Walk out! The streets are with survivors

October 4, 2018

With mobilizations to stop Brett Kavanaugh reaching a new pitch today, Eric Ruder reports from protests in New York City, with additional reporting from around the U.S.

ACROSS THE U.S., organizations and individuals opposed to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court are taking action today, with walkouts from jobs and classes scheduled for 4 p.m., followed by speak-outs and other protests.

The mood of anger and determination to act has been building since last Thursday’s wrenching day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings — and through this week, even as Republicans pressed for a quick end to an FBI investigation that delayed confirmation last week, while threatening to rush through a vote by the full Senate by the end of this one.

The conflict only got more intense when Donald Trump, speaking to a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night, mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony — to applause and laughter from his right-wing supporters.

Trump’s comments only fueled the rage that millions of people were already feeling at the prospect of a sexual abuser, born into a world of power and privilege, being elevated to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

Protesters march through Manhattan against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination
Protesters march through Manhattan against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination

Everyone who believes survivors and wants to resist the Trump regime and its reactionary agenda needs to do everything they can to make sure today’s demonstrations — from Washington, D.C., where the Women’s March organizers are sponsors of a 12:30 p.m. protest, to the walkouts nationwide later in the day sponsored by International Women’s Strike and many other organizations — are as big as possible.

PROTESTS THROUGHOUT last weekend and this week built toward this Thursday.

In New York City, roughly 3,000 people took to the sidewalks and streets of midtown Manhattan on October 1 to demonstrate their disgust at Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The crowd was made up of hundreds of young women who brought their own banners and signs, as well as contingents organized by women’s rights organizations, socialist groups and others.

“This is my first protest in New York, which is exciting,” said Sydney Kinsey. “I’m excited to be part of a protest that’s so inclusive and that’s so connected to the corridors of power and those who abuse their power. With Trump being who he is and from New York, we’re here to say that we’re not okay with these kinds of things and to set a precedent: people will no longer tolerate abuse.”

The simultaneously festive and angry atmosphere was sustained by hundreds upon hundreds of people chanting for hours, while encouraging bystanders to join the march — which was organized under the slogan, “No justice, no seat, stop Kavanaugh!”

Kaylin Kaupish of National Women’s Liberation put these protests in perspective:

It’s not the nine Supreme Court justices who gave us Roe v. Wade back in 1973. It was the people taking to the streets who did it. It’s when women demand to be listened to and when people take to the streets — that’s when real change happens and that’s when we get our rights. The Supreme Court has given us progressive laws, but it was because the people demanded it and then we got it, not the other way around.

Kaupish and other organizers were planning for the Thursday protests: a walkout from work at 4 p.m. on Thursday, October 4, followed by a rally outside Trump Tower starting at 5 p.m.

Alexandra, a member of the socialist feminist working group of New York City Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), explained how the explosion of anger at sexual assault is being fed by the explosion of interest in socialism:

People don’t realize how many generations of women have lived with the constant presence of sexual assault in their lives. We’re enraged, and we’re going to take back this country.

The increased militancy we’re seeing, in young people especially, is due to the fact that people can imagine socialism in a way they couldn’t before. People should walk out on Thursday and show just how angry they are, and that we will not stand for the kind of oppression we have faced all our lives.

DSA member Kelly Gilbert is a public-sector worker and also attends nursing school. “I’m here today because I was listening to the testimony and hearing, and it drove me nuts,” she explained. “It reminded me of experiences that my friends and I have had, and I thought I have a crew of people who are with me, so let’s get out here and do something.”

Gilbert was born after the Anita Hill hearings, but she listened to them recently:

I was really disgusted. I feel like the senators were meaner to her than they were to Christine Blasey Ford, and I think that’s a racial thing and a sign of the times...I think they will confirm Kavanaugh, but I hope I’m wrong. But I’m so excited for Thursday. I think the labor movement is the root of all social movements, and I hope everyone walks out and gets to feel that power.

The protest began at Madison Square Park with speeches by survivors and activists, then marched more than 20 blocks to the Yale Club, Kavanaugh’s alma mater. The crowd listened to more speeches before marching to Grand Central Station and briefly sitting in.

When a pair of activists dropped a banner from the upper level of Grand Central’s cavernous space, it sparked a huge cheer from the crowd. But police, who had aggressively kept the march from taking the street throughout the entire evening, immediately grabbed the banner and arrested the activists.

The protest was organized on two days’ notice and was a joint effort of several organizations, including the International Socialist Organization, Democratic Socialists of America, National Women’s Liberation, New York City for Abortion Rights and others.

“There’s a straight line between Kavanaugh’s indifference to assaulting Dr. Ford — he probably doesn’t even remember it, and if he remembers, it was only a blip in his life — and conservatives’ willingness to take away women’s rights,” said Christine Pardue of NYC for Abortion Rights.

“Kavanaugh is outraged that he’s being questioned about something he did when he was 17, yet he’s a man who’s going to make sure that all 17-year-old girls have to live with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives if they get pregnant at 17, so that’s why I’m here.”

Spenser Rapone — who was booted from the military for posting a photo of himself at his West Point graduation ceremony with a sign under his hat that read “Communism will win” — was also at the protest.

“I’m here to fight back against the system that props up cretins such as Brett Kavanaugh,” said Rapone. “I attended West Point, which isn’t an Ivy League school, but it has a similar elitist cabal of people who run the show there, so I know the exact type of person Brett Kavanaugh is and the class he comes from.”

In Washington, D.C., a crowd of about 500 protesters, overwhelmingly made up of women, rallied and marched at the Capitol building and Supreme Court as the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting with Blasey and Ford was taking place.

