We won’t stop until we stop Kavanaugh

October 3, 2018

With the nomination of a reactionary and sexual assaulter to the U.S. Supreme Court hanging in the balance, protests and actions have been building since the weekend toward important demonstrations on Thursday in Washington, D.C., where the Women’s March is co-sponsoring a protest at 12:30 p.m., and nationwide with the call for walkouts and protests around the country at 4 p.m.

We asked SocialistWorker.org contributors to tell us their response to last week’s Senate hearings and why they’re protesting this week, and here’s what we heard from Leela Yellesetty, Susan Carroll, Haley Pessin, Akunna Eneh, Sherry Wolf, Michelle Farber, Eva María and Erica West.

Leela Yellesetty

On Thursday, I watched Brett Kavanaugh’s angry outbursts with a sickening sense of recognition.

Throughout the questioning, he repeatedly deflected by pointing to the fact that he got into Yale — as though this made it impossible for him to be guilty of sexual assault, as though his Yale credentials made it his birthright to sit on the Supreme Court.

But, of course, Deborah Ramirez, one of his accusers, also went to Yale. So did I, and I believe her.

Protesters in New York City demand justice for survivors of sexual violence
Protesters in New York City demand justice for survivors of sexual violence

Like Ramirez, I was a woman of color and a financial aid student suddenly thrust into a world of privilege that most ordinary people never see up close. I believed that at Yale, I would be among the best and the brightest — only to find that many there were just the richest and best-connected, and they wore their entitlement as a badge of honor.

I remember speaking to a classmate my first week there and expressing how as a financial aid student, I was required to work 15-20 hours a week, whereas other students could use that time for their studies, joining clubs, etc. This student, a member of the Tory society (yes, that’s still a thing at Yale), responded in horror, “You’re not saying it’s unfair that some people are rich and other people are poor, are you?”

When he put it that way, I knew that’s exactly what I meant.

Right outside Yale’s imposing gates — built from the profits of the slave trade and the plundering of India, let’s not forget — was the city of New Haven, one of the poorest cities in the country, whose mostly Black and Latino residents were hundreds of times more likely to work in the cafeterias (alongside financial aid students like Ramirez) then ever have a chance to study there.

It was an exaggerated microcosm of the obscene inequality in our society, one that wealthy legacy students seemed to be willfully blind to, never daring to set foot even a block off campus.

Within my first few weeks on campus, the September 11, 2001 attacks happened. A banner appeared on one of the dorms reading, “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.”

After the war in Iraq began in 2003, a fellow activist in the Yale Peace Coalition hung an upside-down flag out her window as a symbol of distress. Shortly after, several male students, one wielding a wooden plank, entered her dorm and attempted to break down her bedroom door.

She locked the door and hid inside until they finally gave up, but not before scrawling messages on her door such as “Fuck Iraqi Saddam following fucks. I hate you, GO AMERICA.”

These are just a couple examples over a long history of the ways in which women, people of color, and working-class people are made to understand who Yale is meant to represent and who it doesn’t.

We’ve known for decades about the pervasive rape culture of frats like DKE, suspended in 2011 for parading on campus chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal.” Earlier this year, we followed the story of Lolade Siyonbola, a Black Yale graduate student who had the police called on her for sleeping in the common room of her own dorm.

Now is the time to flip the script.

In the past few days, I’ve gotten together with other Yale alums to organize a campaign to say “no” to Kavanaugh and challenge his despicable attempts to use his Yale credentials as a shield to deny accountability for his actions. We will be circulating a statement and video message, and encouraging Yale students and alums to come out to protest and post on social media with the hashtag #YaleKavaNO.

I hope everyone — whether they went to Yale or not — will stand with us in the coming week. Together, we can take a stand against Kavanaugh and the world of obscene privilege and entitlement he represents.

Susan Carroll

Excerpted from a speech given at the march on the Yale Club in New York City.

My name is Susan, I’m a member of the International Socialist Organization, and I’m a survivor.

It’s about time we protested the Yale Club and all the assailants who are members of it, and that means more than just Brett Kavanaugh.

Institutions like Yale don’t care about justice or human flourishing, and much less about the well-being of survivors of sexual violence. What they care about, what they depend on, are old boys’ networks, donations, rankings, endowments, their reputation — the appearance that they are bastions of liberalism and brilliance in a decaying society.

Well, we’re here today to call bullshit.

Their priorities and their purpose are clearer than ever. These are institutions that fuel misogyny and racism, that groom the elite to rule, and that shield them from any accountability for their actions, especially when it comes to violence.

