Marcel Reid was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and she displays those Midwestern sensibilities established in her formative years. Her mother was a nurse and later a school teacher, and her father was a businessman in the construction trade. Reid was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, a belief system of a coming fundamental transformation of society that will be restored along the apostolic early church’s lines. They believe that the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent and that the establishment of God’s kingdom over the earth is the only solution for humanity’s problems. Reid was raised to see very “strict values and clean lines between right and wrong.”
Reid’s family left Ohio when she was eleven and moved to California as a relative became “very ill.” Reid stated that she has been six feet tall since she was thirteen, and not celebrating Christmas, nor Easter, birthday, or any holiday indeed “forges in you the ability to be different.” She can clearly remember standing in the classroom when all others were repeating the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, and she was silent.
Reid left the Jehovah’s Witness faith when she was sixteen because she wanted to pursue higher education, and at that time, the Jehovah’s Witness faith “did not encourage girls to go to college.” She was also questioning the restrictions mandated in the faith. She said, “They never understood that standing alone in a room, not being able to salute the flag or have holidays, or dress like other girls (they were wearing miniskirts, and I was wearing knee-length skirts), forges in you the ability to be different. So, the same way I could stand being excluded at school, I could also be ostracized by the Witnesses.” People believe that if you shield your children from adversity, it strengthens them, but “I learned later in life that to shield children from all adversity often cripples them.” Reid stated that she has “always questioned everything.” She felt that being ostracized, harassed, and isolated is similar to being a whistleblower.
Reid graduated from Compton High School and took classes at California State, Rutgers, and the University of Massachusetts. Reid never was disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is like excommunication in some other churches. The elders in the church did not know what to do with Reid, and she assumed they thought she would return someday or was just crazy.
Reid stated that she grew up never planning for the future because the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not plan for the future. Reid said that until she was sixteen, she expected at any moment that Armageddon would start. Armageddon is the last battle between good and evil before the Day of Judgement. Reid expected “imminent death at any time, but it never occurred.” Reid now understands fundamentalism and knows the thinking; rigid, inflexible, fundamentalism cannot be changed with logic. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Reid also “learned to be quiet, not to speak,” but she always “had a busy mind, a popcorn mind.” Free from rigid fundamentalism at sixteen, Reid never lost a sense of right and wrong and believed “all the stuff in the Bible.”
Reid married a fireman, who transitioned to the Coast Guard. There were different deployments as a married couple, and Reid attended various colleges in areas where they were stationed. After her husband was transferred to Cape May, New Jersey, Reid was hired as a federal Compliance Officer, with the responsibility of 56 job sites and supervision of 450 people. During this time, Reid dealt with a staff member who had psychological problems and decided to transfer the member to an area better for her needs. However, coping with the transfer request ran Reid straight into misogyny and prejudice, as a member of the Coast Guard told her, “I don’t take orders from young black girls.” He was also crude and tried to intimidate Reid, asking her who her superior was, and Reid responded, “The President.” It seemed to make no difference that Reid outranked the man. While in Cape May, New Jersey, Reid opened a restaurant called Birdland, naming it after a Manhattan Transfer song.
Her husband was transferred to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Reid went to work in an employment office, then worked for Massachusetts for three years. Reid divorced and moved to Washington, D.C., joining the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). ACORN’s mission was to teach impoverished people how to work their way out of poverty. Reid “learned the ropes and how things worked” in 1999/2000. Addressing systematic poverty, Reid knew that not everyone poor is lazy. Reid left ACORN for a year and a half and came back as a volunteer, working her way up after two years to President of the Board and head of Acorn D.C. and Northern Virginia.
ACORN had 400,000 members, and Reid found that the members were paying an annual fee of $120. Reid wondered, “How can you take impoverished people and have them pay that?” Reid compared the yearly fee to a poll tax, noting the ridiculous amount, and felt that members should be given more rights. As President of the Board, Reid was also responsible for going to different foundations and giving speeches about ACORN. If she was given a check for ACORN, she would turn it over immediately, but yet would hear complaints about no money being available for basic things like lights. Reid wondered, “Where did the money go?”
