional District against sitting Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. The new-found Charlestown backing is the kind of support that has come out of left field for the Randolph Republican, who is an African American woman and Trump supporter that was recently the target of a racially-charged, vulgar and offensive video posted by Boston community organizer (Violence in Boston, Inc. founder) Monica Cannon-Grant – a long-time campaign supporter for Pressley. Cannon-Grant was upset Campbell was running against Pressley, and that members of the conservative Super Happy Fun Group showed up uninvited at some of Campbell’s events – a group that organized last summer’s Straight Pride Parade.
The video has gone viral in every sense of the word, viral in the sense that it has sickened people all across the region and viral in the sense that it has spread very fast to reach even the quiet corners of Eden Street.
On July 22, about 30 or 40 people gathered in the living room of Elena Barbera to watch the video, which focuses on Campbell’s interracial marriage to a white man – discussing sexual issues with her husband, challenging Campbell’s blackness, calling her a “house slave,” and criticizing her for running against Pressley.
Many at the house party for Campbell couldn’t bear to watch the 40-minute tirade, which had been edited down to about 10 minutes.
Campbell, a mother of three, said her life has revolved around raising her children and instilling them with traditional American values – yet at the same time she has also always wanted to run for office in order to present an opposing viewpoint.
“I always wanted to run and I felt no one should be unopposed,” she told the group. “That was my message. The Republican Party finally called me back. They had seen my e-mail from a long time before and wondered if I still wanted to run. I prayed about it and this is what I wanted to happen…I didn’t know what was in store. I’m getting threatening texts all the time and people calling me colorful names constantly. You should see the ways I’ve been treated. It’s harassment and a violation…I’ve had two stand-outs and paid agitators have showed up to disrupt them. They threatened to gang rape me and they have it on tape and they posted it. I have a copy of it…The police say they can’t do anything because they didn’t actually touch me.”
But that was just the outset for Campbell, who has spent the last three weeks fleeing from her home as she said there have been constant threats against her family and her children since the Cannon-Grant video surfaced and she spoke out against it.
It all started, she said, in the oddest way when she was contacted by the New Black Panther Party – a group she said she has zero in common with. They sent her the video and said they found it offensive and that she could be in danger. After watching it, she tried to alert the press and other avenues, but no one would do anything. So, that’s when she sent it to the Turtle Boy online magazine.
“I had no idea the level to which it would go,” she said. “I didn’t know how politically connected she was to everyone. I’ve been in a hotel for weeks with my family. I get threats constantly. I’m being harassed by a psycho.”
So far, she has heard from Cannon-Grant who has said she should have used her words more carefully, but apparently will not apologize to Campbell. Also mentioned on the video by Cannon-Grant are Pressley, Councilor Lydia Edwards and DA Rachael Rollins. Edwards and Rollins have denounced the video and said they don’t support it, but Pressley has chosen not to comment on it. Mayor Martin Walsh, according to Campbell, has not reached out to her yet either.
“They gave (Black Lives Matter) a platform,” she said. “We have to stop it. I get called an ‘Uncle Tom’ all the time. It’s what I was called on that video. Why have we gone back to that? We are all Americans.”
But Campbell’s tragic experiences at the hand of an inappropriate video by a well-connected organizer were only part of the experience of the night, as many residents in the room quizzed her on her positions and how she would approach the job if elected in November. A Supreme Judicial Court case this month wiped away more than 1,000 signatures Campbell gathered in person before COVID-19, and so that left her off the ballot. She is still campaigning though, and needs to get 2,000 write-in/sticker votes in the Sept. 1 Republican Primary Election throughout the expansive 7th District to be on the November ballot to face Congresswoman Pressley.
Many residents seemed to want different representation that was more inclusive and less caustic – in tune to supporting the police, but not against saying Black Lives Matter and that there are some racial issues to solve.
Campbell was born in Boston, but her mother didn’t want to raise her in Boston’s public housing in the 1980s. She was able to get a unit in Scituate’s public housing development. Campbell attended Scituate schools and said she experienced a great deal of racism there during high school. She said white administrators constantly singled her out, and students of color from Boston in the METCO program harassed her for supposedly being privileged – not knowing she lived in public housing.
Fleeing those situations, she said she got her first apartment at an early age and worked at Dunkin’ Donuts. She became a Dental Assistant and pursued careers with Delta Dental, and eventually married her husband. After living with family for some time, they moved to Randolph and raise their three kids there, but it isn’t without some watchful eyes on the culture and values in the schools and community.
She said she is a devout Catholic, and pulled her kids from public school early on and put them in a Catholic School.
“I ripped my kids out of public school because of what was being taught to them,” she said. “My youngest daughter came home from kindergarten and said they learned about MLK. I said that was great and that she must have learned about his speeches and bravery. She told me, ‘No, we learned he was killed by a white man.’ That is not what I wanted her to learn first and foremost about MLK.”
She said teachers need to be able to discipline, as well.
“We have to make sure these teachers have the right to discipline these kids – in-school suspensions,” she said. “Bring it back. You’re in school and you’re in detention and with that there is accountability.”
Policing is also a big issue for her as well, and that was also an issue for those on hand July 22.
“Massachusetts has done some major reforms and we should be the model,” she said, noting that former President Barack Obama had said the same thing. “We’re not Chicago. People are very much on the attack with me because they know I love the police. They are very frustrated because I support the police. Qualified Immunity is important. It’s not just the police that it protects, but teachers, EMTs and everybody in public service. They want to take that away and then you can’t do anything.”
She said she is willing to sit down with anyone, even those that now oppose her and threaten her. That was a big issue in the room last Wednesday, because the district is diverse and most wanted to know if Campbell would be able to reach across to those in other parts of the city like Dorchester and Mattapan.
“I can sit down with anyone and have a conversation,” she said. “We can agree or disagree, but we’ll have a conversation. People don’t want a conversation now. They want to shut you down and shut you up. We have to keep talking…Say it to me. Say it all day every day and I’ll still come back with a smile. My voice is for all.”
In addition, there were lengthy conversations on the Opioid crisis, insurance, her support of President Donald Trump and other issues in the campaign. She said she needs a sticker or write-in campaign in September to get on the ballot in November. That would require, for many voters in Charlestown, taking a Republican ballot and forgoing a vote on the Democratic U.S. Senate and State Representative races. Time will tell if her new-support will have legs, but most left the home July 22 with a new sense of who they were supporting in a race that most had considered a non-event.