On Thursday afternoon, Laura Forbes, a soft-spoken 36-year-old from Indianapolis, sat down in front of the office of Senator Charles Grassley, chair of the Judiciary Committee, and refused to move. It was not a decision she had come to easily. Forbes, who works in marketing, hadn’t been politically active before Trump’s victory, and the idea of being arrested was something “way outside my comfort zone,” she told me. But the prospect of having Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court had brought her nearly 600 miles to Grassley’s office, where, alongside 29 other people, she blocked the door and ignored warnings from Capitol Police to disburse. As she was led away in plastic handcuffs, the halls of the Hart Senate building echoed with the chant of “I believe Anita Hill/ I believe Christine Ford.” Forbes surveyed the scene and flashed a quick smile.
The arrests capped another chaotic and fast-moving news day in the fight over Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh. (And the chaos has only intensified since then as another woman has come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.) As occurred during the hearings themselves, ordinary people opposed to Kavanaugh’s agenda—which would almost certainly include an attack on voting rights and reproductive rights, along with an extreme deference to executive power—forcibly inserted themselves into a process that had been designed to shut them out. While senators argued via press statements about how and when Ford might testify, some 200 activists, the vast majority of them women, got busy storming the Hart Senate Office Building, leading to more than 50 arrests. Republicans assumed the confirmation process would be smooth and drama free. It has turned, instead, into an uprising.
The action had begun early that morning, when dozens of protesters entered Grassley’s office and refused to leave. Once inside, they created a Twitter account, @GrassleyOccupy; their first post was a short video of Grassley’s staff hastily departing. Activists took their seats behind the reception desk.
“This is our office for the day,” said Jennifer Flynn, an organizer with the Center for Popular Democracy, which, alongside the Women’s March and the New York City–based activist group Housing Works, coordinated the day of protest. “If you don’t know where to go, just come back here to our new headquarters.”
For the next several hours, women who had flown and bused in from across the country—from Alaska to South Dakota, California to Vermont—turned Grassley’s office into a national platform to share their experiences as survivors of sexual violence. One woman told of being assaulted by her boss’s son; another said she was molested by a family member. A Navy veteran described how she had reported a sexual assault but was told to “suck it up and be a good sailor.” And still another woman, middle-aged and wearing a black sweater and thick-framed glasses, remembered an episode when, at the age of 22, she was pushed into a bedroom during a party and sexually assaulted for hours by a coworker. “I went back into work and pretended it never happened,” she said, fighting back tears. “This is the first time I’ve ever spoke of it.” The stories continued like this for an hour, then two, then three.
Not long after, and seven floors up, a group of former students from Holton-Arms, the private all-girls school attended by Ford, held a press conference to announce that 1,000 alumni had signed a letter calling for an independent investigation into her allegations against Kavanaugh. The alumnae were flanked by Senators Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who has been especially blunt in her criticism of Kavanaugh and what she views as the GOP’s intent to protect him. (Later that evening, in an interview with ABC News, Hirono characterized Grassley’s claim that he was doing everything he could to accommodate Ford as “such bullshit that I can hardly stand it.”)