There are portraits hanging in there of William Taft, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton and both George Bushes — all men who have killed millions and, without a doubt, assaulted many many women.

When Kavanaugh indignantly exclaimed, about a dozen times, during his hearing, that he went to Yale, it’s because according to the entities that govern this country, that kind of class power is supposed to give you a free pass. It is somehow supposed to render you categorically incapable of sexual assault.

As I said, we’re here to call bullshit.

It is no accident that it’s from the ranks of the elites of institutions like Yale that the justices of our Supreme Court are predominantly drawn. Supreme Court justices hold undemocratic, lifetime appointments, regardless of who nominates them. They are given free reign to oversee a system that has the same priorities as Yale and places like it — a system that is rigged in favor of a small minority at the expense of the rest of us.

This is true not because the individuals who preside over our judicial system are misogynist bigots, even though many of them certainly are, as we know, but because even if they’re not, that judicial system exists in service of the U.S. capitalist state, and the imperialism, exploitation and oppression which necessitates it.

We have to be clear on this because if Kavanaugh is not confirmed, it will be because of us and the insurmountable courage of survivors, and not because of the FBI or the Democrats, who fucking botched the hearing.

The only times the Supreme Court has ever acted in favor of ordinary people, of marginalized people — be they survivors, Black people, people seeking safe and legal abortions or exploited workers — have been when we were organized, unified and relentless. We are the agents of change, not them.

And until the day that there are no more private universities, no more undemocratic judicial processes, no more prisons, no more frats, no more assailants who can get away with it, we have to keep organizing, in the streets, our workplaces, our schools and our neighborhoods, wherever we are.

We stand with Christine Ford. We stand with Deborah Ramirez. We stand with Julie Swetnick. We stand with Anita Hill.

We stand with all survivors. And we continue their fight and our fight today — until the Senate makes its decision, and all the days after that, too, no matter who is confirmed.

We can do this. Let’s give them hell.

Haley Pessin

I was at work during the Kavanaugh hearings. Rather than suffer through this grueling and at times infuriating experience alone, I found that my co-workers were just as angry and on edge as I was.

We shared our own painful experiences, discussed why survivors are so readily dismissed, and acknowledged Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s extraordinary bravery for coming forward in the face of death threats and the immense scrutiny and shaming that come with speaking out.

We made the collective decision to listen together at work, seething at the heights of wealthy male entitlement and the lows of political opportunism.

And not just from Republicans, who clearly don’t care whether Kavanaugh is guilty of sexual assault and want to push through their nominee at all costs, but from Democrats, who, ahead of the midterm elections, claim to stand with survivors, but in practice have proven less committed to defending women’s rights.

Thanks to the #MeToo movement, Trump and fellow conservatives who had assumed the Kavanaugh confirmation were a done deal must, instead, reckon with the fact that so many of us see ourselves or someone we know in Blasey Ford’s testimony.

For those of us who attended elite institutions like Georgetown Prep and Yale, it is virtually impossible not to have known a Brett Kavanaugh, or to have witnessed the culture of vile misogyny that is reinforced by the institutionalized code of silence among campus administrators, who prioritize their bottom line and good public relations over the lives and safety of survivors.

Despite the massive ideological impact of #MeToo, the challenge remains how this sentiment can be channeled into the sustained organizing and action needed to turn Kavanaugh’s nomination into a political crisis, whether he is ultimately confirmed to the Supreme Court or not.

It is significant that these hearings have not represented a repeat of the attacks on Anita Hill over 20 years ago. And the fact that survivors confronted Jeff Flake, prompting him to shift course and call for an FBI investigation into Blasey Ford’s allegations, shows that these institutions are not immune from public pressure.

We should attend the protests to stop Kavanaugh. We should continue our conversations with co-workers, family, friends and fellow activists, making the case for why we need protests in every city, and organizing them where they aren’t planned yet in order to mobilize the widespread opposition to Kavanaugh.

But we also need to challenge the idea that these horrors are limited to Trump when Democrats who claim to oppose Kavanaugh have been just as willing to downplay the need to defend women’s rights.

Building the resistance to Kavanaugh is necessary now, not only because stopping his nomination would be a victory in its own right, but because we will need a movement that can continue to demand our rights, no matter who is in office or sitting on the Supreme Court.

