For many, the fight against Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation was about more than a seat on the Supreme Court. It was a test of how far the conversation about sexual violence has come in the year since survivors began raising their voices.
Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegations. But supporters of #MeToo say the Senate’s vote to confirm Kavanaugh showed just how little the institutions of the American government have been touched by the cultural shift taking place in other realms of society.
Now, activists and survivors say they intend to channel their anger over his confirmation into political and legislative action for the midterms and beyond.
“There are things that have become evident in the course of this process, including that senators have completely abandoned their responsibility to the people, to hear the voices of their constituents,” said Women’s March Chief Operating Officer Rachel Carmona.
“As a result, we will be taking our power to the polls in November and voting them right out.”
The first target of their political activism is the midterms, followed by the 2019 Women’s March. Then, all eyes will be on the 2020 general election.
Activists and civil rights groups say they will continue working to strengthen laws and policies related to workplace harassment and prosecution of sex crimes, two key issues to arise from misconduct allegations against high profile figures in the past year. Groups focused on sexual violence prevention say they plan to continue advocating for more treatment resources and education.
Activists say the fight includes identifying candidates that support those aims.
“We’re in the middle of one of the most vibrant reckonings around sexual harassment and violence in more than a generation, and institutions have been struggling to catch up,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.
“We now understand that survivors can come forward, we’ve created spaces for that to happen, and now the job of institutions is to make sure they’re not covering for abuse.”
#MeToo becomes #IBelieveHer
Terri Poore, policy director for the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, says her organization and its affiliates have seen demand for their services – and donations – increase since #MeToo began. Crisis hotlines also saw an uptick during the Kavanaugh hearings.
Given the hard line some companies have taken in response to allegations of sexual violence against high-profile men in their ranks, Poore was hopeful that those in the top levels of government would send a similarly strong message.
After initially calling Christine Blasey Ford a “good witness,” President Trump “openly mocked a survivor” and cast suspicion on her account, Poore said. Later, during an event marking Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the President apologized to Kavanaugh for “the terrible pain and suffering” he and his family went through in the hearings.
But the President was far from the only person to question Ford’s credibility due to gaps in her memory and her delay in reporting.
Assumptions about what survivors should remember or how they should behave contribute to fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of sex crimes and their impact on survivors, Poore said.
Research shows that memory gaps are common in traumatic events and that there are numerous well-founded reasons why people don’t report. The recognition of the impact of trauma on memory has led law enforcement agencies to revise techniques for interviewing sexual assault survivors.
Poore said that advocacy groups such as hers will continue working to educate the public on so-called “rape myths,” consent, and how to be active bystanders. The fight includes legislative advocacy to increase more funding through the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, she said.
Support groups will keep pushing the message that they believe survivors, and that counseling and support groups are available for them. Ideally, she said, such conversations would start in schools or come through in views expressed by the country’s leaders.
“We want leaders at the top levels of power to be sending the kinds of messages about ending sexual violence that we know inspire change, and that’s not happening,” she said.
It’s all about the midterms
Kavanaugh’s confirmation gives the court a conservative majority that is likely to shape case law for the next generation. Progressive activists are worried about the implications for health care, reproductive rights, criminal justice policies and voting access, among other issues.
“What we stand to lose at this point is the rolling back of much of the progress that people have died and struggled to achieve,” said Tamika Mallory, national co-chair for the Women’s March.
While protesters were gathering in Washington to protest Kavanaugh’s confirmation, organizers from numerous groups were training volunteers and activists for future actions, Mallory said. They were registering voters and canvassing for black gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia, she said – and they will continue to do so up until the midterms.
Mallory said another focus is raising awareness around ballot initiatives, such as one in Florida to restore voting rights to felons who meet certain criteria. Such efforts are part of larger initiatives by numerous racial justice groups to increase voter participation among people of color, she said.
“People should be as frustrated and as angry as they want to be,” Mallory said. “They should be visibly in the streets, but that they must take that anger and frustration to the polls, and they cannot go to the polls alone. They must make sure they take their families and communities with them.”
The women’s movement gets more inclusive
After the midterms, Mallory said that training and preparations will continue for actions in states across the country, including the third annual Women’s March. Then, the focus will shift to engaging more women and people of color in the 2020 elections, she said, as voters and candidates.
She The People is a group that focuses on engaging women of color as candidates and members of an overlooked voting bloc.
“The country will not be saved by white women, it will be a multiracial force that will be led by women of color,” said Aimee Allison, Democracy in Color President and She the People Founder.
“Our message is, we have to double down on our vision of expanding democracy. If we continue to exercise our rights as members of society, the arc of justice will bend our way.”
Feminist writer and activist Soraya Chemaly focuses on the role of gender in politics and pop culture. Her latest book, “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger,” focuses on how women can use changing narratives around female anger to their benefit.
She said she has noticed more white women getting involved in issues that women of color have been focusing on for years – including #MeToo, which activist Tarana Burke started more than a decade ago. And these white women are angry, she said, which can be a useful tool for social justice. Not the “blind rage” that provokes violent acts or the denigration of other people, she said, but the kind that moves people to take up a cause they believe in.
“What we’ve seen in the last two years is a gradual awakening,” she said. “We’re not even close to the arc.”
The definition of workplace expands
Graves said the National Women’s Law Center will continue to fight in court for those who experience harassment and assault in the workplace and schools. And they will support efforts to fight statutes of limitations in rape cases, she said.
“Where the courts fail us, we will be seeking to put new laws and policies on books at the state and federal level, and we will be doing it with an extremely energized base behind us,” Graves said.
Already in the past year, according to a new NWLC report, eleven states and two localities have passed laws to strengthen protections against workplace harassment. Four jurisdictions expanded those protections to include independent contractors, interns or graduate students.
Five states enacted legislation that prohibits employers from requiring employees to sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition of employment, the report said, a mechanism perceived to silence victims and enable employers to hide harassment.
Poore said her group will continue advocating for laws that encourage survivors to report – including the Congressional Accountability Act, which would overhaul how complaints are handled on Capitol Hill.
More work needs to be done to strengthen protections for people in blue collar jobs, Jess Morales Rocketto of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her organization represents domestic workers, most of whom are women of color who are vulnerable to workplace sexual harassment and violence.
Rocketto said that, despite the threat to their cause that the Kavanaugh confirmation presents, she sees hope in the past year’s progress.
As #MeToo gained momentum and continued through the nomination process, survivors found their voices by sharing their stories, she said. And they’re getting in lawmakers’ faces, she said, pointing to the case of two women who confronted Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator and her own experience sharing her story with Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“It’s not just about a Supreme Court nomination, it’s about women coming out and realizing their power and using their anger as a political force.”
CNN’s Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.