When I woke up Saturday morning, I didn’t imagine I was going to be in the Senate Chamber just as history was being made. On October 6th, 2018, the 50-48 vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was made in the closest vote since 1881—the second closest Supreme Court confirmation in US history. Nationwide protests were held throughout the week leading up to the vote, but the day of the vote proved to be the most significant. I got up early in pursuit of having my voice heard along with many of my fellow classmates from American University.
I didn’t expect much of the day; I went to high school in Maryland, so I had attended many DC protests, yet this one was different. After a few hours at the protests surrounding the Capitol and the National Mall, my classmates and I were on our way back thinking there wasn’t much left to do.
However, I unexpectedly ran into one of my friends who offered us tickets to go inside the Senate Chamber and watch the vote in person. I was ecstatic—this was a landmark historical event, and I’d get to see it first-hand.
After the long process of getting checked through several security measures, we were finally led to the Senate floor. The seats were placed tightly together, leaving little room for even our legs. It was 12:05 pm when we sat down, ready to observe the vote scheduled at 5:00 pm. We had no choice but to stay the entire time; the security guards made it clear that once you left, you couldn’t get back in. I was perplexed at how I was going to sit in the uncomfortable space for at least four hours with nothing to keep me entertained—security had confiscated our phones at entrance and talking was to be kept at a minimum. The seats for constituents were on a four-sided balcony facing the inner chamber where the senators sat. There were senators flowing in and out on the Senate floor giving speeches about their vote and why they were casting it.
The first senator I saw speak was Dan Sullivan of Alaska. He repeatedly emphasized his support for sexual assault victims and noted that his state had the highest rate of sexual assault in the country. What was conflicting to me was that despite his knowledge and his claims, he was still going to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. He went on a performative rant, no doubt trying to convince everybody that he was a supporter of women and victims of sexual violence; what he failed to see was that people, women in particular, were furious and sick of sugar-coating politicians. The next senator I saw was Chris Van Hollen, the senator from my home state of Maryland. He gave a powerful speech and made me proud to represent my state. He was followed by Mazie Hirono who also voiced her anger. A string of politicians spoke from both parties, each time criticizing the other side for their handling of the hearing. I was frustrated because it was clear that nothing was coming out of these speeches. They had all heard each other before. No common moral vision would determine the vote; only party politics.
Just as I was falling into a daze, a girl a few rows behind me shot up in screams of protest. She was told by security to sit back down, but one particular guard was rough and told her to shut up. She would not be the last outcry, as a string of both women and men rose out of their seats in retaliation to “yes” votes. But the largest outburst came after Susan Collins’ vote; several people stood up and yelled “Traitor,” “I am a victim of sexual assault,” and “Shame on you.” I was brought to tears. In my head, I was telling myself to keep my composure in the Senate chamber. But I was not alone in this chamber. The entire row I was sitting in was sobbing—it was an instantaneous outpouring of sadness and fear. This wave of emotion wasn’t necessarily about Kavanaugh. Yes, we were disappointed at his confirmation, but it was about these survivors and their pain—you could hear it in their voices. It was about the (male) guards who were unnecessarily forceful, even though most of the women did not resist. It was about the look of dismissal on so many of the senators’ faces, the completely unfazed expression on Mike Pence’s face, and the terror of the people in the balcony seats. It was about frustration and defeat that was beyond partisan politics.
Kamala Harris had her head low in disappointment and shame. Jeff Flake possessed a guilt-ridden face. Several Democrats didn’t show up or walked out early. A few Republican senators stayed back and shook each other’s hands in triumph after the vote. To me, there was no lower behavior of party politics. This was a clear and bitter divide, yet they were celebrating that their candidate was confirmed.
Shouldn’t these leaders representing concerned people just like us have some remorse? Any acknowledgment of their constituents’ concerns?
The response to this, I believe, will energize the blue wave movement that has been ramping up since the 2016 election. I met several people the day of the vote who were politically fueled by this vote. One of the women I met at the protest was 43 years old and had never been to a protest before. Yet she informed me that when she heard that Susan Collins was going to be voting “yes,” her heart sank, and she got her ticket to DC for the next day.
The disregard and belittling of people’s voices is mobilizing a base that is realizing that they cannot stand by idly as politicians continue upholding injustices. Hopefully the deep political wounds from this confirmation will not further polarize Americans but unite them on something we should all have in common; a moral compass and the ability to empathize with the hurt that so many women and men alike are enduring. Our faith in our governments ethics shouldn’t be fostered by “blue waves” or “red waves”, we need to set a standard of morality that our Supreme Court justices and politicians regardless of party must possess.
Photo credit: United States Senate, Public Domain