For my part, I’ll be joining my branch of the ISO in New Paltz, along with other activists, in linking the desire to stop Kavanaugh to organizing for a protest against a local “crisis pregnancy center,” a fake clinic that provides false or misleading information to people seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

Whether or not Kavanaugh gets nominated, the depths of misogyny in the highest offices are on display for all to see. We need to channel our anger into action and argue that our resistance cannot be limited to the ballot box, but must be felt at every workplace and in the streets.

Akunna Eneh

When I heard of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I initially avoided all news.

There was no doubt in my mind that a man who so fervently stands against a women’s right to her own reproductive choices that he refers to birth control pills as “abortion-inducing drugs” could have sexually assaulted someone. He hates women and is clearly a legal crusader for the right wing and their 40-year crusade against the gains of the women’s right’s movement.

But while there was no doubt in my mind of his guilt, I was not sure that I could handle another Anita Hill moment.

I was just a young Black girl in 1991, but the lesson of those hearings weren’t lost on me: don’t speak out against sexual harassment, you won’t be believed — in fact, you will be on trial. If you are a Black woman, despite your professional status and level of education, you will be vilified on top of being seen as a liar.

In addition, up until Dr. Blasey’s story came out, the Democrats weren’t organizing a strong opposition to the likely confirmation of Kavanaugh.

It really took seeing Dr. Blasey testify, seeing people walk out and rally in support of her and all survivors, and helping to organize a speak out at Harvard — where students and alums successfully stopped Kavanaugh from returning to teach a course in the winter semester — to remind me that today is different because of #MeToo.

I definitely began to feel less alone in remarking on the stark differences with the 1991 hearings, where Dr. Hill was asked one belittling question after another by an all-white male Senate Judiciary Committee. At the Harvard speak-out, students and organizers chanted confidently, “We still believe Anita Hill,” and made connections between Dr. Hill’s and Dr. Ford’s brave testimonies.

The vocal opposition to Kavanaugh has helped to push back a cynical and bipartisan mainstream political conversation that could only see Dr. Ford’s traumatic experience in light of what it means for the blue or red outcome in the midterm elections.

And Kavanaugh did himself no favors with his sniveling and snarking at questions about his alcohol consumption during his testimony — as though women and all survivors are never retraumatized by being asked about their own drinking behavior or what they were wearing or what they were doing to “invite” an attack.

Kavanaugh’s indignant attitude really pissed me off, but it also clearly demonstrated the arrogance of a class of people who are so used to steamrollering over our safety, our health and our rights to our own bodies that they never see our opposition coming.

Well, here we are, and we won’t go back.

Sherry Wolf

Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful testimony touched off so much fury in me about how we’ve been forced to accept toxic misogyny, sexual violence and erasure as norms.

But watching Kavanaugh’s dry-drunk rage and the indefensible rants of that bloviating incel, Lindsey Graham, left me horrified and committed to doing everything in my power to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Not least because I actually think we can stop his ascension to the Court through mass dissent. But also because I cannot tolerate the thought that a woman could expose the most intimate horrors of her life to a global audience, and be dismissed as a road bump to a sexual predator’s career.

Michelle Farber

I hadn’t planned to watch the full day of hearings last Thursday. I go in to work late on Thursdays, so I figured I would tune in while drinking some coffee and continue on with my day.

Instead, I was completely engrossed by both Dr. Ford’s bravery and poise in the face of being treated like she was on trial, and disgusted with Kavanaugh’s defensiveness, entitlement and male rage.

I listened to Kavanaugh’s opening statements as I pedaled angrily to work. Over and over, I heard red flags that signaled he is clearly an abuser. Blaming everyone else. Elaborate conspiracy theories. Crocodile tears. Using his daughters for emotional leverage.

I sat, glued to my headphones in between patients at work that day, feeling paralyzed in disbelief at how outrageous Kavanaugh seemed to be, and how much the Republican members seemed to be completely out of touch with the reality of a post-#MeToo world.

As I started talking with friends, fellow activists and family over the next few days, it felt like something had tangibly shifted in the minds of all the women I knew.

This year and the birth of #MeToo has created a situation where women now refuse to be silent. Refuse to accept that the constant fear, shame and harassment we endure for being women is normal. The protest chant is suddenly ringing clear for everyone: “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

A friend posted on social media last night asking if there was a curfew for men, what would we do with our time in the world? Thinking of this possibility, the fantasy of even a few hours every day safe from the threat of physical violence being done to our bodies was simultaneously freeing and enraging.

