Turning defeat into determination

October 8, 2018

Nicole Colson asks what’s next after the sick spectacle of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

“I DO not consent! I do not consent! Where is my representation?”

Those desperate words rang out in the Senate galley on October 6 as protesters attempted to make the U.S. Senate listen to the majority of people across the country who were firmly opposed to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

In the end, the Republicans rammed through Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the nation’s highest court in a 50-48 vote on Saturday, allowing the man multiple women have accused of sexually assaulting them to now determine the fate of, among other things, women’s right to control their own bodies. Kanavaugh was sworn in later in the afternoon, in a “private” ceremony.

Protesters rally against Brett Kavanaugh outside the Supreme Court
Protesters rally against Brett Kavanaugh outside the Supreme Court (Photo Phiend | flickr)

The elected leaders of the “world’s greatest democracy” ignored the objections of protesters inside the Senate galley — as 13 women were arrested for interrupting the vote over the angry shouts of Vice President Mike Pence, who repeatedly had to bring the process back to order.

They ignored the thousands more women and men who had protested throughout the week — both on the steps of Capitol Hill and on the streets in cities and towns across the country — to declare “We believe all survivors.” It was a stark illustration of who Congress represents — and it’s not ordinary people.

Elements of Kavanaugh’s nomination process and his confirmation vote would feel like a farce if it weren’t for the deadly serious consequences it will have, particularly for women.

There was the FBI’s supposed “investigation” of Kavanaugh, which didn’t include interviews of either Kavanaugh, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or the multiple potential corroborating witnesses. As Blasey Ford’s legal team later said in a statement, “an F.B.I. investigation that did not include interviews of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh is not a meaningful investigation in any sense of the word.”

Likewise, the agency reportedly ignored the claims of Kavanaugh’s former classmates that contradicted his testimony, and failed to investigate the multiple, well-documented lies that Kavanaugh told while under oath to Congress.

Then there was the added absurdity that all 100 senators were forced to share a single copy of the 46-page FBI report, which was kept in a secure room on Capitol Hill, with Democrats and Republicans taking turns reviewing it because they were allowed to access the room only one hour at a time before having to cede the room to the other party.

THE CIRCUS of Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation process has left a long list of politicians and pundits worthy of scorn.

Right at the top is Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins who, after vacillating on whether she would vote to confirm (despite claiming to be a moderate in support of a woman’s right to choose), came down squarely on the side of the conservative status quo.

In a speech on Saturday that could only be described as Orwellian, Collins invoked her support of the #MeToo movement against sexual assault — and somehow twisted that into a reason to vote for Kavanaugh. Speaking of Christine Blasey Ford, Collins said, “I believe that she is a survivor of a sexual assault, and that this trauma has upended her life.”

But then Collins incredibly went on to equate the fight to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation with McCarthyism, declaring that she would not abandon her principles of “due process and fairness” — before dramatically marking the moment of her sellout with the words, “Mr. President, I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”

Nor is it only the Republicans worthy of disdain. Special mention has to be made of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin — the only Democrat to cross the aisle and vote in favor of Kavanaugh.

Manchin justified his cowardly action by saying “I’m just a good old West Virginia boy” even as protesters yelled “Shame!” and “Look at us!”

While Manchin may have been the only Democrat to vote in favor of Kavanaugh, the Democratic Party as a whole deserves a large share of blame for failing to stop the nomination of such a deeply unpopular nominee. Their incredibly narrow approach to the process — relying solely on an FBI investigation whose scope was extremely limited from the beginning — was always likely to fail.

At its core, Kavanaugh’s confirmation was about the right wing appointing a ruling-class warrior to turn back the clock on any number of fronts — and the Democratic Party, the “B team” of capital, has little interest in taking that on.

If they had wanted to, the Democrats could have used Kavanaugh’s nomination as an opportunity to talk about defending women’s rights, fighting sexual violence, or rolling back the assaults that Kavanaugh has supported on civil liberties, to name just a few examples.

They could have questioned Kavanaugh at length and with real rigor during the hearing — pointing out the many allegations against him or the many inconsistencies in his testimony. They could have, as the Splinter website put it, “forcefully campaigned against him in public. The fact that they chose not to says something about how the Democrats view the angry protests Kavanaugh’s nomination unleashed."

NOW THAT Kavanaugh has been sworn in, the Democratic response will be all too predictable: They will tell those of us who spent the last weeks protesting to donate to and vote for Democratic candidates in November, and “remember in 2020.”

Like liberal Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who addressed protesters outside of the Supreme Court just before the vote to confirm Kavanaugh, saying that she wanted “to tell everyone who fought with us what comes next” in order to “turn our hurt into power.”

Warren told the crowd her plan is “a 30-day plan” — in other words, voting for Democrats on November 6 in the midterms.

“Show ’em what matters,” she added, “take back the Senate.” “Vote Democrat up and down...return power to the people where it belongs.”

But returning the Democrats to power and building our power are two separate things — as the steady erosion of women’s rights and more under successive Democratic administrations has shown.

Post-Kavanaugh, Democrats will say we need to respect the rule of law and respect the Court. They’ll tell us to forget about the possibility, slim though it might be, of impeaching Kavanaugh — or even conducting a real investigation into the allegations against him.

In fact, Kavanaugh’s nomination would have sailed through without a fight at all — except for the bravery of Christine Blasey Ford and the grassroots opposition as a result of the #MeToo movement that finally forced the Democrats to put up at least some semblance of a fight.

The explosion of protest — especially the inspiring acts of bravery of sexual assault survivors confronting congressional representatives like Sen. Jeff Flake and others — as well as those who walked out on campuses and occupied the steps of Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court to declare “We believe survivors” — gave a glimpse of what could have stopped Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But in this instance, our mobilizations weren’t strong enough to confront politicians with a real political price for their covering for Kavanaugh.

We owe no respect to a Court that has Kavanaugh on it or to a Congress so inherently disdainful of the opinion of millions of ordinary people. In the end, senators representing less than half of the U.S. confirmed a nominee opposed by a majority of Americans — and who was nominated by a man who lost the popular vote.

As reporter Astead Wesley pointed out on Twitter, Kavanaugh is now the 114th Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. Of those, 108 have been white men. Just four have been women, and three have been non-white.

With Kavanaugh sworn in, there are now more justices sitting on the Court who have been accused of sexual misconduct (Kavanaugh and Thomas) than women of color to ever sit on the Court (Sotomayor).

DURING HER speech, Susan Collins chided those who were emotional about the prospect of a sexual assaulter being appointed to the Court, saying “When passions are most inflamed, fairness is most in jeopardy.”

That’s right. We are “inflamed.”

The feeling of rage and defeat so many of us were feeling after Kavanaugh was confirmed was palpable. The new reality of a Kavanaugh Court means an escalation of the attacks on our clinics and our right to choose abortion, on our rights as workers and our rights as immigrants and other oppressed people.

The right wing sees Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a big win — and will be using this to fire up the Republican hard right base for the midterm elections. They will repeat endlessly the idea that, as Trump said, “It’s a scary time for young men in America,” who supposedly can be taken down by false allegations of sexual assault.

Or worse, there will be some who try to use this as an excuse to return to the bad old days when sexual assault could be passed off as merely “boys will be boys” behavior — as when Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert recently opined “If someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex.”

The process of confirming Kavanaugh should make us re-evaluate the usual opposition strategy of liberal groups and organizations prioritizing voting for Democratic candidates and contributing to the party’s coffers — or pursuing a strategy of “bipartisanship” — as a way of seeking to appeal to the center-right.

It’s worth remembering that just last year, Planned Parenthood — which has been under sustained assault from the right — presented its “Barry Goldwater” award to none other than Sen. Susan Collins, an award given to Republican lawmakers who “champion reproductive health care issues and who fight to ensure the rights granted to women.”

Some champion.

It wasn’t the Democrats, but grassroots protest that opened up space in terms of drawing out and delaying Kavanaugh’s confirmation — and which, even though we lost this battle, can help lay the basis for a stronger left in the future. But the fights to come will require bigger and independent grassroots movements.

We should take heart from Debbie Ramirez, one of the women who came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault while at Yale. In a letter posted by a classmate to the internet following the vote to confirm Kavanaugh, Ramirez wrote:

There may be people with power who are looking the other way, but there are millions more who are standing together, speaking up about personal experiences of sexual violence and taking action to support survivors. This is truly a collective moment of survivors and allies standing together.

Thank you for hearing me, seeing me and believing me. I am grateful for each and every one of you. We will not be silenced.

And we should take heart from the protests that continued even after Kavanaugh was confirmed — as enraged protesters pushed past a line of police to ascend the steps of the Supreme Court and pound on its doors.

FOR RAMIREZ, and all survivors — and more, for all the women and men whose rights now stand in peril from a Kavanaugh court — we need to stand together and take the lessons of this defeat forward to mobilize independent movements that don’t rely on “appeals to conscience” to a party that has none, or places our hopes in an “opposition” party that is more likely to roll over than put up a real fight.

When it comes to shaping the Supreme Court, there is no doubt that the right sees Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a chance to undermine decades of progressive legislation — not only potentially undoing the legal right to abortion, but undermining civil rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights and any other progressive gains of the past century that they can get away with undoing.

But those victories did not come as a result of Democratic appointees to the Court — they were the result of hard-fought struggles and social movements.

In thinking about our current despair over Kavanaugh, the words of people’s historian Howard Zinn, writing about the Supreme Court in 2005, can serve as a beacon of hope — and a call to action:

It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel and violate the law in order to uphold justice...

The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people. Those words engraved in the marble of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Before the Law,” have always been a sham.

No Supreme Court, liberal or conservative, will stop the war in Iraq, or redistribute the wealth of this country, or establish free medical care for every human being. Such fundamental change will depend, the experience of the past suggests, on the actions of an aroused citizenry, demanding that the promise of the Declaration of Independence — an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — be fulfilled.

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