Article and photos by Alejandro Alvarez
Videos by Ford Fischer
WASHINGTON — These next few days could reverberate for decades in American politics, and on Wednesday night, survivors of sexual assault kicked off a final show of unity everywhere from Alaska to Florida, decisively declaring “no to Kavanaugh.”
Hundreds held battery-powered candles and shared their experiences with sexual assault at the foot of the Supreme Court as the sun set over a country likely to be chasing its breath for days to come. According to organizer MoveOn, it was the flagship vigil of almost 300 similar events in public spaces and outside courthouses from Anchorage to Miami, all geared at supporting survivors of assault and staunchly opposing Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination despite mounting allegations of assault.
“Kavanaugh is chaos, and we can’t let chaos reign supreme,” said Steph Black, an activist campaigning with NARAL, a prominent abortion-rights group.
For vigil-goers, the stakes are higher now more than ever. Even before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford went public, women’s health advocates with Planned Parenthood Action and NARAL campaigned against Kavanaugh for his unclear stance on Roe v. Wade. Others, including Senate Democrats, took issue with the judge’s past comments on executive power.
But what was once a focus on abortion rights and executive power have exploded into a broader outcry against more than just Kavanaugh. For the countless protesters who have staked out the halls of Senate offices for weeks, Kavanaugh’s alleged treatment of women in his high school and college years represent the worst that conservatism has to offer for women’s rights.
“When we started this fight a month ago, we didn’t know about the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh,” said Bob Bland, a founding member of the Women’s March. “But we knew he wasn’t right for the job — we knew he was going to be anti-women’s rights, we knew that he was going to be against worker rights, disability rights, and immigrant rights.”
For Kavanaugh’s supporters, though, his nomination is a beachhead against a rising tide of liberal values and high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct in the “Me Too” era. At a media gaggle on Tuesday, President Trump said obstacles to Kavanaugh’s nomination are proof of a “very scary time for young men in America.”
And at a campaign rally that followed, Trump seemingly mocked Dr. Blasey Ford’s recollection of an event she said happened decades ago. Thousands of enthralled supporters — both men and women — cheered him on. Senators Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins — three votes that could make or break Kavanaugh’s nomination — all pushed back on Trump’s comments, but none indicated they would be a factor in their final decision.
“You would think that the Republican majority in the Senate would honor their constitutional responsibility to confirm or deny, and have proper vetting so they know what they’re voting on,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, one of three members of Congress who spoke with protesters on Wednesday night. “They’ve taken a very divisive path in our country. They want to undo the ‘Me Too’ movement, and we’re not going to let them do that.”
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and Jeff Merkley from Oregon — both thought to be mulling a presidential run — made overtures in support of protesters and firmly rejected Kavanaugh.
The vigil stretched on for nearly two hours, as activists, faith leaders and survivors of sexual assault lent their voice to a growing choir calling for Kavanaugh’s nomination to be rejected or pulled. To start, an all-women a cappella group performed a version of “I Can’t Keep Quiet,” a song by Los Angeles singer-songwriter MILCK which grew into the de facto anthem of the original Women’s March.
To end, somebody, somewhere, projected the hashtag “#StopKavanaugh” onto the face of the Supreme Court for about a minute.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a key procedural vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Friday, with the final showdown likely soon afterward. The results of the FBI investigation which stalled the process for a week are expected soon, and anticipation is building among both activists and politicians alike.
“We are survivors, we believe Christine Ford, if you vote yes on Kavanaugh, you are a rape apologist,” said Bland, starting a rousing chant to close off her five-minute address. “Women are watching, and we will not go back. Women vote, survivors vote, and November is coming.