Protesters disrupt the start of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing September 4. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

How Kavanaugh Is Infuriating—And Electrifying—The Grassroots

Allegations are mounting, and so are public protests.

BY Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

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"We cannot repeat the history of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill."

When she took part in a walkout on Monday with Yale Law Students Demanding Better, Catherine McCarthy and her classmates were just one part of a broad and growing grassroots effort to fight the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a student at Kavanaugh’s alma matter, McCarthy said, “It was really powerful to leave the law school building and realize that, as big as it felt for us and within our community, we were a small part of what was going on throughout the country during the day.”

Actions against Kavanaugh started almost immediately after President Donald Trump announced the nomination of the D.C. Circuit Court Judge in July following the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. While much of the focus has been on the fate of Roe v. Wade, concerns have also been raised about the future of healthcare, net neutrality, gun control and executive branch authority. In September, the protests took on new energy when Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, respectively, in high school and college. On Wednesday, a third woman, Julie Swetnick, came forward about his alleged misconduct at parties.

But before the allegations, National Domestic Workers Alliance political director Jessica Morales Rocketto saw the spark of activism while on tour with Rise Up for Roe, a nation-wide event put on by Demand Justice Initiative, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund—all leaders in opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“When I started the Right to Roe Tour, I think the conventional wisdom was this guy is going to sail right through,” Morales Rocketto told In These Times. However, she added, “What we've found is that the grassroots was really electrified by this … We cannot repeat the history of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. I think that the more that comes out about Kavanaugh, the more he has an obligation and, frankly, moral decency to withdraw his nomination.”

There are connections between the two cases: Hill was subject to probing questions about Thomas’ actions in the workplace from an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. Ford, who said Kavanaugh physically and sexually assaulted her at a party while his friend watched, will testify in front of a male-dominated panel of Senators. But in an unprecedented show of support, the lead-up to Ford's hearing has included a national #BelieveSurvivors walkout co-organized by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, as well as Capital Hill protestors wearing “Be a hero” T-shirts, sharing their stories and targeting swing vote Senators.

While the activism has been a who’s who of progressive voices, with celebrities and politicians sharing the hashtag on social media and leaders of the Women’s March highly involved in the Washington, D.C. demonstrations, Morales Rocketto said there has been a focus on including the voices of survivors from diverse backgrounds—including those who will be most impacted if Kavanaugh is seated. “We are super clear that this will really affect low-income women as much as anyone—and how critical it is for us to be at the forefront of stopping this nomination,” she said, highlighting Trump’s vow to appoint justices who would reverse Roe.

Reproductive rights groups like the longstanding NARAL Pro-Choice America have put a spotlight on the future of Roe, while Kavanaugh has avoided sharing his opinions on abortion during the confirmation process. On Aug. 26, NARAL helped organize Unite For Justice, the largest single day protest of a Supreme Court nominee in history.

Communications director Kaylie Hanson Long told In These Times, “It doesn't really surprise anybody that someone who is capable of committing these serious allegations wouldn't consider women capable of their own decision making when it comes to our reproductive health care decisions either.”  

Like NARAL, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has promoted gender equality even before Roe vs. Wade, or any women had been appointed to the Supreme Court. Including a week of action in August, NWLC has led the charge in raising awareness of Kavanaugh’s views on policies that affect women—and has been the driving force behind thousands of calls and emails to members of Congress. Senior coalition manager Diali Avila said birth control, immigration and labor are all focuses with this nomination.

“I think the essence of the country is at stake because everyday people like me and you don't really think about these things a lot,” said Avila. “We think, ‘Of course here abortion is legal or the right to unionize is something that we know is part of our country.’ But those things could be at stake.”

This critical juncture in American politics has also allowed space for newer organizations. Women’s advocacy group UltraViolet says it delivered over 24,000 thank you notes to Ford, and organized a letter with thousands of survivors to the Senate. Last night, the group projected an image reading “Brett Kavanaugh lied every time he testified” onto the Washington, D.C. Courthouse where he presides.

UltraViolet deputy organizing director Emma Boorboor told In These Times that the various invested communities recognize “this is a moment in history and this is a huge job and it's never going to be just one group that stops a Supreme Court nominee. It takes people showing up from many different parts of the country and many different issue areas to make this happen.”

While the Senate Judiciary Committee is pushing for a vote on Friday and Republican leadership is planning on keeping the full Senate in session over the weekend, it’s clear that outside of the closed doors of political hearings, those fighting for the rights of women and survivors are being heard.  

“Whether it's Bill O'Reilly or Donald Trump or Brett Kavanaugh or Harvey Weinstein, when these moments happen and when people show up and when accountability actually happens, that shifts our culture,” said Boorboor. “That shifts the expectations of what people expect to happen when allegations are made public.”


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Hannah Steinkopf-Frank is a Chicago-based freelance writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Atlas Obscura, Bitch Media, the Columbia Journalism Review, JSTOR Daily and Paper Magazine, among others.

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