Reid knew she was just a volunteer who solicited money and gave it to the head organizers at ACORN, and when she asked questions, she was never given any answers. Asking questions got Reid into trouble, and she soon found herself being retaliated against. Needing to coordinate a strategy, Reid joined forces with Michael McCray, who was with ACORN in Georgia. The first thing they did was bring people into the ACORN Board who had expertise. This way, when a person appeared before the Board, Reid and other Board members had experts to advise them on what was being presented.
Reid cautioned fellow board members to overcome “the ACORN culture of acquiescence to Wade Rathke and his family (the organizers of ACORN) so that ACORN vindicates the poor and moderate income-people it represents.” A group was formed, identified as the ACORN 8, and Reid stated they were “authorized to pursue a forensic accounting, independent audit, and expedited discovery to identify and protect ACORN assets and interests.” Acorn was stunned when an investigation started in 14 places. Deep suspicions by management surrounded the ACORN 8. Reid was warned that people “wanted her dead” and that she should stay away and keep a low profile.
As a National Director, Chair of DC ACORN, and one of a three-member Interim Management Committee (IMC) to reorganize ACORN after discovering a significant embezzlement, Reid came face to face with the difficulties in reporting corruption. This was her first exposure to fighting entrenched corruption and her introduction to the whistleblower community.
With McCray, Karen Inman, and Reid, the ACORN 8 fought ACORN and prevailed. It was revealed that large sums of money had been embezzled by one of the founders of ACORN. Reid’s whistleblowing forced ACORN to stop misusing public funds and return to their core decentralized mission. There are no awards for non-governmental organizations (NGO) whistleblowers, and after blowing the whistle on the embezzlement, Reid was kicked off the Board, and a decision was made to allow the embezzler to allegedly repay the funds.
After her whistleblower experience at ACORN, Reid continued to live in Washington, D.C., but the experience changed her. She no longer felt safe. To this day, she keeps a low profile. She also learned two things about whistleblowing:
- It definitely constricts your life
- It shatters your belief in simple answers.
Reid stated that she “was raised with a ‘just tell the truth’ belief.” Reid talks about this with other whistleblowers and believes “that whistleblowers are idealists and not understanding just how cynical the world really is. We wake up and realize how cynical the world really is and cannot recover from it. When you are in the middle of ‘committing truth,’ you don’t know that is how it works.” Reid sums it up to a quirk in a whistleblower’s personality that they don’t possess the ability to see wrong and not say something. “Some people, it doesn’t bother them to see wrong and say nothing.”
Reid stated that one funny incident from her whistleblower time on the Board was when she overheard two Board members talking, and one member said to the other, “I told you not to let people like her on the board.”
Reid has had a significant impact over the last decade in grassroots community organizing, the whistleblowing community, and a national media foundation. Her efforts have resulted in major policy changes. Reid stated that when she was at ACORN, she did not know she was a whistleblower. The ACORN affair ended with a whimper, no one was honored, nothing happened to the people involved in the embezzlement. Reid believes that nothing happened because ACORN had a lot of tentacles wrapped around the Democratic party.
While in Washington, D.C., Reid discovered Pacifica Radio and joined the Board of Pacifica. Pacifica Radio is the largest and oldest progressive radio station in the country, with five stations and a 200 million people coverage. After a year on the local board, Reid was elected to serve as a director on the National Board of Pacifica Radio. In that position, she introduced a motion to have Pacifica support whistleblowers, making it the first national media organization to incorporate it into their platform. After the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) was passed in 2012, Pacifica’s steadfast support of whistleblowers was credited by many in the whistleblowing community as helping to reinvigorate the WPEA campaign after over a decade of unsuccessful attempts.
