Sleeping Giants Not Very Woke
Since 2016, the Sleeping Giants social media activist organization has gone after the advertisers sponsoring websites and television shows that encourage hate or are hosted by serial sexual harassers. They create campaigns asking social media users to write to advertisers telling them that they won't buy their products if they advertise on these shows or websites, and those campaigns have been extremely effective. They led to Bill "Falafel Thing" O'Reilly getting kicked off the air, finally, and to Breitbart losing 90 percent of its advertisers.
Alas, it turns out that the organization had some problems of its own. Nandini Jammi, the marketing expert who cofounded Sleeping Giants with copywriter Matt Rivitz and ran the Facebook side of the operation while he ran the Twitter account, is leaving, saying — and providing a whole lot of evidence for the fact — that Rivitz gaslighted her, sidelined her, and took credit for her work. Oh boy, is that ever ... not particularly surprising.
In a post on Medium on Thursday, Jammi detailed her experience working at Sleeping Giants, how she and Rivitz came together to collaborate on the project, and his eventual insistence that he be the face of the organization, even suggesting in interviews that she was merely a "helper."
Rather than share in the credit, Rivitz reportedly insisted that all PR requests be forwarded directly to him, and he left Jammi out of any media appearances, not letting her know about them until it was too late. At first he claimed this was because he didn't want to "muddle the message" (which sounds exactly like bullshit), but it soon became clear to Jammi that he wanted the spotlight to himself.
When Matt and I came out in July 2018 on the front page of the business section of the New York Times, I believed it was as equal partners. It was through Matt's subsequent media appearances I realized he considered me an optional part of the story.
In the weeks after we went public, he positioned himself as Founder of Sleeping Giants and went on to take interviews with Pod Save America, Kara Swisher and AdWeek. In AdWeek, I ended up portrayed as "one of the individuals who helps him run the accounts."
Without my knowledge, my story was being defined by someone else — a white man who could use his platform to exclude me, diminish me, or disappear me entirely. He never once invited me to join him. I never had any idea he was doing any of these interviews until it was too late.
Rivitz wouldn't even "let" Jammi have an official Sleeping Giants email account, because he wanted his to be the only official one.
The way Jammi sees it, she and Rivitz were both doing similar things at the same time four years ago — calling on advertisers to boycott problematic shows and websites — and that he suggested they come together and collaborate on this project. She felt that this ought to mean they were co-founders. The way Rivitz sees it, he came up with the name Sleeping Giants at least a full week before he and Jammi got in touch, and should thus be considered the sole founder and the only one to do media appearances. He allowed Jammi the title of "founding organizer" — whatever that means — but insisted on being known as the sole founder of the organization in the media.
Now, it is possible to read that Medium article and say, "Well, that is just one person's side of things, we don't know what really went on behind the scenes!"
But then ... then there's the Buzzfeed interview.
In an interview on their parting of ways published Wednesday, the day before Jammi published her account on Medium, Rivitz does not deny anything and merely justifies his sidelining of the woman of color who helped him make Sleeping Giants the incredible force for good that it was. He sounds exactly as Jammi described him.
"For better or worse, every organization needs a leader and that role in Sleeping Giants has belonged to me, regardless of title," Rivitz told BuzzFeed News.
"Nandini and I have had multiple discussions around what a founder is and have a fundamental disagreement on what construes that title," Rivitz said. But he added, "I consider Nandini to be a partner and collaborator, and a great one."
Hold for internal screaming:
"Given that we never discussed her title previously, I was definitely surprised to hear that she had named herself cofounder," Rivitz said. "As I did not believe that was her role, having come on after I had already established the campaign, I corrected the record according to this belief."
Despite Rivitz's media-hogging, Jammi says she believed in what they were doing at Sleeping Giants and so continued with the collaboration. Things came to a head, however, when the organization won an award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France — and Jammi was not even told that Rivitz had entered them. She didn't even know he went to France for the ceremony until she saw the pictures on his Instagram.
"People started reaching out to me, congratulating me, asking me why I was not there," Jammi said. "I didn't even have the opportunity to go."
"It was the worst week of my adult life," said Jammi. "I stopped eating, I couldn't even function. I mean, Sleeping Giants is my entire life. I have spent every day on this. It's my second job, I have put in tireless amounts of effort — as much as he has at least."
Rivitz's explanation for this was that he didn't think they were actually going to win and he only stopped by Cannes because he was already in the South of France for a speaking engagement and that he paid most of his own way there. Because being up for an award in Cannes is a thing you don't mention to literally everyone you've ever known in your entire life.
After this, Jammi posted a snarky reply to a post about the award on Instagram, saying "Incredible how much you've achieved all by yourself!" ... and Rivitz was furious.
In her Medium post, she listed some of the things she remembered him saying to her:
— "This is a betrayal. This is worse than anything that Breitbart could do. This is worse than being doxxed by The Daily Caller."
— "I'm older than you and I know more people than you. I've been working for like 20 years, and I used to work at an ad agency. I'm sorry you're not getting the jobs you want. I'm sorry you don't have the connections I have."
— "You're such a pain in the ass. Every three months, like clockwork, you call me wanting something. No one does this to me, not my wife, not my business partner, not my friends."
—"Everything I do is for the movement. What about you? You're in it for the glory aren't you?"
— "I did not deserve what you did to me. The way you chewed me out in front of all my friends. They were all saw what you said, they were all asking who this person is saying these things about me."
—"I took a huge risk just by starting this account and I do a million things you don't even know about."
In their discussions regarding her role at the organization, Rivitz repeatedly accused Jammi of not being in it for the "mission," but rather for attention and glory for herself ... and he doesn't deny this.
"I asked her repeatedly what she wanted out of this campaign, as the attacks against me [on social media] were ongoing," Rivitz said. "I asked Nandini if she was in this for personal reasons rather than the mission itself."
Jammi took the call while she was visiting Laura Calabrese, a close friend who lives in New York. Calabrese told BuzzFeed News she overheard Jammi's side of the call in her living room.
After the call, Jammi looked stunned, Calabrese said.
"She was clearly defending herself against some accusation that she wasn't in this for the right reasons," said Calabrese. "I heard her say she wanted a seat at the table and wanted to make connections so she could keep doing the work she was doing more effectively.
"I definitely remember she said he accused her of being in it for the glory."
There is, perhaps for every woman on earth, perhaps for everyone who is not a white man, a certain sting of familiarity in the way Rivitz explains himself. Rivitz doesn't deny his behavior because he doesn't see anything wrong with it. It does not occur to him that there is anything wrong with it. He's not the first progressive man to have such a "blind spot," and he certainly won't be the last. As my mother always said, "Never join a commune (with men), because you'll end up being the one doing all the dishes."
The fact that she was supposed to be in it exclusively for "the mission" while he was allowed to self-promote and go around making "connections" everywhere is representative of a societal distrust of women who are ambitious, even when that ambition is altruistic in nature. There is something about female selflessness that comforts certain men in a certain way and something about even the specter of self-interest that scares the crap out of them.
It would not have killed him to share in the "glory" with Jammi and allow her the same opportunities he enjoyed. It would not have "muddled the message." It wouldn't have taken anything away from him. In fact, given that Sleeping Giants is supposed to be a progressive organization, the official representative of everything being a white middle-aged guy was actually not a great look.
Jammi says she still believes in the work they were doing and plans to continue doing it on her own. It's sad to see an organization with such a great mission come to this, and it's unlikely that Sleeping Giants will continue to have the credibility it once did, unless Rivitz steps away. In the end, his own refusal to share the spotlight and give some credit to the woman who helped him get into it will likely lead to him never getting to enjoy it again.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse