I went to a protest. That morning I had sat in my cubicle, watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as she read her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She answered questions about her memory, her fear of flying, and the assault she had survived. Her poise was that of an academic; one who had passed her dissertation defense by calmly answering questions and keeping her wits about her. She was credible and consistent. She was believable. She was also quivering.
I left work to protest Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Walking up to the crowd, I remember I was finishing my lunch because I could feel the rice sticking in my throat as I swallowed. I saw the cameras filming and stopped in the back of the group, hiding my face under the hood of my raincoat. Then the group started waking. In the middle of the pack I found my roommate Leora and her coworkers. We were walking behind a drummer and two brass musicians. We all started singing “Hit the road Brett, and don’t you come back no more.” I felt something rise up in my chest, like the music was filling me with the strength and the passion of all of the protesters.
As the week passed, I followed the news closely, watching CNN videos on the bus and listening to NPR at work. I saw the huddle of concerned senators waiting for Jeff Flake to come back and vote the nomination out of committee. I heard Trump announce there would be a limited FBI investigation, and I was not surprised when Senators commented on the sealed investigation as if they’d read different documents.
My housemates and I went to the Anti-Kavanaugh Vigil on the Supreme Court steps (photo above). There were speakers from different nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and faith backgrounds. A few of them said things I disagreed with. I kept thinking about my college constitutional law class, incorporation, interpretation, and the way the constitution has been used to find privacy protections; I didn’t feel comfortable protesting against Kavanaugh for his differing political opinions. I was thinking about leaving when a speaker from an autism advocacy organization stood up. She talked about decisions Kavanaugh had made that limited the autonomy of disabled persons. My mind was transported back to my ethics course, listening to my favorite professor talk about Nussbaum’s capability approach. Whether or not the Supreme Court had overreached, I believed in the majority of the protections they have established. I believed in equal rights for all races, all sexual orientations, and all genders. I believed that assault survivors should be believed. So I stood with my roommates behind the podium as the sky darkened around us. The cameras were pointed directly at us; we held our signs high and looked into the bright lights.
My boss emailed me at noon and told me I could go to a protest if I wanted. I didn’t have a sign, so I printed the new TIME cover of Dr. Blasey Form and stapled it to a filing folder. My phone had 6 percent, and I couldn’t find my charger. I took a deep breath, put my sign in my bag, and walked to the metro. On the platform, I saw a middle-aged man holding a homemade sign and wondered if he was going to the protest. A few minutes later, I heard someone ask him where he was going. I thought, “who needs a phone to find friends,” and joined the conversation. Soon a man in his sixties started talking to me, mumbling under his beard, wearing a ratty tank-top, and sporting a tie-dyed satchel. I wondered if he was homeless or mentally ill. Much later, I would learn he was a college professor named Willie. On the Metro, I met Mollie. She told me about the first protest she’d ever been to: it was against the Vietnam War, and she had to have it expunged to pass the bar. I couldn’t believe it; I had made badass protest friends. Willie, Mollie, and I walked close to a mile side by side from Kavanaugh’s office to the Supreme Court steps. Mollie told me stories as we walked. “Yeah, I broke my ribs and punctured a lung last year,” she said, “but I still got to most of the marches. I just can’t get arrested today, I’ve already had my share.”
It was sunny and hot in the crowd beneath the steps. I left Willie and Mollie to stand in the shade, but I stayed within earshot of the speeches. I was standing there when Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour announced that the Capitol was being barricaded, so we would shift to plan b and head to the Hart Senate Building. I marched alongside the crowd and found Mollie and Willie in line waiting to get into the building. We waited around thirty minutes and were only 5 yards from the door when I had to leave. A survivor was telling her story to a journalist next to me. The beginning was similar to Dr. Blasey Ford’s assault. She was on the way to the bathroom when she was pushed into a bedroom. Then she was raped multiple times. As the woman told her story, I remember thinking, “Geez this is odd. How is she so nonchalant?” Suddenly, I felt like I was going to be sick. My vision started to get spotty. I wondered how long it had been since I’d drank water. I bent my knees and imagined Willie and Mollie catching me as I passed out. Then I walked away without saying anything to them. I sat in the shade hugging my knees and took a few deep breaths. I realized my body had been affected by her story.
When I’d collected myself I went into the building. Walking toward the rotunda, I heard the protestors before I saw them. Their voices rising up, filing the space, and echoing out onto each floor. Looking down on the group of protesters from a balcony, they were sitting huddled together on the floor taking up less than a quarter of the space. Across from me, and above and below, all of the balconies were filled with people watching. I saw the Capitol police arresting them one by one gently. It looked like an act. When the arrested protesters had all been escorted out, I took in the piles of signs and water bottles scattered across the floor, knowing all traces of the protest would be gone in an hour. As I walked away from the Hart Building, I saw Willie alone. He said, “Mollie changed her mind. She got arrested. It was going to have to be one of us. The other one takes care of the pets.”
SATURDAY OCTOBER 5th
The cloture vote passed. The Senate had concluded discussion on the candidate, and the protest organizers urged allies to show up on Saturday. My house was planning on going apple picking, but we all agreed attending the protest was more important. Before bed we discussed the possibility of joining a direct action and being arrested.
In just over a week, I had gone from hiding in the back of a protest to considering arrest. I had stood in solidarity with friends. I had marched for a cause with strangers. I had become a protester.