How Kavanaugh Is Infuriating—And Electrifying—The Grassroots

Allegations are mounting, and so are public protests.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

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

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.

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

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.”

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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