Scarlet-red capes. Gray t-shirts emblazoned with “I Am What’s At Stake.” Purple tees reading, “Reproductive Freedom For All.”
Demonstrators have been a colorful and constant presence this week, frequently disrupting the Senate Judiciary Committee public hearings for President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, nearing the end of its second day.
Winnie Wong, senior adviser to the Women’s March, spoke to CNN and Wednesday and explained some of the strategy for the protests and activism at the Kavanaugh hearings.
The Women’s March has partnered with the Center for Popular Democracy this week to provide support to its members who want to participate in the democratic process, though Wong also advised there are approximately 20 groups present here in DC – and emphasized that the groups are getting along and coordinating and supporting one another.
“This is well-organized and scripted. This isn’t chaos,” Wong said outside the hearing rooms. “It’s exercising your constitutional rights.”
The group has been organizing around these Supreme Court hearings for about a month, she estimated.
Planned Parenthood and their Planned Parenthood Action Fund also organized members from around the country – flying in “storytellers” from states as far as Alaska and North Dakota, according to Dana Singiser, vice president for public policy and government affairs at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Singiser told CNN that their efforts to raise awareness around the Supreme Court vacancy have been underway since the day that Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement over the summer.
“We were ready to go and hit the ground running to make sure that everyone understood what was at stake with this particular seat being the deciding seat for us, for so many things that people care about from Roe v. Wade to environmental issues to campaign finance across the board,” she said in an interview outside the hearing room.
Those efforts include sitting in the hearing room, participating in a nightly vigil outside the Capitol’s office buildings, writing letters to senators and setting up constituent meetings. In particular, Singiser mentioned that Planned Parenthood is focused on activism like phone calls and letter writing to Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two potential swing votes on the Kavanaugh appointment who are both supportive of abortion rights.
For her part, Wong was arrested Monday along with Women’s March co-founders Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland. She recounted what she yelled from the back of the room: “I said, for any senator who votes yes on the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh there will be a political price to pay. That to me is an explicit demand and a promise.”
Wong said that the Women’s March has 300 people committed to “actions” during the week – and that most of their members knowingly signed up for action that could get them arrested. The Women’s March group drew from their 1.5 million member email list to spread the word, drawing a variety of women from around the country who Wong says have traveled to participate.
Wong described their members as “young professionals” with careers ranging from teachers and nurses to real estate agents.
The Women’s March also has the financial backing to support members – they fundraise off their email list and have sent six fundraising emails in the last two days that have raised more than six figures, according to Wong. The group lends financial support for travel, accommodation, legal training and bail. The arrests Monday resulted in a $35 to $50 bail, which the group paid for.
Wong said that she felt like her group had advocates in the hearing room on the dais, mentioning specifically Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
“I have a great deal of appreciation for Senator Harris for starting out strong,” Wong said.
Wong commented several times on the “professional” nature of their Women’s March protesters. Apparently the group has given members who go into the committee hearing room to protest “a script where we suggest certain messaging that may resonate more.”
Additionally, the red-cloaked handmaids – a reference to the Margaret Atwood book and Hulu TV series “The Handmaids Tale” – were back Wednesday in Hart Senate Building’s atrium, standing in a circle with other activist groups and sharing personal stories about why they are attending the hearing.
Carla from Silver Spring, Maryland, who did not share her last name, donned her red cape and white bonnet on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest Kavanaugh’s nomination. She told CNN that their group was organized by Demand Justice, a liberal advocacy group.
“Brett Kavanaugh has a worrying track record for the health care for women, especially women of color and poor women,” she told CNN from the atrium. “It’s not just that, he represents a rising in fascism in America that we’re worried about, especially that’s been spear-headed by Donald Trump. Basically, we want time for the Democratic leaders to review the information so at least the hearing can be fair.”
She indicated that later in the day she planned to take off her outfit to go inside the hearing room to protest.
“I’m hoping I get arrested,” she said.
One of the women who spoke to fellow protesters, but declined to identify herself, dressed as a handmaid shared that she had had an abortion in the past, and patted her visibly pregnant stomach as she spoke.
“This is a pregnancy I’m carrying to term and that’s because I’m in a good place right now and it’s time for me to have the family that I planned a long, long time ago, years and years ago and that wouldn’t have been possible without Planned Parenthood actually,” she said.
Protests repeatedly interrupted Kavanaugh’s first moments of questioning today as Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley began the day. One protester yelled, “Save Roe, vote no” during an exchange about whether Kavanaugh had been asked about his views on Roe v. Wade.
Kavanaugh paused his responses at several moments, asking Grassley if he should proceed. One source familiar with the strategy to prepare Kavanaugh told CNN that during mock-hearings at the Executive Office Building, the nominee was yelled at to simulate potential protesters.
The substance of the protests has varied. On Tuesday, a woman in a wheelchair announced that she had traveled from Illinois and had a pre-existing condition, something that was recently ruled on by the Supreme Court. Many other protesters have expressed concerns over Roe v. Wade and women’s reproductive rights.
The United States Capitol Police told CNN that they arrested 70 people on Tuesday related to the Kavanaugh hearings.
Senate Judiciary Committee spokesman Taylor Foy explained to CNN that that public attendees are being rotated in on “a rolling basis,” similar to Supreme Court oral arguments, to ensure that the greatest number of people can be in the room for a portion of the hearing.
“If protesters are removed from the room following disruptions, those seats may remain vacant until the next group is brought in. It also may take time to process groups following removals or as new groups proceed through the standard security screening to enter the building,” Foy added.