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Protesting Kavanaugh

Hundreds of women, plus a few men, arrested protesting Kavanaugh confirmation

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court stretched out for the month of September as the Hart Senate Office Building was repeatedly occupied by protesters. Led by the Center for Popular Democracy but mobilized by several different groups, the protesters were overwhelmingly female, mostly middle-aged. Black women outnumbered white men. At times they seemed to be a wing to the #MeToo movement. Women’s March was the co-sponsor that brought out most of the women, though Planned Parenthood and NOW contributed a few.

The first protest took place on September 4, the first day of the confirmation hearings before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

The hearing was held in the largest available room, which connected Hart SOB with Dirksen. It was packed with press. Roughly a hundred seats were set aside for members of the public. These were not always occupied, even though hundreds of people waited outside for several hours of DC heat and humidity to get into the hearing room.

Members of the public were brought in by Senate staff, a couple dozen at a time, and allowed to stay for 15-20 minutes. Several women in the initial groups stood up with cloth signs that they had hidden in their clothing and shouted their opposition to Kavanaugh. Over four days of hearings, 227 were arrested.

Access to the 2nd floor hallway with the hearing room door was regulated by the U.S. Capitol Police. Only those with proper badges, or the groups led by Committee staffers, were let in.

Many protesters wearing identifying t-shirts watched the entry door from neighboring balconies.

Women dressed in red robes like those in The Handmaid’s Tale gathered in the atrium of the Hart Building.

Further protests were planned for September 20, the day the Committee was scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. However, the release of a letter that had been sent by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) alleging a sexual assault by Kavanaugh at a party in 1982, led to postponement of the vote. The issue of sexual assault and what Kavanaugh had done to Ford when both were teenagers went viral. This was due in part to the #MeToo movement having raised the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the public consciousness during the previous year.

Instead of going into an empty hearing room, about a hundred protesters occupied the offices of four Republicans on the Committee. Many wore t-shirts aimed at those Republicans. “BE A HERO,” they said.

Those inside the offices told personal stories to explain why they objected to Kavanagh’s going on the Court. Most of these had something to do with sex – assault and abortion – though some concerned disability and health care. They were afraid that a conservative Court will undermine the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which many of them rely on, as well as decimate Roe v. Wade.

In the office of Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) one female staffer listened patiently as woman after woman, plus a couple men, described their sexual assaults, abortions, and health care travesties. After each testimony the protesters snapped their fingers in appreciation.

In the afternoon, everyone relocated to a balcony on the 7th floor for a press conference.

Then they walked down stairs, holding up one fisted arm and chanting “We believe Anita Hill. We believe Christine Ford.” The police told them that if they chanted, it would be deemed a protest and they would all be arrested. After a few objections, they walked without chanting, their fists held high.

Three dozen people gathered outside Grassley’s office to protest.

As they sat down and chanted, over a hundred police appeared and arrested them.

Each officer handcuffed his or her prisoner. Police preferred that hands were behind the back, but would put the plastic cuffs on hands in front on special request.

Each officer led her or his prisoner to the exit door.

Cop/prisoner pairs exited the Hart building to line up outside and wait for transport.

The 33 arrestees were loaded into a bus and one paddy wagon and taken to a police facility over two miles away.

By 4:00 most had walked out of a back door into a police parking lot on K St. SW. They were greeted by a small welcoming committee of fellow protesters, given water, and taken to a nearby hotel where a room had been reserved for their use.

The evening of Sunday, September 23, buses rolled into St. Stephen’s Church in NW DC in the expectation that there would be testimony or a Judiciary Committee vote on Monday, September 24. By then the vote had been postponed once again so more testimony could be heard on September 27.

CPD organizers talked about what might happen, protestors were fed and bedded down for the night. T-shirts were passed out which said BELIEVE WOMEN.

A few hundred people gathered at the Supreme Court at 8:15 a.m.

After listening to speakers, they marched to the Hart SOB, where it took a while for all to go through security.

Among them were a busload of Yale students.

Once inside, they dispersed to the offices of different Republican Senators. Of the 50 people who went to Senator Collins office in the Dirksen Building, 19 were from Maine. Surrounded by press they tried to get into her office to tell their stories. Instead, a young male staffer came out to listen to them in the hallway. While he stood there patiently taking notes, Capitol cops repeatedly told everyone to clear the aisles. They moved protesters to one side and press to the other to create a narrow pathway that constantly closed up, only to be opened again.

After five testimonies, protesters decided that the time had come to court arrest. They gathered together outside Collins’ office, raised their fists, began chanting and sat down. Police moved everyone else other than credentialed press 50 feet up the hallway. They gave the required three warnings that any one who didn’t want to be arrested should move back. Once this was done, they followed the standard arrest procedure. By the time they were finished, 27 had been arrested, including several students from Bowdoin College who had flown in the night before.

Those who weren’t arrested returned to the Hart atrium where they chatted and waited.

