The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted on June 11 to renew its contract to provide security for the Bohemian Club, a elite men’s club in west county which draws its members from the global business and entertainment elite. Here is Supervisor Lynda Hopkin’s open letter to Bohemian Club members about why she has questions about this contract.

Dear Bohemian Club member,

Lynda Hopkins column photo

Hi. I’m the local elected official who represents west county, which includes the 2,700 acres’ worth of Bohemian Grove that you come to play in. I’ve never set foot on your property. I know you’ve hung out with all of my Fifth District Supervisor predecessors at the Grove — but unlike them, I’m a woman. So I can’t come to your camp, which makes this a little awkward.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t think you’re a bad man. In fact, all of the men I know who are affiliated with the Grove are good men. Community-minded men. Caring men. And there are a lot of men I didn’t know were affiliated with the Grove — powerful people, influential people — who’ve been reaching out to me and my colleagues over the past few days advocating on the Grove’s behalf.

In case you are thinking of talking to me or anyone else about the Grove, I would like to offer some constructive suggestions. These points are all based on things that have been said to me over the past few days. May I suggest, when defending Grove activities in the face of renewed public scrutiny, that you might consider the following strategies:

1) Stop trying to convince me that the Grove is totally normal. It’s not. It’s weird. But here’s the thing — I don’t have a problem with weird. So just be honest with me and admit that it’s weird. Try, “Hey, I like to hang out with a bunch of powerful dudes in the redwoods and pee on trees and listen to music and hear famous men speak and burn effigies in weird little tent cities.” Because that sounds like West County Burning Man, and I can understand the appeal.

2) I recommend against making the argument that the Grove is the same as any other same-sex social group. Other men’s and women’s groups don’t have international leaders flying in on private jets and helicopters to a secretive 2,700-acre compound. The club prides itself on being elite and having powerful and influential members and visitors, from Presidents and Supreme Court justices to political commentators. Yet when Bohos talk to me, they tend to sweep this fact under the rug. Meanwhile the Grove’s own job postings (currently online) brag, “Our attendees consist of business and political leaders from around the globe and yeah we’re also talking about world class rock and roll, country, jazz and classical musicians and entertainers. It’s pretty cool.”

3) There are other ways in which the Grove isn’t like other same-sex social groups. Many men’s groups come together for same-sex company, but don’t have rules that entirely prohibit females from occupying their property overnight or disallow women from ever entering certain buildings or rooms. (I will admit that this is where you veer away from being the West County Burning Man. This kind of weird is a little less “fun/quirky/free-peeing weird,” and a little more “creepy/witch-trial weird.”)

4) It doesn’t really help your case to explain how — although women can’t become members — you allow women to work at the Grove. I get where you’re trying to go with this. You’re saying “Hey! We don’t prohibit women from occupying the property entirely!” But just to be clear, this means that the only way women are allowed to engage with the Grove is to serve men. That’s a little odd, right? I mean, try using this pickup line at a bar and see how far it gets you: “You can’t hang out with me as an equal, but you’re welcome to serve me drinks or food, park my car, or clean up after my mess. I’ll pay you $14/hour.” My guess is that proposition won’t go over too well with most women.

5) If, even after reading my previous admonition, you still want to tout the Grove’s equal employment opportunities for your currently listed $14-$17/hour jobs, I want you to know I’m aware that the decision to employ women wasn’t actually made by the club membership. Rather, that decision was made for you by a judge in the 1980s. And the anti-discrimination Fair Employment case was actually appealed by the club all the way to the Supreme Court. The club lost, so a judge forced you to allow women to work at the Grove. In other words, you don’t really get to take credit for employing women, because you didn’t do that voluntarily. You can take credit for following the law when you were ordered to do so by a judge.

6) Telling me that you have a mother, a wife or a daughter doesn’t make me automatically relate to you, nor does it make me automatically appreciate the Grove. Biologically speaking, we all have mothers. Being related to a woman does not make you an ally of women, just as having a black or brown cousin or gay or transgender uncle does not make you an ally of people of color or the LGBTQI+ community. Your actions do that. Not your marriage status or family ties.

You may have gathered that I’ve heard a lot about the Grove over the past few days. And as I’ve listened to various arguments, two words — both Greek in origin — come to mind. One word is “anachronism,” which literally means “backwards in time.” The other word is “hegemony,” a word with an ugly mouthfeel which comes from the Greek “hegemon,” which means the dominant city-state.

That’s what the Bohemian Grove seems like to me. It’s a flashback to an era when powerful men were the only dominant political paradigm, when only men could vote, when only men could have bank accounts and sign checks and pay bills. The club has been around for 150 years. A lot has changed in that time. But the club hasn’t. I think that’s what makes it so great for members, and so utterly incomprehensible to the rest of us.

I know, I know… by discussing issues of equality, I’m veering dangerously close to sounding like an “angry woman” in this letter. But I’m not anti-man. I respect your right to assemble. I don’t care if you enjoy weird things; quite frankly I don’t give a damn if you enjoy getting drunk and peeing on trees with other dudes. (I know I keep bringing up the peeing, but I do so because it’s one of the only Grove behaviors publicly confirmed in court record. The right to urinate freely out of sight of females was a hotly litigated part of the 1981 court case, and was presented as justification by the Grove not to hire female employees. So I can only conclude that peeing freely is important to you, and a critical reason for not including women.)

