Cambridge Activists Protest Council Candidates After Racist, Transphobic Social Media Activity Comes to Light


Updated: October 2, 2023, at 6:32 p.m.

{shortcode-69a9ed06c887cb075e6988b5c6d61980cc21c96c}ore than 20 demonstrators protested outside an event held by the Cambridge Citizens Coalition over the group’s endorsement of two Cambridge City Council candidates who promoted transphobic and racist content on social media.

The protest, organized by the Boston Democratic Socialists of America, took aim at Robert Winters and Carrie E. Pasquarello, two Council candidates who have come under fire for liking and reposting transphobic and Islamophobic tweets.

Winters’ posts were first brought to light in the context of the election at a September candidate forum hosted by Harvard’s graduate student union — after which Pasquarello’s social media activity also came under scrutiny.


While preparing to march to the event, organizers handed out fliers titled, “Do these people represent you?” that included screenshots of some of Winters’ and Pasquarello’s most incendiary liked tweets and retweets, as well as a link to an online petition calling on the CCC to “unendorse” the two candidates.

In one such tweet, Winters is quoted as writing, “Keep the chains on the protestors. They’ll go well with the leg irons #StupidLivesMatter.” The flier also includes Pasquarello’s liked tweets, one of which includes the statement, “We’ve been told that teachers talking to kids about sex (fantasies, orientation) doesn’t lead to grooming!”

“This isn’t really reflected in their actual campaign materials. But like it or not, your personal views are going to impact the way you go about your politics, the way you conduct yourself,” said Willow Ross Carretero Chavez, an organizer with the Boston DSA.


In an emailed statement after this article was published Monday, Pasquarello denied allegations that she is Islamophobic, transphobic, or racist. She accused political opponents of “perpetuating a false narrative” with the intent to eliminate her from the race.

Robert Winters published a blog post on his website Monday afternoon titled “Now It’s My Turn To Speak” in which he wrote that he has been the victim of a “full-fledged campaign of harassment and intimidation by an otherwise forgettable political candidate seeking attention.”

“I’m sorry if anyone failed to appreciate my sense of humor (actually, I’m not really sorry) or failed to see either the irony or the absurdity of something I said over the last quarter-century,” he wrote, denying allegations that he is racist, transphobic, or Islamophobic, and standing by his social media posts.

“These are the tactics of Joseph McCarthy who I am sure is now looking down upon you and holding you in full embrace,” he wrote.


‘Standing Up Against Hate’

In a Thursday interview, Winters called the accusations against him “completely uncalled for and unfair,” adding that they were “clearly motivated by hostility.”

“Sometimes I think things are funny, no matter where they come from,” he said. “I don’t think anybody should be censoring my right to laugh at what I think is funny.”

When asked if he supports the rights of transgender individuals and their access to gender-affirming care, Winters said, “Sure, I mean if anybody of age wants to pursue something that makes them happy, I’m 100 percent for it.”

After gathering in Inman Square, the group then marched to the candidate celebration held by CCC, where a series of confrontations took place between protesters and those attending the celebration.

“Hatred, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, anti-trans has no place in Cambridge, and that’s why we’re standing up here,” said Kathy Watkins, a demonstrator affiliated with Our Revolution Cambridge.


A minutes-long argument took place between Sara Mae Berman — who hosted the event at her house — and the protesters, including candidates Dan J. Totten and Ayah A. Al-Zubi ’23, asking why she supported candidates who had engaged with transphobic and racist social media posts.

“Why won’t you reject hate?” Totten asked.

Berman replied alleging the tweets were fabricated.

“I think that they have somehow infiltrated or hacked into the system to make it sound that way. This is not the way these people have behaved,” Berman said in an interview following the confrontation.

In one tweet written in 2016, Winters wrote, “Given a choice between a creeping Islamic government vs. a military takeover, choose the military takeover. Islam and government don’t mix.”

“We’re fighting and we’re standing up against hate. It’s that simple. All we’re asking is for candidates to condemn the transphobic, the Islamophobic,” Al-Zubi said during the protest.

‘They Should Explain Themselves’

Another conflict arose when Nicola Williams, a marketing consultant and 2021 Council candidate, entered the candidate celebration — against the calls of many of the protesters, who urged her not to enter.

“Shame on you, Nicola,” protesters called out.

Williams — who was endorsed by CCC in the previous cycle — replied, “I don’t support those two people,” but continued inside.

As she entered, demonstrators began singing, “Which side are you on?” — with some thanking her for disavowing the tweets.

“We need to move forward in a way that brings people together and not break them apart,” Williams said. “So it’s important to have conversations and not ignore what people have to say.”

“So I just feel like this is part of democracy,” she added. “And that’s what we saw in action today.”


