Melissa Walsh

Councilman defends controversial memes

Grosse Pointe News | September 27th, 2018 | Grosse Pointe News - News section

Memes

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Following the Shores City Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 18, Councilman Matthew Seely said he was unaware of the call for his resignation earlier that day by a political watchdog group.

Seely fell under the ire of Progress Michigan for posting sexually charged political memes on social media.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it. I think it’s pretty bizarre,” he said several hours following the release of a statement by Progress Michigan condemning a Sept. 17 Facebook post by Seely ridiculing sexual assault claims made against political figures.

The group – whose tagline is “Defend working families and power progress in Michigan” – demanded Seely’s resignation as a Shores’ elected official, denouncing him “for posting memes joking about sexual assault and objectifying women.”

The Sept. 17 meme catapulting the contention depicted a young woman comforting another young woman who is crying with the text: “I’m sorry that bad man touched you inappropriately. Let’s wait 30 or 40 years until he runs for office against a Democrat.”

Seely said he posted the meme in the wake of the accusation by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault occurring more than 30 years ago.

A nomination for U.S. Supreme Court is not an elected position, as Seely’s post implies, rather a selection made by the president to be approved by Congress.

Seely said he does not regret the post, insisting, “It makes a point (that) going back 40 years for political purposes really doesn’t help address the ‘Me too’ movement or help women with legitimate claims of sexual harassment or abuse.”

Seely called Dr. Ford’s accusation “a political ploy.” He later told Grosse Pointe News, “I was targeted because I ran a Trump campaign office. No one else on city council has that kind of active profile. I’m very politically active in the conservative movement. And as a result, I’m a target.”

“We’ve seen across this state and country that we have a problem with sexual assault and belittling and attacking the women who bravely come forward to share their story,” said Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott in a statement. “Seely’s actions reinforce a culture that victimizes survivors even further and discourages them from coming forward to hold their assailants accountable. We need public officials who take that matter seriously, not make jokes about it for political purposes.”

Over the past year, Seely posted on social media other politically charged memes with sexual imagery and text, including a post by Seely to the “Michigan Trump Republicans” Facebook page showing a buxom young woman wearing a “Make America Great Again” tank top as a woman sitting nearby sporting a Bernie button on her shirt stairs at the tank top.

Seely denied the memes are sexual, calling them “sarcastic commentary,” and said his opponents have taken the posts out of the context of discourse on the Facebook group pages.

“I have the right to (post the memes),” Seely said. “I don’t think I was doing anything malicious or vindictive. I think that there’s humor in them, and I think that they make a point based on the political commentary in that point and time. It’s too bad we’re living in a world now where everything we do, back to when we were in high school, now becomes a political motive.”

Citing his right to free speech, Seely said, “They each make political statements and make a point.”

“This has nothing to do with free speech. Matt Seely can say anything he likes, but that doesn’t mean he can escape scrutiny and accountability,” Scott said. “We demand more from political parties and public officials.”

The activist group Women’s March Michigan also demanded Seely’s resignation based on his Facebook posts, requesting its members contact Shores city administration to “let them know that their city councilman’s views of sexual assault against women are both archaic and unacceptable.”

Seely said in a follow-up interview Sept. 20, Shores city administration received more than 1,000 calls, but, according to Seely, none lived in Grosse Pointe Shores.

As of press time, a Progress Michigan online petition calling for Seely’s resignation generated 736 signatures.

Both Shores City Attorney Brian Renaud and Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski said they are not aware of a social media policy in place for Shores elected officials.