Talking to the Unpaid Protesters Who Are In the Streets, Mad As Hell About Kavanaugh

Supreme Court

WASHINGTON—This morning, possibly after watching Fox & Friends, our belligerent big boy president tweeted:

As well as adding new phrases to the ever-expanding Trump Lexicon—“made in the basement from love” will surely persist for months—this tweet is remarkable because it plays into a long-standing anti-Semitic trope that George Soros is a puppet master controlling the American left. (Yes, really: Glenn Beck once said that.) It’s also remarkable because a regular human response to, say, the video of sexual assault survivor Maria Gallagher confronting Jeff Flake in an elevator is sympathy for the pain in her voice, not dismissing her as a “paid professional.” On the other hand, it’s a logical endpoint for GOP senators, who do not have the excuse of being Donald Trump, telling the women to “grow up,” describing them as “bullying” the senators,” or even calling them “violent.”

I went to Capitol Hill this morning to speak to protesters and ask how they felt about being diminished in this way. Protests had been ongoing since yesterday as part of the all-night People’s Filibuster, organized by the Center for American Progress and Demand Justice. I checked out the Hart Senate Building first, where I had met protesters last week during Christine Ford’s testimony. No protesters, paid or otherwise, were lurking around the elevators there. Alas, I would be unable to check their wallets for Sorosbucks.

So I went outside to talk to the protesters on the Capitol grounds. Right outside Hart sat Laura Winick, with her sign—not a pre-printed “identical” one, but one she made herself.

I asked Laura if she’d seen this morning’s presidential tweet. She hadn’t—no one I spoke to today, it turns out, had seen it before I showed them—and as I pulled it up on my phone, she said “Ah, Jesus.” She read the tweet. Her response? “Fuck you!”

I asked her if she was paid by Soros; she laughed raucously. So why was she here? “I came here because [Kavanaugh] is wrong on so many counts,” she said, listing his lack of “judicial temperament,” saying he is “politically motivated, and “the fact that he’s a liar and probably an abuser, a sexual assaulter.” She said she feared that “confidence in the courts” would evaporate if he was confirmed, but she also said it was about hearing women. “Women must be listened to and respected,” she said. She cited Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s comments, saying, “They don’t treat women like adults.”

Laura also sees the problems at work here as systemic: “We have to topple this patriarchy. They are in control and they should not be in control.”

Among the crowd of protesters, I met Elizabeth Carlton, a freelance writer, and PJ Marshall, an actor. (Elizabeth didn’t want to be photographed.)

I showed them the tweet, apologizing for having to be the ones to break it to them. Elizabeth’s reaction: “The fact that we have a president who believes in conspiracy theories of every sort is terrifying, that’s absolutely terrifying to me.” Pretty soon, she said, we’ll be hearing “the moon landing is fake.”

I asked them what brought them here. They came down from New York; Elizabeth said she was a sexual assault survivor, and at that point started to cry. “I’ve been crying for about two weeks,” she said, but “yesterday PJ said, you can lie in bed and cry or you can get up and do something, so at four in the afternoon we booked a hotel and drove on down.”

“And it didn’t work out today, but at least we tried,” she said.

Nearby, I met a group of four people and a very adorable toddler in a stroller. Chris and Jenny came down from just outside Baltimore, but Susan and Leighton, an 18 year old, flew in from Illinois for the protests last night.

I showed them the tweet. Susan’s response was immediate: “He’s deplorable,” and she reached into her bag to put her pink pussy hat on.

I asked Jenny why she came down today. She said that “having Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court would be horrible,” because “he’s lied, obviously he’s lied.” Both the lies and the assault charges were important to her: “If a judge doesn’t respect the truth under oath and is a sexual predator, I think he shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court.” She also pointed to Kavanaugh’s comments about “left wing” groups, and asked, “How can he be unbiased, when judging over issues against left versus right?”

Her husband Chris agreed, saying he was “inclined to not support him” even before the allegations, which Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied, surfaced. But the reaction to Ford’s allegation from the GOP senators, he said, “is so unreal.”

“It just feels like a time that you have to at least come out and say that this is not OK,” he also said.

Leighton, the teenager who had come from Illinois, said Kavanaugh “acted more like a drunk teenager” than someone who should be on the Supreme Court. She said she finds it “extremely scary, and I don’t want to have to live in a world where those are the people that are making the decisions for the rest of us.” Even still, she said she’s still excited to vote for the first time this year.

Another group nearby had come all the way from the Midwest. Kate Stenvig and Liana Mulholland, part of a group named By Any Means Necessary, had driven overnight from Michigan. They and their friends had homemade signs; I didn’t think to ask if they were specifically made in a basement, from love.

Time to show these people, blissfully ignorant as they were, the Trump tweet. “My first reaction is he’s full of shit,” said Kate. Not paid by Soros, I asked? One of their friends cracked: “I’m waiting for my check.” Liana said she doesn’t even know who he is.