Federico Muchnik, another candidate for City Council endorsed by CCC, left the gathering to briefly speak with protesters, who asked him for his perspective on the candidates and the tweets. He told the protesters to “take it up with them,” and responded to subsequent questions with the Arabic phrase “walaikum salam,” which translates to “may peace be upon you.”

“They should direct their comments to Carrie and Robert, not the CCC,” Muchnik said in an interview. “The CCC has made a selection of candidates, some of whom are running on issues that I disagree with.”

Asked if he disagrees with Winters and Pasquarello, Muchnik replied, “Well, who wouldn’t?”

“If the allegations are true and accurate, they should explain themselves,” he added.

In the interview, Muchnik read aloud a comment that he had written on a Cambridge Day article the night before that accused those attacking Winters and Pasquarello of “hijack[ing]” the electoral conversation “away from what the public needs to know about.”

As the Coalition’s candidate celebration began, the protesters continued to chant “Hey hey, ho ho, transphobia has got to go,” “CCC, bigotry,” and “Drop Rob, Drop Carrie, CCC is pretty scary.”


Two Cambridge Police Department officers were stationed on the street outside of the celebration for the duration of the protests.

More than 40 CCC members and Cambridge residents attended the party, the first 30 minutes of which were spent allowing endorsees and attendees to mingle and talk.

All but one of the group’s 11 endorsed candidates were in attendance, with the exception of School Committee member and Council candidate Ayesha M. Wilson.

‘Far More Complicated’

After the meet-and-greet portion of the party, CCC president and Harvard professor Suzanne P. Blier invited candidates to briefly introduce themselves and present their platforms to the audience.

In a Thursday interview, Blier said she believes there has been a “concerted effort” to “cancel” Winters and the CCC.

“These are serious issues,” she said. “And at the same time, like so many things, it’s far more complicated.”

Blier said she and the CCC stand by Winters and Pasquarello, who she called “extraordinary civic leaders.”

Asked if the CCC supports the rights of trans people, Blier said, “Well, I can’t speak for the CCC, because all of our decisions are group decisions. But I can say I absolutely do.”

In an email after the interview, Blier wrote that, “Of course CCC supports trans-rights.”

“Supporting LGBTQ and other individuals is critical to who we are — as individuals and as a group. Civic discourse around these issues is also key,” she added.


Later that day, the CCC steering committee voted to add a statement to their website saying that the coalition “stands with the LGBTQIA+ community’s fight for equality” and is “committed to ending anti-LGBTQIA+ violence, bullying, and discrimination, and to ensuring that LGBTQIA+ individuals are treated with dignity and respect in their communities, their workplaces, and their schools.”

‘We All Will Digest It’

At the Sunday party, CCC steering committee member Marilee Meyer said she thought the protesters’ actions were “undemocratic.”

“I don’t understand a protest at a public function where people get to meet the candidates,” she said. “They don’t have to vote for them, but at least do your homework to find out who they are.”

As of Sunday evening, Council candidates Totten, Al-Zubi, Wilson, Vernon K. Walker, Jivan G. Sobrinho-Wheeler, Burhan Azeem, and Marc C. McGovern had publicly condemned Winters’ tweets.

On Thursday, Pasquarello deleted a tweet about a shooting in Dorchester that she had shared from an account whose name included the phrase “neo-aryan” — a retweet protesters repeatedly criticized her for Sunday.

“Once the name was brought to my attention, I dealt with it expediently. My intention is always to ensure the well-being of our community members,” she wrote in a statement.

Candidate Catherine Zusy said she was grateful for the CCC endorsement. When asked about the tweets, she said, “I feel as though in our culture today, we are too quick to cancel people.”

“Maybe he did something that lacked judgment,” she said of Winters. “I don’t know. But are you gonna negate all the good that he’s done for the city for 40 years?”

Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80, one of only two incumbents endorsed by the CCC, said she found some of the tweets offensive.

Paul F. Toner, the second incumbent endorsed by the CCC, said he doesn’t “think anybody here is transphobic or Islamophobic, or is racist.”

“I think there may be some mistakes that have been made along the way,” he said.

When asked about CCC’s next steps following the new information that has come to life, Christopher Mackin, a member of the CCC board of directors, said the group had just learned of the posts.

“It’s all being circulated to the executive committee of the CCC,” he said. “We all will digest it. And we’ll act accordingly.”


Correction: October 2, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sara Mae Berman was a member of the Cambridge Citizens Coalition. In fact, while she hosted Sunday’s candidate celebration at her house, she is not a member.

Correction: October 5, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Cambridge Citizens Coalition endorsed 12 candidates. In fact, they endorsed 11.

—Staff writer Muskaan Arshad can be reached at Follow her on X @MuskaanArshad or on Threads @muskarshad.

—Staff writer Julian J. Giordano can be reached at Follow him on X @jjgiordano1 or on Threads @julianjgiordano.