After serving on the board for three terms, Marcel became the first national media whistleblower liaison for the Pacifica Foundation, the only position of its kind in media to date. She continues her efforts to shed light on corruption worldwide by actively supporting the efforts of whistleblowers globally. As an outgrowth, Marcel is the co-host of the annual Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights that takes place on Capitol Hill, where the prestigious Pillar Award is awarded to First Amendment rights advocates.
The Whistleblower Summit & Film Festival came to fruition in 2019, after four years of work by Marcel Reid and Michael McCray. A whistleblower film was shown each year, but the Whistleblower Summit and Film Festival realized that whistleblower films were powerful magnets. In its first year, the Whistleblower Summit and Film Festival received an award for best new film festival in the United States.
Through the Summit, Reid has become a whistleblower whisperer. She understands “that hurting people hurt people.” She understands the whistleblowers’ frustrations and resentment toward whistleblower law firms. Reid understands that there has to be some kind of pain for one to become a whistleblower. A whistleblower doesn’t blow the whistle and get embraced. Reid does not believe someone who had a job and lived well but then retires and blows the whistle is a genuine whistleblower. The question to ask is, “Did they know about what was happening on the job? If they did, that is not whistleblowing. There has to be some kind of sacrifice to be a whistleblower.” Another area is mandatory reporting: in Reid’s view, if you blow the whistle under mandatory reporting, you cannot be a real whistleblower, you are just doing your job.
Reid understands that once whistleblowers go to court, they become traumatized and possibly suffer from Legal Abuse Syndrome (LAS). This is a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder and is covered by most insurances as well as qualifying under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for accommodations when needed. It works well with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Dr. Karin Huffer is the expert who wrote a book on LAS. Under the ADA, you can be certified with LAS and receive an attorney, translator, and accommodations.
Reid’s father often told her that the reason you defend the weak is because no one is as strong as they think they are. “People think you defend the weak because it is just goodness, but you defend the weak because it is wisdom. You keep your perimeters strong, and your center will hold. If you have no perimeter, your center will not hold. If you don’t protect the weak, then there will be no one there to protect you.”
Reid is aware of grumblings at the Summit toward Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) whistleblowers for the huge awards they win. It looks like some people have more valuable truth than others. Reid has seen a stratification of whistleblowers, and some whistleblowers want to monetize whistleblowing.
Reid stated that her “mission is to allow people to speak up, and my concern is not the monies, but to mitigate the punishment that comes when whistleblowing.”
Reid believes there is much about whistleblowing that is traumatizing.
Sometimes, the whistleblower’s families are hard on them, seeing the whistleblower as throwing something away because of a need to tell the truth. The whistleblower is segregated and isolated and “wanting to explain that what you are seeing today is not where they were before.” On the one hand, trusting citizens have been taught they can rely upon Constitutionally-protected rights to safeguard them: however, betrayals by the job, the lawyers, and the court system have assaulted a whistleblower’s sensibilities, ignited a rage, and turned them into victims. Reid understands those steps in a whistleblower’s journey and understands “that corporations and the government give lip service and not much else to whistleblowers.” That is because whistleblowers disrupt institutions.
Reid has seen disruption between whistleblower groups and tried to mediate the friction. Reid knows how to grow a movement, “and a movement without a voice is going to die.” Reid has used her voice to bring whistleblowers together, under one roof for several days, and have a successful time. The Whistleblower Summit has never charged any whistleblower who wishes to attend. Reid understands that most whistleblowers are “flat” broke. The Whistleblower Summit depends on donations, and everything else is self-funded.
Reid has a plan for the future, one in which people are reached through film. Reid feels that the Summit is heading toward an actual network. There are two movies actively being produced now because of the Summit, and Reid advises that anyone can do a panel at the Summit on any issue regarding whistleblowing. Reid will find the answer in her own whisperer’s way if any problems are experienced, bringing calm to troubled water.
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