The Kavanaugh Hearings

In 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. He was accused for sexual harassment by Anita Hill. When Hill testified before the Senate judiciary committee there was not a single woman on the 14-member panel. The African American Anita Hill was investigated and questioned by powerful middle-aged white men which today it is quite painful, especially considering the differing power relations and the intimate questions, to watch.

Clarence Thomas sits in the Supreme Court and three of the men Hill faced on the committee remain on the panel in 2018. However, this time a female prosecutor was chosen to question the woman, Christine Blasey Ford. The assault, according to Ford, took place at a party in 1982 when they both went to High School. The nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, denies. During the hearings both Kavanaugh and Ford where emotional and considered believable by the public. Moreover, two other women had made accusations about Kavanaugh.

Nearly 60 protesters were arrested while making a statement against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. In Washington, a crowd of protesters raised fists and palms in the air, bearing the phrase “Believe Women” or “I Believe.” 1,000 demonstrators repeatedly chanted, “We believe Christine Ford, we believe Anita Hill.” Supporters for Ford had black tape across their mouths that read, “Believe women.” On Twitter #IBelieveChristineBlaseyFord #KavanaughHearings #WhyIDidntReport were trending. #WhyIDidntReport is a response to Trump’s tweets questioning Ford for not pressing charges. Under the hashtag thousands of women described why it took them many years to talk about their attacks. Celebrities like for example Alyssa Milano, Kathy Griffin and Amy Schumer supported the activists and Ford both through their social media channels and some even in person.

President Donald Trump later made fun of Ford at campaign rally and told reporters that it’s a ‘scary time for young men in America’ because ‘you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of’. This further provoked the activists.

The politicians needed to decide. Would they stick with Kavanaugh or find someone less controversial? If Kavanaugh would stay it would mean that those who voted for him either did not believe Ford or did not put enough value in the allegations. That was a triggering point for many activists. The questions the people with power needed to ask themselves was: Is he really fit to sit in the supreme court? It is a job interview and is he the best America has got?

Activists confronted senator Jeff Flake to make him change his mind about accepting Kavanaugh, who later called for an FBI-investigation about the sexual allegations. The clip was spread online through social media channels like twitter and Trump tweeted “The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers”. It is not only through and between activists that information travel fast. Things happens fast and the people involved are able to respond and react to the events.

Despite the allegations and the drama, a majority of the senate chose to vote Kavanaugh through about a week later. Trump made sure he was sworn in as soon as possible and expressed how sorry he was that Kavanaugh had faced allegations, “On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.” That he was now “proven innocent” of allegations of sexual assault (which is not a completely truthful statement).

The same outcome as with Anita Hill in 1991. People were pointing at #MeToo. The activists thought that things would change. That time was up. But the people in power chose to support Kavanaugh. In the supreme court there have been 108 white men, four women and two black men.

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  1. Thanks for this, especially your insight into the parallels between Kavanaugh and Thomas (of which, shame on me, I knew nothing about!). I was reading a book recently about how people who fight for social justice often lose hope. They feel defeated because they compare their current situation to the ideal they are fighting for, instead of comparing their situation with how it was before, taking stock of progress (if any) and figuring out what worked and didn’t.

    I was trying to adapt the latter approach to the Kavanaugh and it’s HARD! 27 years (!!) after Thomas, what has changed? Maybe I’m being too negative! After all, the recent judiciary committee included women, and it’s likely that support for Dr. Ford was more widespread than that give to Ms. Hill, thanks mostly to the recent #metoo movement. But it’s also likely that what amplified that also amplified the other side. Hopefully, Dr. Ford looked at the many women who came forward to share similar experience made her feel more supported!

    What”s you opinion on this? Where there major advanced towards gender equality and social justice since the Thomas case in 91? How should people like us, working in development, look at cases like these?

    Alex (Quartet 4 Development)

    • If you are interested in the way Senators were mulling over in the lead-up to the vote on Kavanaugh, This American Life shadowed Republican Senator Jeff Flake as he mulled over the case. It’s all about the politics, I’m afraid!

      It’s also very interesting from an ‘activism’ and representation point of view, when Flake is confronted coming out of an elevator following his confirmation on which way he would vote.


    • I believe there has been a change. They changed the panel members and tried a female prosecuter instead. Social media can reveal both support but also hatred but I think Dr Ford gained a lot of support.