I suspect that many of us will always remember where we were when we heard Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That happened just ten days ago, on Thursday, September 27th, though it feels like years have passed in the interim.
On that Thursday morning, I joined hundreds of people at a protest in Washington, DC. When Dr. Ford began to testify, we listened to her on our phones and raised our fists in silent solidarity. Near me, a group of alumnae and students from Holton-Arms, where Dr. Ford went to high school, encircled arms and shared stories of sexual trauma. As each woman finished, the group said to her, “I believe you.” Other women taped their mouths shut to demonstrate how society silences women and survivors through shaming and blaming tactics.
What began as an inspiring though painful morning, highlighted by Dr. Ford’s testimony, devolved into a brazen spectacle of white male entitlement when Justice Kavanaugh spoke. We all know what has transpired since that day.
Many of us are dealing with emotions of rage, grief, and despair. There is much to turn over, process, and analyze personally, in our own relationships, and vis-à-vis the world around us. As we do the post-mortems and plan for the future, let’s also acknowledge that white supremacy and patriarchy have taken some mighty blows thanks to the courage of women and survivors around the country. At the same time, how can we expand our movement discourse and actions beyond voting and the #BlueWave of 2018?
When the Masks Come Off:
adrienne maree brown, the author of Emergent Strategy, writes about how in times of crisis, things often get “uncovered” and that we must “continue to pull back the veil” to reveal the hypocrisy and contradictions of institutions and systems. Many masks were pulled off during the Kavanaugh confirmation process. For example, we saw the mask of false civility come off when Justice Kavanaugh’s white male entitlement revealed itself in response to a set of valid job interview questions. We saw the mask of conditional solidarity being pulled off when Senator Collins made the choice to stand with the Republican white men on the Senate Judiciary Committee rather than with women and survivors in Maine and around the nation. We saw the mask of checks and balances come off when it became clear that the FBI — an arm of a government that advances misogynistic, anti-immigrant, and racist policies — would not miraculously produce a different result. We saw the mask of fake condemnation being pulled off as political leaders who often chide the petulant tendencies of the president easily accept a similar tirade from another white man.
Some of us were already aware of these masks, and others are getting woke as a result of what has transpired over the past ten days. As the masks come off, we can recognize white supremacy and patriarchy more clearly and learn to dismantle them more effectively.
When Disruptors Push the Status Quo.
A diverse coalition of groups came together under the banner of #SaveSCOTUS to raise concerns about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. The coalition never hesitated to center the voices and experiences of survivors in the wake of the allegations brought by Dr. Ford. In addition, organizations and people who had been previously silent took the risk to speak up. Over at The Intercept, you can find a list of these organizations and people. Some unexpected additions include the American Bar Association which had previously supported the nomination, the editorial board of the country’s Jesuit religious order (the one in which Justice Kavanaugh was educated), the American Civil Liberties Union and the Interfaith Alliance which do not take positions on judicial nominations as a matter of policy, and even former Justice Stevens. Over 2000 law professors expressed their concerns with Justice Kavanaugh’s temperament. And 1600 men took out an ad in the New York Times, organized by the Phenomenal Women Action Campaign, in a nod to the Black women who signed a statement of support in 1991 for Professor Anita Hill. Young people organized as well, including groups such as MoCo Students for Change in Montgomery County, Maryland where Kavanaugh went to school.
When people and organizations take risks, switch positions, or speak out when they normally would not, they are disrupting the status quo. These disruptions may not have been enough to stop the confirmation but they are indicators that there are cultural and political shifts happening around our country.
When #MeToo is #HeretoStay.
It has been frustrating to hear people question whether the #MeToo movement is failing because the confirmation proceeded. When Tarana Burke created #MeToo in 2006, she intended to center survivors and create webs of support around them. Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has propelled necessary conversations about harassment, inequity, violence and trauma in our workplaces, civic institutions, campuses, and homes. The movement created a safe space for survivors like Ford, Ramirez, and Swetnick to speak out, and a rallying cry for people to demonstrate their support. The movement provided the opening for women and girls to sit in the offices of senators and share personal experiences with trauma, to write personal essays detailing sexual violence, and to open up to friends and family members about the most painful moments in their lives. It has led to campus dialogues and kitchen table conversations; ushered in increased reporting to counseling centers and crisis lines; and prompted changes in workplace policies and legislation. According to USA Today, states around the country passed approximately 35 bills over the past year to expand the rights of sexual assault survivors.
#MeToo is here to stay and it was a success even before the Kavanaugh hearings began. The movement has reached its tipping point, and there is no turning back.
When White People Organize in White Communities
Over the past ten days, it seems like the two main strands of movement discourse focus on the #MeToo movement and the #BlueWave of the midterm elections. There should be another equally important strategy: white-led movements that dismantle patriarchy and racism within white communities at the grassroots level.
After the presidential election, a consensus emerged about the importance of reaching out to white communities, especially to reach those people who voted for Trump, including the 53% of white women who did just that. In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation process, it is even more evident that white people must redouble their commitment to grassroots organizing, outreach and mobilization.
Having difficult conversations with one’s conservative uncle at Thanksgiving, standing as an ally at rallies led by people of color, and getting the vote out for women of color candidates are all important actions to take. In addition, grassroots organizing in white neighborhoods and communities through an anti-racism framework can dismantle white supremacy and patriarchy; this is what groups like the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon, the Alliance of White Anti-Racist Organizers Everywhere in Los Angeles, and the Stay Project in Appalachia. Doing so with the guidance and partnership of multiracial coalitions and organizations could lead to transformative change within white communities — and for people of color.
Thank you for reading. Please share your feedback + ideas in the comments. And, one last word: pivoting to another issue and responding to yet another call to action demands energy and capacity that many of us simply do not have. Rest and reflection are necessary, permissible, and loving activities that each of us must take.