Ahna is a current LVCer in Washington, DC, serving at the Government Accountability Project. This is her story of and reflections on her experiences related to the Kavanaugh hearing and accompanying protests. This is post 2 of 3; her first post is here.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 6th
When I woke up, I knew Brett Kavanaugh would be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. I knew I was going to protest. I did not know I would be arrested.
My roommate, Leora, and I paced from the kitchen to the entryway filling water bottles, packing snacks, and gathering signs for the protest. Picking up a Trader Joe’s bag, I remember hesitating. I thought about the hippy-vibe of my outfit – my moms sunglasses from the 80s, a Van Halen cut off T, and high-waisted jeans with floral embroidery. I wondered if “dressing-up” to protest was wrong. This protest was not some fun activity to dress up for. It was something I believed in. I put the bag down. Then I picked it back up. It was lighter than my purse, and I knew it would be a long day.
Leora and I met her friend at the reflecting pool. She was visiting New York, so she had taken a bus at 5am to join the protest. We told her about the direct action training to prepare protesters for arrest, and she said she couldn’t be arrested because she was in law school. She needed to pass the bar. When we got to the lawn outside the Supreme Court, we saw three main crowds gathered. We approached the group sitting cross-legged on the ground.
A women with straight grey hair, was captivating all of the seated protesters and the standing crowd behind them. Pacing around in her cargo pants, I was astounded by her presence. As she talked about her experience with resistance and arrest, I could feel her influencing me, but I didn’t mind. She spoke from a place of utter conviction, a place of urgency, but somehow also radiated peace. When she quit talking, she received a loving applause. Then a young woman with voluminous black curly hair and a bright pink fanny pack, explained the risks of different direct actions. If we went into the Capitol rotunda or disturbed the hearing in the gallery we might be held over the holiday weekend – in a DC cell. If we walked past the police line and sat on the Capitol steps, we would most likely be out the same day. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be arrested, but I was considering it enough that it seemed imperative to go to the bathroom.
I had to walk 10 minutes down the street to Union Station, so I called my mom. She told me to pray about it, and asked if I’d regret being arrested. “No,” I said, “I’d regret it much more if I wasn’t.” Then I took the opportunity to rationalize it to my mom. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was like an interview, and didn’t he perform poorly? He has been accused of sexual assault, and wasn’t that a problem? He was being confirmed to sit on the Supreme Court, one of the highest honors and responsibilities in the country, and I fundamentally disagreed with that. I knew I had a clean record and white skin. I knew I would not be fired or kicked out of my service program. I knew that any consequence I might bear would be minimal compared to the guilt I would feel in 20 years if Kavanaugh made rulings and wrote opinions that limited the rights of women, people of color, disabled persons, or any other marginalized group.
When I got back to my friends, I told them I was planning to be arrested. Leora decided to join me, and we went together to fill out the legal assistance form and withdraw bail money from an ATM. We had to go back to Union Station to find the ATM. On the walk Leora called her mom.
I had my ID and 50 dollars for bail in my pocket, when my dad called me. The conversation only lasted two minutes. He asked if I could protest without being arrested. He asked me to consider the consequences. I said I had made up my mind, and he asked me to be safe.
It was time. We all walked towards the steps together in silence. Our fists were raised and our signs held high. About 20 feet before the steps, a Capitol Officer told us we were crossing a police line. He held his hands out illustrating the imaginary line, but made no action to stop us.
Sitting down on the steps, we shouted “Join Us, Join Us, Join Us,” and I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end as a surge of people filled in the steps. What seemed like an endless stream of people was funneling down the path from the Supreme Court, filling the space beneath us, beneath the shadow of the Capitol.
A group of officers gathered at the bottom of the steps as we chanted. “We Believe Survivors.”
An officer with red checks yelled warnings into his bullhorn, showing us numbers with his fingers like an angry mother scolding children. Protesters on the lower steps cleared out, but we stayed. We chanted, “November is Coming.”
Soon officers started approaching protesters on the stairs beneath me and one by one and placing them under arrest. I felt my heartbeat on my t-shirt. I started a chant, “Tell me what Democracy looks like.” The crowd responded, “This is what Democracy looks like.”
Then it was time. The officer leaned down and told me, “You have the choice to leave now or be arrested.” I remember I was struggling to find words. I held out my shaking hands, and I think I said, “I’ll be arrested please.”
The Capitol Officer who escorted me down the steps was an African American woman. I’ll never forget how lightly she wrapped her latex gloved hand around my bicep. The gentle way she put the zip-tie restraints on my wrists. When she took my sign, she held it down low for awhile before dropping it. I wondered what she was thinking. I wondered if she would be standing in my place if she could. I was glad I hadn’t resisted. As angry as I was about Kavanaugh, I wasn’t protesting the Capitol Officers, and I certainly wasn’t protesting this woman.
We stood at the base of the steps in a line, waiting to be taken off-site and processed. I started talking to the woman next to me, Savana. She gave me advice about grad school. When we were patted down, I noticed her shirt said “I am a survivor.” I thought about all the survivors who were arrested at protests this week, about how triggering these searches must have been for some of them.
My bra strap was falling down, and I couldn’t fix it with my hands behind my back. Savana helped me. Leora’s nose was itching, and she couldn’t reach it. I offered her my shoulder. We were there for each other.
We were given bags for our personal belongings and then ushered into another line to wait for buses. The crowd was cheering for us, and I didn’t know how I felt about it. The extrovert in me wanted to smile, but I didn’t want this to be a show. I didn’t agree with many of the things they were yelling. There were only two groups of protesters left when a few women started singing:
“We shall not, we shall not be moved.
We shall not, we shall not be moved.
Like a tree that’s planted by the water.
We shall not be moved.”
Soon we had all joined the song. Women’s voices softly rising up, with a poignant power that dulled the chanting protesters in the background. As I felt my voice merge with the women around me, I thought about all the women that had come before us. I felt a wave of awe rush over me. A belonging, a peace, a power I could never explain.