WASHINGTON — Not 24 hours after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss graphic allegations of sexual assault, a hearing that was every bit as gripping and infuriating and historic as Anita Hill’s testimony 27 years earlier, senators returned to Capitol Hill to determine the fate of President Trump’s newest Supreme Court nominee. Four Democratic senators — Kamala Harris of California, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — walked out of the hearing room Friday morning in protest. “This hearing is a sham,” Harris tweeted, “and Dr. Ford and the American people deserve better.”
This act of disobedience — and the committee’s planned Friday afternoon vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination — caps a week in Washington that can only be described as a watershed moment. It was impossible not to see Thursday’s hearing as a test of how far our politics, our institutions, our male public servants, had come since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings almost three decades ago. The answer: Not far at all.
Yet Thursday’s hearing also showed that women will not be bullied or silenced. Countless women came to D.C. to protest and share harrowing stories of their own sexual assaults. They laid down in the street outside the Supreme Court and risked arrest. On Friday morning, they confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the supposed conscientious conservative, after he pledged to vote yes on Kavanaugh. “This is a primal anger,” said Marilyn Hourican, a retired Naval special agent who attended Thursday’s protests wearing an “I BELIEVE DR. CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD” button. “We’re sick and tired of being good little girls. This bullshit is over.”
Inside the hearing room on second floor of the Dirksen Senate building Thursday, the contrast could not have been more striking. Ford, a victim of sexual assault allegedly at the hands of Kavanaugh, was polite, deferential, at times apologetic. “I truly wish I could be more helpful,” she said in her opening statement. “Does that work for you?” she asked Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the judiciary committee chairman. It was gutting to watch: A victim of sexual violence, who had little to gain and everything to lose by appearing before the U.S. Senate with millions of Americans watching, accommodating and even educating a panel of mostly aging white men.
Ford had every right to be angry and upset, and the hundreds of women who gathered on Capitol Hill to oppose Kavanaugh channeled that anger. Starting early Thursday morning, citizens across ages and races chanted and cheered and stood in silence to support Ford and the other women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault. “We believed Anita then,” they yelled, “we believe Christine now!”
These protests have gone on since August, but they gained new momentum when Ford went public with her allegations on September 16th. She was followed by Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s who alleges sexual misconduct at a party, and Julie Swetnick, who claims she was gang-raped at a party Kavanaugh attended. “Women have literally shared stories for the first time about rape, about sexual violence,” Linda Sarsour, a civil-rights activist who helps lead the Women’s March, tells Rolling Stone. “Women are putting their trauma on the line.”
By early afternoon, some of those same women had formed a human wall in the street outside the Supreme Court, stopping traffic in both directions. “We shall not be moved,” they sang in the driving rain. They kept singing as the police began arresting protesters and lining them up for transport, their hands bound in plastic cuffs. Still, they vowed to return Friday for the committee vote, and next week when the full vote is scheduled.
As they waited in the rain, Kavanaugh raged against a self-proclaimed conspiracy to stop his confirmation that was fueled by “millions of dollars in money from outside, left-wing opposition groups” seeking “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” This was not the same man America had seen some two weeks earlier — the genial basketball dad who insisted that a judge “must be independent” and above the political fray.
Kavanaugh fought and interrupted the Democratic senators who questioned him, while at the same time evading crucial questions. Should the FBI investigate Ford’s claims? Should Mark Judge — Kavanaugh’s friend and the only alleged witness to Ford’s assault — testify? Had Kavanaugh ever drank so much he couldn’t remember certain events the next day? These were straightforward questions, and Kavanaugh would not answer them.
Well before the hearing ended around 6:45 p.m. Thursday, it was clear what game the Republicans were playing. To call it a charade would be deeply unfair to Ford. Ford testified that she was “100 percent” confident it was Kavanaugh who had assaulted her. Kavanaugh said he was “100 percent certain” that the allegations against him were false. There would be no FBI investigation, no further testimony. In the end, this was a she-said, he-said.
The doubts voiced by the Fox News talking heads and anonymous Trump officials had mostly evaporated. President Trump himself tweeted that Kavanaugh’s histrionic performance was “powerful, honest and riveting.” Just like that, the judge’s nomination was back on track and headed for confirmation. But the women of this country won’t forget. They won’t forget Ford’s poise and Kavanaugh’s fury, and the feeling that only a man could put on such a show and get away with it in any setting, let alone a job interview for a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. We’re already seeing evidence of a mass exodus by women voters from the Republican Party. Kavanaugh may get his Supreme Court seat, but expect women to have the final say come November.