This year’s presidential election — what many Americans have considered something of a long, national nightmare — may be over, but West Side community organizer Deborah Williams is still reeling, viscerally, from its effects.
“Donald Trump supporters are spreading memes on Twitter in both English and Spanish, trying to trick Hillary Clinton supporters into thinking they can vote by text,” noted a Nov. 2 article published online by Wired Magazine, which clarified that “voting by text” doesn’t exist.
Scroll down beneath its title, “Ignore the Trolls: You Definitely Cannot Vote Via Text,” and a screenshot of one of those misleading memes appears with Williams’ face blasted onto it. Williams, who volunteered on the Hillary Clinton campaign, is holding an African Americans for Hillary sign.
“Avoid the line. Vote from home,” the meme reads. “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925. Vote for Hillary and be a part of history.”
Williams said she learned about her inadvertent part in this controversy last Thursday, when the meme was aired during a segment of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
“I was at home and my phone started ringing off the hook,” Williams recalled. “Some people called saying, ‘We just saw you on the ‘Rachel Maddow Show’!’ I didn’t believe it was me, but then they saw it on Facebook and started tagging me in the video on Facebook.”
Since then, Williams said she’s been on her own campaign of sorts. In the hours after learning about the photo, she contacted numerous people online, including a university professor, in an attempt, which was ultimately successful, to get the photo removed from Twitter.
Some Twitter users, however, have noted that they’ve encountered the memes — some also show the face of Clinton and what appears to be stock photo of a Hispanic woman — since Twitter confirmed on Nov. 3 that it had taken them down. In addition, the meme showing Williams’ face has appeared in numerous national publications, including “Rachel Maddow,” Wired and Good Housekeeping.
She wants people to know that the woman who may be anonymous to most of the people across the country who may have seen the meme is a living, breathing person and a well-respected local campaign strategist and community organizer.
“The national news may have made people aware of the scam, but they also need to make people aware of the fact that the woman in that photo, who is me, was not party to this scam and that I’m a well-educated campaigner with 20 years of experience who knows you can’t vote by text,” said Williams, who added that she has since hired an attorney.
Williams has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in grant writing, management and evaluation. She’s a full-time nonprofit consultant and energy service technician who has worked on the campaigns of state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th), Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) and Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th), among others.
Williams was a paid West Side field organizer for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. This year, she volunteered with the Clinton campaign. In 2014, Williams ran unsuccessfully for 29th Ward alderman.
On Nov. 7, Williams and the Leaders Network — one of the many community organizations in which Williams is active — convened a press conference at Alice’s Restaurant, 5658 W Madison St. to drive her message home.
When interviewed last Sunday, Williams said she hasn’t been contacted by any of those mainstream platforms, which she said could have at least blurred her photo or tried locating the identity of the person in that meme and allowed her to state that she has no affiliation with the people who started the controversy.
Williams also noted that major news outlets seemed to overlook perhaps the most significant aspect of the controversy.
“I also want the media to know that the vast majority of black voters are not naive and they know you cannot ‘Stay Home and Text in Your Vote,'” Williams said. “That Twitter meme was a racist piece and should not have drawn the national attention that it did from MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Twitter and so many other online blog posts.
“Rachel Maddow said that the meme was vile, gross and offensive, and the worst form of voter suppression,” Williams added. “Really? Is it worse than all of the laws and restrictions that conservatives use to stop minorities from voting? But the pictures of the conservatives who initiate and impose those tactics are not shown all over the world.”
Williams, who said that she hasn’t yet explored her legal options with her attorney, said that she hopes she can get justice for the improper use of her photo.