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When Survivors Unite

For survivors of sexual assault, the flawed nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is both personal and political.

Protestors rally against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh inside the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, September 27, 2018, in Washington, DC.

To anyone whose reflexive response is to disbelieve survivors and treat the multiple allegations about Brett Kavanaugh as “invalid” absent the type of normative evidence required in typical legal cases, it’s important to clarify: The evidence is incomplete because Republicans have refused an impartial investigation. This parallels a legal system that fails to identify, prevent and redress the widespread sexual assault and mistreatment of women. We must account for that failure in parsing these events and allegations.

For decades, these systemic inequities have barred people from reporting assault and receiving justice. This sad state of affairs is totally ignored by the Republican dinosaurs on the Judicial Committee, stuck like a needle on a broken record, petulantly insisting over and over that “she should have come forward sooner,” nattering about the inconvenience to themselves and their master plan. Stingy and reluctant, despite their unconvincing lip service, they are incapable of assessing the human toll of the actual assaults visited upon the alleged victims of their nominee, as well as millions of women like them from every social stratum in this country. Not all that surprising when their goal is to increase these inequities through the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh.

For survivors of sexual assault, the flawed nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is both personal and political.

In response to being excluded from a hearing, respect and consideration, women long ago developed personal back channels to cope—sharing, discussing, supporting — and yes, believing each other. That network of trust and support is an invaluable asset in the fight to protect not only survivors’ rights, but also democracy.

Despite a stellar exemplar like Christine Blasey Ford, unless one has lived it, it’s hard to understand the inner world of survivorship. Over the last week, the crisis over the Kavanaugh nomination has taken survivors through a landscape rife with horrifying incidents, heartless acts, painful reminders, triggers, trauma, denial and the all too familiar experience of being blamed for the actions of perpetrators. Painful and triggering as this is for anyone who has survived similar experiences, it does have a silver lining. As the call for the right to a hearing, belief and respect has been re-enacted at the very epicenter of the US judicial system, survivors are learning that what was once a lonely and hidden terrain buried within each person’s psyche is now populated with loved ones, friends, family members, teachers, fellow students, work colleagues, neighbors, social media pals, as well as thousands — indeed millions — of total strangers.

People we know but never knew so well before have also experienced the loss of innocence, trust and even for some, virginity in that ghostly half-world. Millions throng there, as the specters of societal authority loom menacing in their denial of its existence.

As survivors, whenever we hear these unique, familiar and poignant stories; as we offer our support and belief; as we embrace our pained bodies and broken dreams in order to repair the self-loss, self-distrust and self-blame imposed by societal stonewallers, still, we keep marching forward. Birthing a new collective, a new movement, and a new demand for accountability and justice for everyone, we keep marching forward.

Stepping into formation, a new breed of social warrior — not hardened by self-importance, but tempered by vulnerability — is awakened by a suffering so intimate and personal that it endows each one of us with a rare potential for empathy. This empathy and the call to account extend to other survivors, their loved ones and to all burdened by this society’s acts of harm. The redress that has never come from the legal system has inspired a new, internalized ethical code engraved with compassion for self and other within each one of us. Each person’s story is mine. Each history to which I bear witness informs my own. Each act of harshness towards another survivor affects me. Each harsh act of entitlement targets #MeToo.

And each act of courage has the potential to produce a breakthrough. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, and the young protesters who confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) reveal this surprising efficacy of courage and protest. Following that “elevator talk,” Flake broke ranks. According to Linda Sarsour, national co-chair of the Women’s March, Flake “asked that the larger Senate vote be delayed no more than a week so that there can be an FBI investigation,” additionally threatening to withhold his vote for Kavanaugh unless Senate leaders request the White House to ask for an FBI investigation.

“Protest works,” said Bob Bland, co-president of the Women’s March.

The readiness to lie even under oath, the insistence on deadening (or dissociating from) one’s own feelings, the willingness to trample everything in one’s path — these are not signs of strength, but weakness. In its thrall to billionaires, in its stampede to serve them rather than justice, the Republican leadership has sacrificed the signature qualities that make people human.

In survivors, those human qualities live on and deepen.

Obviously, inequities towards the half of the human race that gives birth to every single person on this planet will only be worsened with ideologues attaining the swing seat on the Supreme Court. To the cabal pushing this nomination under the misleading banner of “pro-life,” we say: You don’t fool us. One who values life does not despise and victimize the bearers of it.

Acts of courage are cumulative. Each individual act has the potential to produce a breakthrough. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, and the young protesters who confronted Jeff Flake on the elevator, reveal this surprising efficacy of courage and protest.

Retreating into silence is no longer an option. And that’s why the mantra of the protest is: I believe that we will win. Make it so by joining.

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