Standing up to say Kava-nope

August 29, 2018

Elizabeth Schulte rounds up reports on a national day of action to protest the nomination of conservative Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

RALLIES IN cities across the country to oppose Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court turned out thousands of supporters of women’s right to choose as well as those concerned about how the conservative justice could further shred workers’ rights and health care.

Several national organizations joined the call for events titled “Unite for Justice” on August 26, including NARAL Pro-choice America, MoveOn.org, Indivisible, Women’s March, Planned Parenthood and local unions, to name a few.

The need for protest against Kavanaugh is urgent. If he’s confirmed, it will decisively weight the Supreme Court in favor of conservatives, especially over the issue of reproductive rights. As Sharon Smith wrote at SocialistWorker.org,

Kavanaugh’s judicial record convinced the right-wing National Review to state recently: “On the vital issues of protecting religious liberty and enforcing restrictions on abortion, no court-of-appeals judge in the nation has a stronger, more consistent record than Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”

These facts tell us that Kavanaugh poses a serious threat to reproductive rights if his nomination is confirmed by the Senate — whether this threat shapes up in an immediate legal challenge to Roe v. Wade or it takes longer to unfold.

Protesters rally against Trump's attacks on abortion rights in Chicago
Protesters rally against Trump's attacks on abortion rights in Chicago (Charles Edward Miller | flickr)

The rallies largely focused on getting attendees to contact their senators to demand they oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, highlighting states where their votes were in question.

Senate hearings on Kavanaugh are currently scheduled to begin September 4, although several Senate Democrats are trying to postpone them in light of recent allegations of wrongdoing against the president.

It’s a welcome development that large, liberal organizations called for protest, since they have the potential to pull out significant numbers of people. The turnout in most cities, however, was in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

This could have been due to the timing of the events, which appeared to be focused on preparing people to call their senators during the hearings, rather than the power of mass mobilizations themselves to pressure senators to vote against Kavanaugh and for women.

Nonetheless, many activists gladly took the opportunity to show their opposition to Kavanaugh and their support for abortion rights, and to build relationships with other people who turned out for the fights ahead. This includes countering anti-abortion forces who gather to harass staff and patients as they try to enter clinics, such as the religious bigots who will take part in the upcoming national 40 Day for Life.


In New York City, about 250 people gathered for the “Unite for Justice” action in Foley Square. Most of them carried signs reading #StopKavanaugh.” They chanted “Kava-nope!” Emily Brooks, a member of NYC for Abortion Rights and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) described the day of action:

The national mobilization against Kavanaugh’s nomination by NARAL and MoveOn.org represents an important step forward by these groups in demonstrating their willingness to use mass protest to protect abortion rights.

Attendees at the protest in New York were excited to participate in this one-day protest, but were also eager to find more ways to get involved in ongoing organizing around issues of reproductive justice.

Members of the grassroots organization NYC for Abortion Rights handed out flyers to the crowd, asking, “Are you interested in hearing about grassroots pro-choice organizing in New York City?” The answer was almost always an elated “Yes!”

Protests like the ones on Sunday provided an important meeting place for folks interested in such organizing, and hopefully are just the beginning of mass protests against current and future restrictions on reproductive freedom.

Eighteen-year-old Em Odesser spoke from the podium, explaining that when people argue that it’s okay for a woman to obtain an abortion only in the case of rape, it’s like “saying she has to be violated before she has the right to her own body.”

In Chicago, Federal Plaza was the gathering point for the “Rally to Save SCOTUS,” with some 300 people turning out to oppose Kavanaugh and the threat he poses to reproductive rights, but also to unions, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the rights of the LGBTQ community.

While several elected officials took the microphone, the stories of ordinary people’s concerns about a right-wing court were the most memorable, including Graciela Guzmán from Protect Our Care Illinois, who talked about the importance of Medicaid to her family.

Courtney McDowell of Planned Parenthood shared the story of her abortion and why the right to choose is vital to women, saying, “The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”

In the middle of the event, a contingent of about 25 anti-abortion fanatics — many of them high school age and younger — marched in to disrupt the event. Some carrying a banner for the group “Students for Life” — an anti-abortion group that focuses its organizing on college and high school campuses — and others banged on drums.

They were moved to the other side of the street, but later tried to come closer to the event, so activists countered their message with loud chants and successfully chased them away.

One speaker, who tearfully described her son’s struggle with health issues and medical coverage, said from the podium, “You can’t come with a marching band claiming to be pro-life when you want to take apart coverage that saves my baby’s life.”

In Portland, Maine, where pro-choice activists have already been turning up the heat on Sen. Susan Collins with protests and rallies, about 300 people turned out.

Collins, who voted “No” on the Republican Party’s effort to repeal the ACA last year, is a potential swing vote in Kavanaugh’s nomination. But last week, after meeting with Kavanaugh, Collins reported he had assured her he considers Roe v. Wade to be “settled law.”

People at the rally weren’t buying Collins’ hollow assurances. Speakers shared personal stories about their experiences seeking abortion and other health care, drawing attention to the potential human toll that Kavanaugh’s hostility to abortion rights and the ACA could take if he is appointed.

Though many of the personal stories were moving, the rally had some political weaknesses. In what was perhaps the most incongruous moment of the event, the first speaker called for a moment of silence in honor of Sen. John McCain, a lifelong opponent of abortion rights who would have likely supported Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Organizing against Kavanaugh’s nomination continues in Maine. Mainers Against Kavanaugh, a coalition led by the Portland branch of the ISO and the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America is holding open organizing meetings with an eye toward mobilizing a rally and mass march on September 8, between the hearings and the Senate’s vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

In Seattle, 300 anti-Kavanaugh protesters joined NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Planned Parenthood of the Northwest and Hawaii, FUSE Washington, Indivisible and Seattle Clinic Defense in an hour-long rally at Westlake Plaza in downtown Seattle.

Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda opened by calling on those present to put pressure on their senators to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, saying, “We know a Supreme Court with Kavanaugh is all about bigotry, hatred and intimidation, and here in Washington, we want to say to the other Washington: We stand up against hate.”

Seattle Clinic Defense, which had been a part of the planning process for this rally, mobilized its members to attend. The group is hoping that this action is the first of many to oppose Kavanaugh and fight for reproductive justice in every state.

Wela Brown, a Seattle Clinic Defense member, said the rally “had a good energy flow, very upbeat.” She did, however, spot some anti-choicers lingering around the rally.

“I saw three different guys I recognized from the Kent defense [a clinic defense on June 9 against Patriot Prayer], said Brown. “They didn’t stand together, but stationed themselves on the periphery of the crowd.”

In Atlanta, around a hundred people gathered in Hurt Park downtown to protest the appointment of Kavanaugh and the attack on women’s rights that he represents. Although most people found out about the protest through NARAL and MoveOn, there were also attendees from the ISO, Refuse Fascism and local campus groups.

Following the speakers, we marched to the state Capitol building, with chants of “Kavanaugh? Hell no! Trump and Pence have got to go!” There were many shows of support from people and cars passing by.

Michelle Farber, Amy Gaidis, Delicia Jones, Peter Ruhm and Corin Warlick contributed to this article.

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