I find it extremely interesting that, even though the Grove is in my Supervisorial District, I’ve heard of more phone calls regarding the Grove being directed to male elected officials. Because, you know, it’s easier for a guy to talk to another guy about why the Grove is OK than it is to talk to a woman about it. Because there’s some comfort and ease in talking to someone of the same gender. It’s a little more challenging to talk about sensitive issues — particularly sexism — with someone of the opposite sex.

Which is exactly why it is so hard to get into politics as a woman. Because politics are still dominated by men, and women are less likely to be mentored by men, because we’re less likely to golf, hang out in men’s circles or be part of men’s clubs. We weren’t part of your frat. We’re not bros.

Which is also why the Grove has always bothered me. Because it is the “hegemon,” and it isn’t an “anachronism.” The Grove is how the world of politics continues to function today: a world of relationships that are more easily accessed by men. One-hundred and fifty years after the Grove was founded, we women can vote and own property and pay our own bills, but when it comes to politics, it’s still a man’s world. (Just ask the first female President of the United States and the first female Governor of California.)

As I wrap up this letter, I want to be very direct with you. I don’t hate the Grove. I don’t want to shut it down. I do, however, wish the Grove were just a little bit more self-aware. I wish you would reach out to women leaders the way you reach out to male leaders, and that — if you are not in fact going to grant women the same opportunity to participate as men — that you consider supporting female empowerment in other ways.

I wish the club supported the lower Russian River community more. Sure, they donate to a few causes, but considering the wealth and influence of the 3,000-plus attendees, it could be a lot more. For instance, how about funding an additional Sheriff’s deputy for the lower river year-round to broadly enhance public safety? How about working with me to tackle homelessness in the lower river? The Grove is part of a paradigm that has disempowered women for hundreds of years. The most powerful thing you can do is to acknowledge that fact — and as you continue to have your fun in the redwoods, try to do other things in your life to help out those who aren’t “lucky enough” (either anatomically or socially speaking) to be members of your precious club.

On that note, Grove member, maybe we could get together sometime. The best way to break down boundaries is to shake hands. Maybe some day you’ll collectively decide that shaking a woman’s hand under the redwood trees isn’t so different from shaking a man’s.

Take care,

Lynda

P.S. — The Grove/Sheriff’s contract was pulled from our consent calendar on Tuesday due to legal questions that were initially raised by my colleague Shirlee Zane. And in fact, County Counsel has already recognized that the previous contract language was not appropriate because it required Sheriff’s deputies to enforce Bohemian Club rules and policies. This means that Sheriff’s deputies technically could have been tasked with enforcing discrimination against women. That is absolutely not acceptable. The contract has already been amended to clarify that the deputies are tasked with enforcing state and county laws, not Grove policy, and we are still awaiting additional legal review on other outstanding questions.

Lynda Hopkins is the Fifth District Supervisor and a Forestville resident. She can be reached at Lynda.hopkins@sonoma-county.org.

(10) comments

char

What a beautifully written and thought out article. I have always wondered what the Bohemian Grove was really about, ... Thank you to this letter speaking on the issues involved. I appreciate it!


Myopinion

Here in Oregon we have a hot springs retreat (Breitenbush), that regularly offers woman only retreats on the basis that woman feel more comfortable/safer surrounded by their own gender. I’m sure they’ve received letters attacking this practice and criticizing the idea women, similar to the group being discussed here, wouldn’t feel comfortable exposing themselves in front of the opposite sex. I suppose to some have leaped to ideas of witchcraft practice, etc, similar to this writers snarky leaps. I’m thankful no one has listened to any such letters. The lack of understanding in this letter doesn’t befit an elected official in my opinion. Certainly not the tone.


Bonnyjean

I can’t believe that in 2019 this type of club is allowed to exist. This is active discrimination. I am surprised that a lawsuit has not already been filed. Thank you for writing this letter and bringing up these very salient points. I think, however, you are being too nice. It is not ok to discriminate against women. More action needs to be taken until women are welcomed into Bohemian Grove.


Michele

Thank you, Lynda. This letter makes me so proud of you. I love its tone, I love the details, and I love the overall points you make. I've been there once, to attend a wedding. I wish it were county land, as it is so beautiful. All those gorgeous redwood trees, hidden from almost everyone.


djbyrne

I voted for Lynda Hopkins and generally agree with what she does. However, this letter was a waste of her (or her staff's) time to write and my time to read. It is flippant and snarky. It doesn't advance any real dialogue. I am not a Bohemian Club member or attendee, but I feel it should receive more credit for the Monte Rio Variety Show than Lynda Hopkins gives it. The MRVS has raised thousands of dollars for the Russian River area over the years.

sicilian defense

I don't think this is flippant etc. Thank you for boldy stating the obvious. Hoping the 'Bohemian' squares get taxed

Hamilton

Equality isn’t up for sale... I don’t care how much money it brings in, the fact remains that it’s a political power house club that excludes women in power... it should be illegal.



How anyone justifies this is beyond me.


Brian T

I’m so happy I voted for you Lynda. Very well said.

Tony Bryhan

Excellent overview of this peculiar organization. I'm proud to have MS Hopins as my county supervisor. ( I bet she doesn't dislike men analogously to them not disliking women because she had both a father and mother.) Thank you MS Hopkins! Well written.

BillMattison

Well said Lynda! I’m curious if any members respond. Let us know if you can. Thank you for being so direct and reasonable. Bill Mattinson Sebastopol

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