Some women held up sheets saying “I believe…. (Ford, Survivors, etc…)” to give their testimony online for posting to social media.

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HA) spoke to those in the atrium and posed for photos.

Then they marched back to the Supreme Court,

where they listened to several female speakers introduced by Women’s March leaders.

Wednesday night more buses arrived at St. Stephen’s church, though not as many as on Sunday. More speeches. More t-shirts passed out to wear the next day. The t-shirt d’jour was “I AM A SURVIVOR AND I VOTE,” but black was still the recommended color. The only plan was to get there early, line up and try to get into the hearing at 226 Dirksen to listen to Ford and Kavanaugh testify.

Some got in. A few others sat down next to the door. The rest were directed to an overflow room elsewhere in the building. Unlike September 4, members of the public were not rotated in and out of the room. Entrances to the entire second floor of Dirksen SOB were blocked by police – stairs, elevators and hallways. Anyone who did not have the proper credential could not get near the hearing room.

Those who came late went to the offices of various Senators to listen to the hearing if they could. Sen. Grassley’s office, with its large TV screen and accommodating staff, was still “headquarters” for anti-Kavanaugh protesters.

Several dozen gathered in the Hart atrium where they stood in a kind of protest – as much as the police would allow without arresting them for protesting. Holding up signs was considered a protest, but those merely hanging from hands or tucked under arms were not. Signs on the floor were ignored. Messages on t-shirts or other clothing were not considered a protest. Nor were those messages written on raised palms such as “survivor” and “believe women.” Chanting was considered a protest, but not speaking.

Planned Parenthood took over a bench where they gave out instructions on phone-banking and letter-writing.

People sat on the floor to write cards and letters.

A new confrontation surfaced when a couple dozen women and a few men walked into the Hart atrium from the connecting hallway to Dirksen SOB. Their t-shirts said WOMEN FOR KAVANAUGH and I STAND WITH BRETT. Organized by Concerned Women for America,  founded in 1979 as a conservative Christian organization for women opposed to feminism, it held a rally in the Lower Senate Park before entering Dirksen SOB. The police quickly moved to keep the groups separate with a large pathway between them. After a very peaceful confrontation, the “pros” eventually dissipated.

When the Committee broke for lunch, protesters from all over Hart and Dirksen went outside to march in the rain. Well over a thousand people rallied on the west side of the Capitol.

After that rally ended, protestors marched to the Supreme Court to rally in front of its steps.

The Supreme Court Police would not let any protestors mount the steps. But they would allow carnations to be placed on those steps.

Back in Hart atrium Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) greeted the protesters, speaking briefly and posing for photos.

At 3:00 protesters formed a healing circle in the atrium led by Tarana Burke, creator of the “MeToo” campaign. Protesters formed several concentric circles and Burke began a call and response. “I’m here wrapping my arms around you,” she stated. Leaflets with five of these calls had been passed out so protesters would know what words to use.

Although speaking by itself had not previously been deemed a protest subject to arrest, a lone Capitol cop walked up to the group and told it that if they didn’t stop, they would be arrested. Usually, when arrests are threatened, a lot of cops appear. Although there was only the one officer, these protesters didn’t intend to be arrested, so after a couple threats they raised their fists in silent protest and filed out of the front of the Hart building.

Those still inside clustered in Kamala Harris’ office, whose public space was larger than Grassley’s.

When Senator Harris returned after the Committee adjourned, she was surprised to be greeted by about 50 jubilant supporters. She spoke to them, took questions and posted for photos.

Friday, September 28, was the day of the vote. Protesters arrived early, hoping to get in. They gathered in the hallway outside the Committee room where they blew whistles, stamped, chanted and generally raised a ruckus until around 70 were arrested. (I wasn’t there).

When the vote was postponed, protesters visited Senators’ offices to tell more stories. As 1:30 approached they occupied various Senator’s offices to watch the Judiciary Committee vote.

When it voted in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, with the ten Democrats voting no and the 11 Republicans voting yes, the protesters weren’t quite ready to go home. Instead they gathered in the atrium for a few speeches.

The U. S. Capitol cops gathered in small groups in back hallways, relatively out-of-sight. They were obviously waiting for something, but it wasn’t obvious what it was. Half an hour later six women dropped three banners from the third floor Hart balcony facing the rally in the atrium.

Within minutes the police had grabbed their banners and arrested them.

The rally broke up and the women dispersed to the offices of the remaining Senators — two Republicans and two Democrats — whose vote was still unknown. Those who went to Senator Collins office were allowed inside to tell their stories to the same young staffer who had taken notes on women’s testimony before. That was his job. When asked, he said he would prepare summaries of what he was told and give them to the Senator.

After twenty minutes protesters left Collins’ office. They gathered in the hallway to chant for a few minutes before leaving. Although this was an arrestable offense, there wasn’t a cop in sight.

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Jo Freeman

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