NEW BEDFORD — A progressive advocacy organization backing Ward 3 City Council candidate Carmen Amaral says that social media posts by her opponent, Shawn Oliver, reveal “extremist” and “hateful” views contradicting the moderate image he has presented during the campaign.
April Jennison, an organizer with the Coalition for Social Justice, said Friday that six memes that were posted to Oliver’s personal Facebook page between May, 2019 and February, 2022 show “extremist beliefs that are harmful and hateful. They have no place in our community.”
She said the images suggest a candidate who as a council member would “struggle to represent diverse groups of people. I think it says they’ll struggle to be nonpartisan.”
Three of the six images cited by the organization, which Oliver has not denied were posted to his personal Facebook page, are aimed chiefly at transgender people and their advocates. The other three mock progressive causes and politicians: people pressing for a higher minimum wage, U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Vice President Kamala Harris and former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Oliver, a 39-year-old state prison correctional officer who, like Amaral, is a newcomer to elective politics, today said the source of this critique as well as the timing just days before the special final election on Feb. 28 suggest that his opponent is worried.
“We MUST be doing something right!” Oliver said in a statement. “I’m flattered that with a few days left in the election we’re close enough in this race that my opponent’s supporters are running desperate and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at me in an effort to distract from the real issues people in Ward 3 are facing like providing Constituent Services.”
He said in an interview that he’s just trying to grind out the last days of the campaign meeting Ward 3 residents door to door, as he has been doing for months. He topped the field of seven candidates in the nonpartisan preliminary election last month to fill the seat vacated by Hugh Dunn in early December. Amaral finished second.
“I’m proud of the positive grassroots campaign I’ve run and I look forward to earning the Trust and Support of the Voters of Ward 3 on Tuesday,” Oliver said in the statement.
Amaral, 43, the academic coordinator for the Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School in Rochester, released a statement Friday condemning the posts, saying elected officials should promote respect and tolerance.
“Oliver’s public social media posts are disrespectful, hurtful, perpetuate harmful stereotypes, and promote intolerance and division,” Amaral said in the statement. “I stand with the LGBTQ+ community and support their right to live free from discrimination and bigotry.”
Three of the posts, which have drawn the most fire, are aimed at transgender advocacy.
One, captioned “How women have changed over the years,” shows a series of four cartoon images of a nude woman’s torso depicting a transition from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s to the 2000s. As the decades unfold, the triangle of pubic hair shrinks to vanishing only to be replaced, in the final step, by male genitalia.
Another meme on transgenderism shows a slogan on a car window: “Teach Kids to Change Gears Not Genders”.
Another post shows a Black man at a urinal in a public bathroom next to a white person with long, blond hair in a pink skirt. The slogan: “WHEN YOU REGRET VOTING DEMOCRAT.” It could be read as playing on anxieties about race as well as transgenderism.
“There’s multiple ways to interpret it,” said Jennison. “And none of them are good.”
In the CSJ statement, Rev. Dr. Donnie Anderson of Pilgrim United Church of Christ, an LGBTQ+ advocate who came out as transgender in her 60s, called the memes “highly problematic” and consistent with a “well-funded right-wing agenda, attempting to present an America that is not fair for all.”
Wendy Morrill, who works at Le Place, a bar/club in Ward 3 that opened as a gay gathering place about 40 years ago, acknowledged that the timing of the release of the statement has to do with the election, but she said, “I think it’s relevant to people making choices. People should know who that candidate is.”
The other three images are focused on progressive causes and politicians.
One shows Harris in pink, Pelosi in blue standing at the rostrum in the U.S. Congress paired with an image of two lead characters from the movie “Dumb and Dumber” in similar colors.
There’s an image that mocks Sanders’ socialist sympathies in a play on former President Donald Trump’s infamous line from the “Access Hollywood” video that emerged late in the 2016 presidential campaign. It shows one cartoon figure reaching for another figure’s pocketbook with the slogan: “Grab Em By the Pursey.”
One meme pokes at higher minimum wage advocates, showing a truck driver behind the wheel with the slogan: “IF YOU BELIEVE THE MINIMUM WAGE IS TOO LOW … HAVE YOU CONSIDERED ACQUIRING A SKILL THAT’S WORTH MORE THAN MINIMUM WAGE?”
Jennison said the organization had gotten word about the posts weeks ago while campaigning for Amaral. She said they were released out of concern that Oliver throughout the campaign has maintained an image as a moderate, while she said these memes suggest otherwise.
“We felt this would come out, but when it didn’t we felt it should come out,” Jennison said. Seeing the images, she said, “gives you the full picture.”
Email Arthur Hirsch at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 26, 2023, to include additional comments.
Many thanks to the Coalition for Social Justice for calling hate speech what it is! Good people must come forward to stop the insanity being pushed upon us in our elections. Hate is insane!
As a candidate who pledges to represent ALL of his [Ward 3] constituents, Mr. Oliver should have known that his past actions would come back to bite him. The Coalition for Social Justice (CSJ) did its due diligence in vetting his FB page to let the voters judge how his previous words stack up with stated campaign positions.
With both Amaral’s and Oliver’s campaigns running neck in neck, it is important for voters to know the deeper issues that will determine how candidates may vote when elected.
Thanks to the Coalition for Social Justice for bringing these despicable memes to the public during this campaign. New Bedford is no place for hateful speech which we’ve seen leads to violence. Stop this man from being elected to our City Council. Vote for Carmen Amaral, a woman who is respectful to all people.
Shawn Oliver should step down from his position. He is a disgrace to New Bedford and his constituents. New Bedford is a place that I call home. I moved here in part to its acceptance of the LGBTQIA community. As a transgender person I found his posts extremely offensive. The results of his actions perpetuate the misconceptions and prejudices against the LGBTQIA community.
Transgender kids suffer from a higher suicide rate and a higher rate of substance abuse to thoughts and actions such as his. Shawn perpetuates hate and bigotry, when we all just want to be understood and loved.
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