It is amazing how much we restructure our lives, every minute of every day, and don’t even think about it in detail until the hypothetical question is asked about what we would do with ourselves if we could pretend to be safe for even a small amount of time.

As we start to plan for a massive protest on Thursday evening, I think women are starting to ask themselves why we are not safe and what must be done to ensure our basic humanity.

That question is resonating so deeply because of the bravery of the hundreds of activists who have pushed the #MeToo movement forward in the past year, and the millions of survivors who have shared their stories.

In the weeks leading up to Kavanaugh’s hearing, I read a book called The Power. In it, for unknown reasons, women and teenage girls begin to experience the ability to essentially conduct electricity. To become lightning rods. And with that power, the ability to use it to right all the wrongs done to women since the dawn of time.

It seemed a fitting read, because now, faced with the possibility that a serial sexual abuser will sit on the Supreme Court, it seems like women everywhere are ready to turn into lightning rods and set the world alight.

Eva María

Thursday was an extremely emotional day, to say the least. I teach Spanish at a small high school, and I made the executive decision to show most of the hearing in class.

Normally when first period starts, students come in pairs or small groups, chatty, loud and excited to see their friends. They know they need to switch their brains to Spanish, but it takes them a few minutes to sit and look at the board with the agenda for the hour.

But not on Thursday. When the bell rang and kids entered the classroom, Dr. Blasey Ford was being interrogated in front of the Judiciary Committee.

The students came in quietly and sat down, eyes glued to the screen as Dr. Blasey Ford courageously confirmed her testimony. Some of them started to take notes. The ones who normally have their headphones on took them out to listen. When it was over, one raised their hand to ask if we could please have a few minutes to “vent” — which, of course, I agreed to.

The first student, a junior, talked about how angry she was, because she was convinced that Brett Kavanaugh was going to be confirmed, no matter what. She said that what happens to women is usually ignored or dismissed, and that both Democrats and Republicans act the same. “Who invented this whole mess of a system?” she asked.

The second student, a freshman, shared that he wasn’t sure if it would mean anything to be of voting age because the entire system seemed unreachable. He said he didn’t even really understand why an institution like the Supreme Court existed. “Why would anyone be elected to do anything for a lifetime?” he said.

Many of his classmates agreed, and one built on that comment by adding that if we lived in a real democracy, change would happen much quicker — because he’s only known people to be angry that there haven’t been major social changes in his lifetime.

The last student to speak said that it’s a real shame that Dr. Blasey Ford would feel scared to speak up, since the incident she’s describing is way too familiar for many teenagers.

The overall sense in the room was one of frustration and anger, but also a real sense of entitlement to that anger. They know they have been wronged. They know the rules are made by wealthy, white men who are completely out of touch from the reality we live in. And most importantly, they feel an urgency to do something about it, because if not them, then who?

Thursday was an extremely emotional day for me, for my kids and for the world watching. But at least I didn’t have to do it alone. Sharing my day with such an inspiring population of young students was crucial to surviving the roller coaster that was Thursday, and I left my work day feeling hopeful.

I’ll conclude with the comment that resonated the most with my senior class later in the day: “We deserve better. It’s obvious. They must think we’re stupid or something, and that we’ll just go along with all this bullshit. But we’re not stupid, we can see clearly, and we know this is all fucked up.”

I agree. Now let’s mobilize to change it.

Erica West

The horrors of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court seem to know no bounds.

At first, we were outraged that he was your average conservative — anti-worker and anti-woman. If he was someone who Trump supported, it was obvious that he would bring lots of harm to the most vulnerable people in our country.

But as this has continued, it’s clear that Kavanaugh, like Trump, is more than a run-of-the-mill conservative — he’s a perpetrator of sexual violence.

Like millions of people around the country, I find it completely unacceptable that someone like Kavanaugh would be appointed to a national, lifetime position overseeing our country’s courts. And like millions of people, I know that calling senators or waiting until November 2018 to vote isn’t going to cut it.

The rights of workers are at stake; the right to abortion is at stake; respect and justice for survivors of sexual violence is at stake.

I have been so inspired by the people occupying and demonstrating in Washington D.C. We’ve already seen that it affects how these politicians make decisions.

It can feel demoralizing to see this all happening, and to know that if he’s appointed, he will be in power for decades to come. Protests can make us feel empowered, and can show us the power we have when we are united, together.

Mass demonstrations and protests are our power. We can affect the decisions that get made. I’m protesting Kavanaugh because protest works, and because I want a world where survivors and victims are heard, believed and respected.

Further Reading

From the archives