So, absent that sweet Soros paycheck, why are they here? Kate came because “confirming Kavanaugh is next to putting Trump on the Supreme Court for life. Defeating Kavanaugh now would be dealing a huge blow to Trump, emboldening the resistance movement to force Trump to resign or be removed, which is what he needs to do.” The process of pushing Kavanaugh’s nomination through, Kate said, was intended “to keep the cover up of rape and sexual assault that is so pervasive everywhere, to just keep the lid on it.”

She continued:

What they’re really afraid of is that can of worms being opened, and they should be afraid of that, because it was the courage of Christine Ford and the two women that confronted Flake in the elevator that turned the situation around from this automatically going through, which is what the Democrats and Republicans were prepared to just let happen, and push it through. [It] gave us the opportunity to try to stop it. Now we’re in the same situation where the only thing that can defeat this is a mass movement.

Another pair of women both had signs printed and circulated by Demand Justice, a sure sign of Soros Bucks if I ever saw one.

Emily, who owns an editing consultancy, and Jocelyn, a TV producer and writer, hadn’t seen Trump’s latest broadside. On reading it, Emily said: “He’s a disgusting, deplorable asshole.”

Why was she here? “The reasons I have for coming here are simply that I am enraged and desperately fearful, and I don’t know what else to do with it, other than keep coming and trying to do something, trying to show my kids how to participate in democracy, trying to put my rage somewhere productive,” she said.

Jocelyn said she “woke up this morning so angry, and I texted my friend here and said, what are we doing today, and I came down.”

Outside the Russell Senate building, Victoria Lord was waving a sign that read “Believe Survivors,” and some passing cars were honking in support. She hadn’t seen Trump’s attack either, likely in part because she said she’d been out protesting since 6 a.m.

Two women standing behind her overheard our discussion; one offered, “you can’t pay us to have this much rage,” and went back to her conversation.

I asked Victoria what got her out of bed to come down here so early. She said:

I actually believe in the promise of this country, I believe in the integrity of the court system, and I believe that the placement of a clear and obvious perjurer on the highest court in the land undermines the judiciary of the United States. I believe very firmly that it is time for this country to face the rage and anger of women who have been sexually assaulted. One in six American women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. That’s an enormous number of us. A lot of us stuff that rage down, and you’re seeing it now.

I asked her why she thought Trump said what he did. “The truth of the matter,” she said, “is he’s a very stupid man.” Trump “has no principles or beliefs himself, so it’s impossible for him to believe there are people who have actual integrity and actual principles and actual beliefs that cause them to come out,” she continued. Coming out and waving a sign has extra significant for Victoria: As a D.C. resident, she said she has “no voting representation in Congress or the Senate, so this is my only power.”

“I believe very firmly that it is time for this country to face the rage and anger of women who have been sexually assaulted.”

She noted that her sign was, indeed, a printed sign—she picked it up at another march yesterday—but said she has “hundreds of homemade signs” at home. She decided not to use one today because her “lettering isn’t great.”

“The president can go fuck himself,” she concluded.

No, these protesters are not paid by George Soros—something far greater was motivating their activism. Some of the groups organizing protests did in fact receive money from him—we can’t know about Demand Justice, because it doesn’t disclose its donors—just as activist groups supporting Kavanaugh have received much, much more money from wealthy donors whose identities we may never know. These groups might set up a Facebook event inviting people to show up at a time and place and hand out pre-printed singed, but money can’t replicate the rage and utter dismay at what’s happening that got them out of bed and to the Hill today.

The notion of “paid protesters” will stick around like gum on a shoe for the rest of this horrid presidency, if not longer. It is a perfect right-wing fever swamp response to a swell of mass public protest of Trump, a conspiracy theory with the same common thread as the concept of “crisis actors.” It allows Trump and his supporters to dismiss and explain away the staggering number of people who will physically go and protest this administration. But it’s especially convenient—not to mention cruel—to do it on this issue, particularly when it’s directed at the brave sexual assault survivors who confronted GOP senators in their elevator safe spaces.

The whole push to confirm Kavanaugh is centered on denying women’s experiences—three women, in particular—and women who know why survivors don’t report, why traumatic memories are fuzzy, why it’s utterly insane to think Ford would get anything out of making this up. To confirm Kavanaugh, these old fuckers have to dismiss Ford’s testimony and roundly ignore the collective roar of women backing her up. A reasonable, if demonstratively craven, person could point to lapses in Ford’s memory about a deeply traumatic event that happened more than three decades as reasons why they don’t believe her. But how do you address these protesters?

You can call them paid protesters; you can call them bullies or lie about them being violent, whatever you like. It’ll please your rabid, cruel base. But you can’t stop all these women from being mad as hell—and you can’t stop them voting.

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