The event was organized by the Women’s March. Carrying signs such as “Supreme injustice must end” and “Kava-nope,” the protesters chanted “We believe survivors” and “Remember, remember, remember in November.”

Many of the women wore shirts identifying themselves as survivors of sexual assault, including the year of the incident and their age when it happened. Some women’s shirts explained that they had been only 5 or 8 years old when they were assaulted.

Cars honked and passers-by waved in support as the demonstrators marched through the streets, providing a tiny glimpse of the power and rage of women that could be unleashed if Kavanaugh is confirmed.

In Boston, more than 400 people protested at City Hall Plaza on October 1, near where Sen. Jeff Flake was speaking at a Forbes magazine-sponsored “Thirty Under Thirty” event.

Democratic Party politicians, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, spoke from the front of the rally, joined by survivors and leaders of various advocacy organizations.

“Our message to Sen. Flake is: If you come to Boston, you better look us in the eye, because we believe survivors,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.

A handful of Emerson College students organized the event via Facebook after media announcements of Flake’s appearance at the college’s Colonial Theatre. Later, NARAL, Planned Parenthood and other liberal groups followed the students’ lead and threw their weight behind the protest.

“We spoke up, and because of our voices, Emerson College canceled their contract with Forbes in only a few short hours,” said Ann Swauger, a senior at Emerson College, to applause. “If that is possible, anything is, even stopping [Kavanaugh’s] confirmation to the Supreme Court.”

As many as a half-dozen members of far right group “Resist Marxism” infiltrated the rally to livestream the event and disrupt it. Unfortunately, attempts to drive out the fascists were met with cool receptions from other attendees.

In Portland, Oregon, the outrage was palpable among the 200 people who attended a “Believe Her” speak-out and march on short notice. Speakers shared their stories of sexual assault and their fury at Brett Kavanaugh’s disgusting performance during the hearing a week earlier.

While there were several calls to go to the polls in November, both on signs, and from state Sen. Lew Frederick, protesters expressed the most enthusiasm for immediate mass demonstrations, before the Senate vote takes place.

Speakers also expressed solidarity with those most likely to be assaulted and not believed: women of color, trans women and sex workers.

Along a busy stretch of Sandy Boulevard, motorists honked their horns continuously as protesters chanted “Kava-no” and “Believe her, believe us.” It was an emotional event, full of anger and inspiration, and just a taste of what was to come later in the week.

In Syracuse, New York, Students Advancing Sexual Safety and Empowerment (SASSE) and the ISO together organized a speak-out of about 100 on the Syracuse University campus, while another speak-out took place downtown.

After chanting for some time, people were encouraged to take the mic and address the crowd. Some shared stories of personal trauma, others gave rousing speeches to call for more movement building, everyone spoke in solidarity with Dr. Ford and all survivors and for the need to hold powerful men accountable for their actions.

After about 30 minutes, organizers held a moment of silence in which all remaining participants put red duct tape over their mouths and held hands, then symbolically ripped the duct tape off to say we will no longer be silent about sexual assault.

In Madison, Wisconsin, in late September, the ISO hosted a speak-out in defense of abortion rights as well as to oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation and to stand with survivors of sexual assault.

A week later, the ISO hosted another speak-out in downtown Madison, with nearly 100 in attendance. The energy was so palpable that what had been a stationary speak-out and tabling turned into a march through campus. For the first hour, community members took turns at the mic to share their stories, traumas and ideas about how to make change.

“I’m angry that we keep being told to watch, listen and wait,” said ISO member Hayley A. as she kicked off the speak-out. “We watched and we listened. But we will not wait. We will not wait for an FBI investigation to determine the fate of lives. We will not wait while right wingers terrorize abortion clinics. We cannot wait.”

As the crowd quickly ballooned from a small handful to several dozen, chants began to break out. Among them, most prominently, was the poignant declaration that “We believe Christine Ford, we believe Anita Hill.”

Between chants, speakers fought through tears to tell their truths about assault experiences and past abortions. There is no substitute for the voices of survivors and those who have had abortions in this fight to defeat rape culture, defend abortion and prevent a serial rapist from ascending to the highest court in the land.

The crowd then marched down Langdon Street, UW-Madison’s fraternity row, where dozens of assaults are reported every semester and countless more go unreported. While marching past fraternity and sorority houses, a chant of “yes means yes, no means no, however we dress, wherever we go” echoed down the street.

In Amherst, Massachusetts, the ISO, UMass Students for Reproductive Justice (USRJ), CEPA (the activist wing of undergraduate student government) and the UMass chapter of Our Revolution joined forces to hold an October 2 anti-Kavanaugh rally that drew 80 people, despite the rain.

The UMass Center for Women and Community sent staff members with placards, and a local chapter of the ACLU read aloud the ACLU’s statement opposing the Kavanaugh nomination — only the fourth time in its history that the ACLU has opposed a Supreme Court nomination.

The CEPA speaker highlighted the intersection of the anti-Kavanaugh mobilization with the struggle for racial justice, particularly in light of multiple incidents of racism at UMass and locally in the last few months. ISO member Meghan Lemay talked about how #MeToo has also inspired McDonald’s workers, who are mostly female and Black, to take action.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, about 60 students and community members held a #StopKavanaugh speak-out on the campus of Harvard University, where Kavanaugh has taught since 2008. The event coincided with the start of the anti-choice “40 Days for Life” campaign and took place the evening before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s courageous testimony.

Chants included “They say Kavanaugh, we sell hell naw!” and “Cancel Kavanaugh, we deserve better.”

Andrew Abreu, Terry Classen, Mer McIntyre, Khadija Mehter, Ernest Reed, Michael Shallal and Thomas Valtin-Erwin contributed to this article.

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