As I have scrolled around social media this week, I have seen a lot of descriptions of how the Kavanaugh stories are making people feel, not just emotionally, but physically. Stomach pain, nausea, increased heart rate, dizziness, tremors and muscle tension — that’s what it feels like to be a survivor in America this week. Some of my colleagues and I created an online support chat for ourselves and our co-workers who have been overwhelmed by the onslaught. After all, when you work on the internet, especially in media, there’s no getting away from a story like this one.
Despite our tremendous differences, I see myself in Dr. Blasey Ford, just as I imagine she would see herself in me, if our positions were reversed. I am not sure, however, that I could do what she’s about to do. As an organizer and a protester, I have been beaten, arrested and humiliated. I have stared down armies of police. I am also a survivor of sexual assault who has since trained to defend myself. I do not consider myself timid, and I am not one to shy away from a fight, but I am not sure I would have the courage to do what Dr. Blasey Ford is set to do today.
From the threats against her family, the misogynist punditry and the online vitriol, to the theatrics of an “outside questioner” allowing Republican senators to distance themselves from their efforts to dehumanize her, the barrage is unfathomable. “Apart from the assault itself, these last couple of weeks have been the hardest of my life,” Blasey wrote in her opening statement to the Judiciary Committee. The confirmation vote has already been scheduled, a clear statement that Republicans plan to proceed, regardless of what Blasey Ford has to say. And yet she’s going to sit down, in the middle of that hateful circus, and tell her story for the sake of the truth and in an effort to stop a president whom we have all heard brag about committing sexual assault from putting a judge who has committed sexual assault on the Supreme Court of the United States.
In a bizarre, rambling press conference Wednesday night, President Trump called the accusations against Kavanaugh “a big fat con job.” In contrast to Trump’s meandering half-formed thoughts and outright lies, Blasey Ford’s compelling opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee was also released Wednesday night. Dr. Ford’s statement to the Senate is both principled and direct: “It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.”
Some say Dr. Ford should not dignify these proceedings or subject herself to such a rigged spectacle. I would certainly understand if she decided they were right and spared herself the experience. But so long as her heart is in it, mine is too. I think there’s power and potential in what she’s doing, even if her testimony does not succeed in stopping Kavanaugh.
If the stories of Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick have not slowed the Republican push for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, I am not sure anything can, but the pursuit of justice has never hinged on the likelihood of victory. And beyond immediate victory or defeat, I do not believe that Blasey Ford’s impact will end with Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Anita Hill’s legacy did not end with the confirmation of Clarence Thomas. In fact, with the Year of the Woman unfolding in the wake of Thomas’ confirmation hearings, Hill’s immediate impact was tremendous. And as the ongoing comparisons between Hill’s case and Blasey Ford’s illustrate, the confrontation of misogyny and rape culture that she initiated remains as relevant as ever.
Anita Hill’s story also reminds us of another important reality: Kavanaugh’s nomination is an escalation of evils that were already with us — evils that have long been allowed to more brazenly and quietly consume the lives and dignity of marginalized people.
Regardless of our prior experiences, the current moment threatens us all, and must be met accordingly. The norms that facilitate the erasure of marginalized survivors, and the norms that prevent women like Blasey Ford from sharing their experiences for decades, have helped bring us to this moment, and it will take a cultural transformation to address those conditions. Will this moment be treated as a call to do so?
I feel challenged by Dr. Blasey Ford’s courage. I do not know if I could do what she is doing, but I feel moved to do something, and I don’t think I am alone in that feeling. In one of the darkest political hours of our lifetimes, Blasey Ford is offering us a reminder of what we’re made of. Who among us does not feel that reminder as a call to action?
Dr. Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick have rattled a government with their will to tell the truth. In their courage, I see our collective potential. If they manage to thwart Kavanaugh’s confirmation, we will owe them a great debt. But if Kavanaugh is appointed, that debt will still exist — and can still be repaid. We, as people who have had enough of the dehumanization, degradation and dismissal, can rise up and show members of the GOP that their conservative backlash has nothing on the fury of survivors. If Dr. Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick can take these men on, we can too, and I think we owe it to them to try.