Last Thursday night, Amanda O’Brien sat on a bus for 10 hours to get from Maine to Washington D.C. to meet with Sen. Susan Collins and share her opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The bus was full of sexual assault survivors, who shared their stories with their seat mates as they crawled toward the Capitol. O’Brien, who wore black like the rest of the survivors, tried to prepare herself. When she and a handful of other survivors got to the Senator’s office on Friday, she told Senator Collins that she had been sexually assaulted for years as a young child. She told her because of the impact of the assault, she later became the victim of domestic violence. She told her Senator things she has rarely told anyone, things she would still rather not repeat.
“Senator Collins was also teary eyed,” she recalled on Friday morning. “It was very much a woman-to-woman conversation. She hugged us, we felt very listened to. I would be shocked if she votes yes.”
“I looked her in the eye with tears in my eyes and said ‘please,'” recalls Catherine Perreault, a 46-year-old office administrator in Portland who is also a sexual assault survivor. Perreault says she skipped other big protests of the Trump era because she’s shy, she’s a germaphobe, and she gets motion sickness easily. For this, she got on a bus. “I begged her not to confirm Kavanaugh,” she said.
But on Friday afternoon, Collins announced her intention to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh, all but ensuring that Trump’s pick will sit on the Supreme Court, despite Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony that he pinned her to a bed and tried to rape her when they were both in high school. Kavanaugh denies Ford’s allegation.
“I feel betrayed,” says O’Brien. “I feel it was a really dirty trick to sit down and listen to survivors and almost use them as talking points to get on the soapbox for Republicans.”
“It was such a slap in the face,” she continued “Especially to have a woman Senator who said to my face ‘I understand why women don’t report all the time.’ She’s just going to disregard that and put a potential rapist on the highest court in the land.”
Perreault says she’s both shocked by Collins’s vote and not surprised. “It’s that constant contradictory message of ‘Why didn’t you speak up?’. But even when you do speak up, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “I don’t know that I expected, I just hoped.”
Sexual assault survivors from Alaska also shared their stories with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was the only GOP senator to vote against advancing Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. On Thursday, Murkowski met with more than a dozen survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence survivors from Alaska. “It was amazingly powerful. She took the time to listen to each of us,” said Minoo Minaei, a 56-year old retired teacher who flew from Alaska to Washington D.C. on a trip organized by the ACLU of Alaska. “She actually got teary eyed with one of the young adults sharing her story.”
Minaei told the Senator that she had been a survivor of domestic violence from her first marriage in the 1980s, and that “in Alaska in the 1980s, they wouldn’t do anything, they wouldn’t even remove the abuser, they’d tell you to go see the priest,” she said. “The man always had the right to stay.”
Last week, Murkowski told Alaska Public Media that she had had a #MeToo moment of her own, though she didn’t explain further. “She said she could understand what we had gone through,” says Minaei. “She didn’t get into it in detail.”
Other survivors spent the days ahead of the vote confronting senators and staffers about their own rapes in interactions that appeared excruciating for both parties. “I looked at Senator Cruz and I said, ‘I got raped on a date,'” says Jess Morales Rocketto, the political director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance who has been actively involved in anti-Kavanaugh activism. “I haven’t even told my parents, and I’ve told Ted Cruz.” (Cruz responded, “thank you for exercising your First Amendment rights.”)
“It’s not that i want some justice for myself by denying Brett Kavanaugh this seat,” Rocketto says. “I want you to believe her, and you don’t believe her.”
On Friday afternoon, after Murkowski’s vote, sexual assault survivors from Alaska held a press conference outside her office to thank her for her vote, then delivered roses to her office one-by-one. Misty Nickoli, an organization manager for Native Movement Alaska, read a poem about her rape as a child, recalling the white tights she wore, the shiny black shoes, and the red velvet dress. She had met with Murkowski’s staff that morning to tell them her story.
At the same time, as Collins prepared to give her statement about her intended vote, activists outside her office began to sing “We Shall Overcome.” As she gave her speech announcing that she would vote for Kavanaugh, the hall fell silent. They watched her speech on cell phones, balanced on signs, huddled in little groups of four or six as her speech in support of Kavanaugh echoed through the hall outsider her office.
But some of these women said this vote would make them even more energized going into the midterms. “I’m really motivated to organize,” says O’Brien. “I want to take this protest and all this rage and this money we’re gonna have to run against her.”