For Sen. Jeff Flake, the viral scene in which two enraged women confronted him on an elevator over experiences of sexual misconduct was the culmination of chance and not getting down the hallway quite fast enough. For one of the women who approached him, the moment was decades in the making.
Ana Maria Archila, 39, met Maria Gallagher in the atrium of a Senate office building for the first time on Friday morning. Archila, a co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, had experience dealing with legislators. Maria Gallagher did not.
Driven together by their shared anger over a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the two decided to join forces and wait outside of Flake’s office together. Shortly after releasing a statement indicating he would vote yes on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the Arizona Republican rushed from his office to the elevators. So did reporters, and so did Archila and Gallagher.
The dramatic moment came a day after Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor with two master’s degrees and a doctorate, testified under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh, as a teenager, held her down, put his hand over her mouth and tried to take off her clothes approximately 35 years ago.
Archila used her body to block the elevator’s mechanized door from cutting off her conversation: “On Monday, I stood in front of your office,” she said, vigorously. “I told the story of my sexual assault.”
Flake looked down for most of the encounter, unable or unwilling to stare the women in the eyes.
“I need to go. I need to go to the hearing,” he said.
Archila didn’t budge. “I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she is telling the truth,” she said. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them.”
Within hours of the protest, Flake made his “yes” a conditional one. “I will only be comfortable moving on the floor [when] the FBI has done more investigation than they have already,” he said. “It may not take them a week. I understand that some of these witnesses may not want to discuss anything further. But I think we owe them due diligence.”
For Archila, Ford’s telling of being violated by someone older than her hit too close to home. In an interview with TIME, Archila said she was molested by a boy ten years older than her, when she was just a five-year-old girl in daycare.
It took about a decade for her to tell her mom. Her dad found out only when thousands of Americans did, in the heated exchange with Flake that aired on live television.
“I wanted to protect them from that pain,” she said, discussing why she did not tell them sooner.
That pain has affected how she raises her own kids, now 6 and 3. After becoming a mom, she found it hard to leave her children alone, scarred by what she said happened to her when she was about their age.
“I couldn’t leave my child in daycare,” she said through tears.
Archila said she was never a huge fan of Kavanaugh. When President Donald Trump originally nominated him to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the bench in July, Archila was worried his prior judicial record could be indicative of him ruling contrary to her views on issues like women’s reproductive rights and immigration. Archila immigrated from Colombia well over a decade ago, and is now a U.S. citizen.
When allegations of sexual misconduct were lodged against Kavanaugh, Archila said watching Kavanaugh’s confirmation process begin to play out procedurally signaled a “deep reckoning” for American politics — but one that had been brewing for a long time. As the #MeToo movement swelled, so did her anger towards anyone who was complicit in allowing sexual assault to run rampant for so many years.
“What is most enraging is watching history repeat itself. Watching men sit there and cast doubt on the experience of women, cast doubt on the veracity of our work,” she said. “It’s really a culture that, again and again, kind of prioritizes men over women. I think that is really where my rage comes from.”
She said it was difficult to relive her memories of being sexually violated some 34 years ago, but that it would have been far worse to ignore them.
“In that moment, the painful part wasn’t my story,” she said. “The painful part was was our collective stories. How is it possible that we stare at the mirror of so much pain and still look away?”
It appears Archila and Gallagher’s words had at least some effect on Flake, who is not running for re-election. In an interview with “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Flake referenced the confrontation in explaining his push for an FBI investigation.
“I just knew that we couldn’t move forward, that I couldn’t move forward without hitting the pause button,” he said. “What I was seeing, experiencing, in an elevator and watching it in committee and just thinking, this is ripping our country apart.”
Archila had a train ticket back to New York City scheduled for about the same moment that she, Gallagher and Flake collided.
“I so clearly missed my train,” she said, chuckling.
But she said it was worth it.
“I think that Maria and I were there because others had been there,” she said. “If it had just been our two stories, we would not have had the same impact.”
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