During the protests sweeping the Supreme Court during Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing, I took the metro all the way down to the national mall and joined the hundreds of people protesting the impending nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a federal judge accused of sexual assault. I was excited to try to make my voice heard, but I also simply wanted to talk to other people protesting. Unfortunately, when large groups of people gather for ideas, things can get out of hand very quickly. Here is what it was actually like inside The Kavanaugh Protests:
There must have been hundreds of people just outside the Capitol Building and Supreme Court Building alone.
The week before I was also at the capitol feeling triumphant and hopeful because I believed that Dr. Ford and the other women’s statements would be enough to block his nomination. I proudly texted my Grandma pictures of the signs I carried and got plenty of encouragement back.
Today I have a very different feeling. The streets of the capital are downcast and the tone is more consolatory. Sentiments like “this is not over” and “November is coming” are chanted. I wander toward a few people leading chants and playing bongo drums. As I near them, I notice a woman waving a Trump sign and wearing a MAGA hat, I maneuver my way over to talk to her. In a heavy Mexican accent she explains that she thinks Trump is making America great again. A woman behind her with freckles and deep brown eyes starts to interject and I turn my attention to her. “I was assaulted when I was twelve years old” she said. “40 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday.” She tells me about her journey from Ethiopia to America. And then, with the she tells me her view: “This woman, Dr. Ford, she can’t remember anything about the attack. All she remembers is that she had one beer. I was assaulted and i remember it like yesterday so I know this woman is not telling the truth.” I was stunned, I had never met a sexual assault survivor who did not support others like them. “This could happen to your brother, your father…” she continues. I don’t know what to say to this woman. I can’t tell her that trauma alters your memory because she’s lived it herself. I argue back that she did remember lots about that night, and then point out all the people who talked about Kavanaugh’s drinking history. “No. Nobody says [that he drank a lot]” she argues back. Then she asks me a question.“Do you know why every country in the world loves America?” she asks. Then she answers the rhetorical question. “Because we have this tradition of innocence until proven guilty.” And I didn’t know how to respond to that and my goal here was not to win an argument, so I simply thanked her and then walked away.
Every major news network was there reporting and the week before I had been excited to get interviewed. Now I wonder just how much of the actual messages will get reported, rather than just the event of the protest. After talking to the Ethiopian woman, I decide to try to seek out counter protesters and talk to them. I was curious as to why someone would show up to a gathering of people anathema to what they stand for. So I wander around some more, until I hear a familiar chant of “Nazis go home.” This particular mantra is coming from the Bongo drummers who are zeroing in on a woman on her knees. She’s covering her ears to block out the shouting and her sign says “Oh, Happy Day” and she seems to be praying. Someone shouts, “Pray for Kavanaugh’s accusers!” and I watch her nod and mouth “that’s a good idea.” I begin to piece together the story. This woman is most likely very religious and happy that Kavanaugh is nominated because he might repeal abortion protection or same sex marriage laws. But this woman isn’t hurting anyone and I feel so badly for her, on her knees attempting to pray while people scream in her ears. I’ll admit, it took a few minutes of trepidation, but once the chants reached a fever pitch I found the courage and ran in between the two parties. “Stop!” I shouted. “This is not what we’re about. We don’t attack people like this we are better than that!” Some people stopped chanting or playing drums to listen but many people didn’t. “We’re not attacking anyone” one drummer shouted back and I lost my voice as I ran back to my friend a few feet away. I think I wanted it to be this big dramatic thing, but obviously that’s not what happened. I’m not even sure that I did the right thing, looking back at it. Did I just defend someone who I don’t agree with? I just didn’t like to be a part of a movement that gangs up on someone and screams in their face for peacefully sharing an opinion.
I keep walking around and encounter about 30 people sitting along a crosswalk. All were wearing black T-shirts and holding signs proclaiming things like ‘“I believe Dr. Ford” “Black Lives Matter” and “Hell Hath no Fury Like a Thousand Women Scorned.” Walking towards them was a young man with a sports T-shirt and a Trump sign. He was burly like a football player, maybe 30 years old, and white. He sat down near the sidewalk sitters and held his sign. Before long, one protester stood up with her sign and sat directly facing him, her knees only inches away from his own. Soon, more protesters stood up and joined the young woman surrounding the Trump supporter. One woman held a drawstring bag advertising an orthodontist in his face so he couldn’t see. They continued their chants and he responded in kind.”November is coming,” they said. “yeah, and then December” he joked back. I tapped him on the shoulder. It took a few minutes to get him to realize that I was not just another protester wanting to scream in his face. “Hey, Dude” I said quietly, “can I ask you a question? Can I just ask you why you support Trump? I’m not trying to scream at you I legitimately want to know.” “I know that” he said before giving me his answer. “I support president Trump because we’re making America great again.” I pressed him to expand on what that meant. “Well the economy is booming and we’re finally taking immigration seriously” was his answer. He wasn’t belligerent. If anything, he was the calmest one on the scene. He didn’t even protest when the woman held the bag in front of his face. I thanked him and then walked away. Although I wanted to respond,I didn’t think we could continue civilly when the protesters surrounding him were already starting to respond to his statements. “So you support rape?” “Do you support women” “Do you have sisters or daughters?” they demand. I continue walking as their questions fade into the background.
A few minutes later I found myself on the sidelines right against the Supreme Court steps when the speakers began. I glimpsed Senator Richard Blumenthal pulling on a suit jacket as he rushed passed me to give his remarks to the crowd. When he was finished shortly, I ran toward him and and quickly asked for a picture and he obliged. I respect Senator Blumenthal on most issues, but after watching him on the Senate floor and seeing him at the protest, I’m not sure if I believe he is really standing up for women or simply making a political maneuver.
I left the protest that day with a whole host of new feelings. I felt proud for joining the movement when a young boy on the metro asked about my poster, I felt triumphant that maybe just maybe, the protest today offered other survivors some support. But I also felt defeated. I felt hopeless because I knew that Kavanaugh would get confirmed later in the day. I felt desperate because I had no idea how to stop all the injustice towards women in this country and I felt confused because the behavior I saw at the protest today had jarred my perfect images of right vs. wrong, calm vs. aggressive, and ultimately, selfless vs. selfish.
All photo credit to author