Even Though We Lost, We Won

Karen Fleshman
In front of the Supreme Court moments before the US Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh, October 6, 2018

On October 6, 2018, I returned home to San Francisco from my fourth trip to Washington DC- and my fifth arrest- to protest Brett Kavanaugh.

Although I am outraged, and scared for my children and our country, I feel strong and proud of what we accomplished together.

Women’s March, the Center for Popular Democracy, Housing Works, and Bird Dog Nation are to be commended for uniting and training people from all across the country.

To be clear, noone was paid to protest.

Right wing groups, on the other hand, invested heavily in this outcome.

Source: Senator John Tester, D-MT, compiling of group’s self disclosures. Actual amounts and groups may be much more.

And apparently, they started very early.

Their money was wisely spent.

Slide presented by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse during Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, September 5, 2018

My sisters who fought so bravely, I know many of us feel shitty right now, but I want to assure you, that this David vs. Goliath battle was a turning point.

Even though we lost, we won.

1) We won because this was a fight worth fighting.

Many people said, confirming Justice Kavanaugh is inevitable, don’t bother.

We said hell no.

We won’t go back.

Protest at the Hart Senate Office Building on October 4, 2018. 302 people were arrested.

We are not going to sit idly by and allow a justice to be confirmed who will strip us of rights other brave Americans gave their lives to attain.

2) We won because we fought bravely with everything we have, and in the fight we formed lasting bonds across difference that will never break.

The women, femmes, and allies who fought this battle are diverse in every dimension.

In line to disrupt the second day of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, September 5, 2018.

We are women from every racial and ethnic group, religion, and economic and disability status. We range in age from teenagers to octogenarians.

Relatively few of us come from New York and California. Most of us come from states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Arkansas, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina.

Waiting to pay our fines, October 5, 2018

We spent a lot of time together, waiting in lines, being hauled away in paddywagons and strip ties, waiting to pay our fines.

We slept next to each other in churches and homes, and on the lawn in front of the US Senate.

We bonded over coffee and meals. We laughed and cried together.

We got to know each other, discussed why we oppose Judge Kavanaugh, and our concerns about how he will affect the lives of every American.

When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely came forward, we believed her, and felt an instant connection, because many of us are sexual assault survivors, too. When other women came forward, we believed them, too.

We roamed the halls of the Senate Office Buildings, sharing our stories of sexual assault with Senators and their staff, crying and hugging.

“We believe you” we said.

“Look at me” we said.

Ana Maria Archila, co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy, confronts Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator, September 28, 2018

We are led by Black women, by women of color, by Muslim and immigrant and lesbian and bi women and trans women and disabled women, by young women, with white women in support roles.

Women’s March coPresident Linda Sarsour was the first to disrupt and get arrested at Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing on September 4, 2018.

We won because we listen to each other, we respect each other, and we love and value and empathize with each other.

We welcome allies, and extraordinary men like Mysonne stand beside us.

We are what powerful white men have always tried to prevent- a powerful movement of women united across difference of age race class and sex.

Although we have only known each other for a brief time, the bond we have formed is unbreakable, and we are only going to build from here.

3) We won because our fight exposed who Republicans truly are: old angry white men and old angry white women who serve them who are doing everything in their power to preserve their power and diminish ours.

Bio data on the eleven Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee. All of them are white men.

As indelible as the uproarious laughter of Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge on the hippocampus of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, these images have now been recorded in our minds forever.

You can’t unsee Judge Kavanaugh refusing to shake the hand of Fred Guttenberg, a father who lost his 14 year old daughter Jamie at Parkland.

You can’t unsee Rachel Mitchell, the Senate Republicans “female assistant,” trying unsuccessfully to diminish Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s credibility.

You can’t unsee Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s degree of certitude that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her.

You can’t unsee Judge Kavanaugh’s belligerent lies and contempt for the Democratic Senators.

We all know what “ralph,” “boofing,” “Devil’s Triangle,” “Renata Alumnius” and “FFFFFFFourth of July” mean, and these lies will be what everybody thinks about when they look at Justice Kavanaugh for the rest of his life.

You can’t unsee Senator Lindsay Graham’s epic meltdown.

You can’t unsee President Trump’s mocking of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as white women behind him laugh and cheer.

You can’t unsee 84 year old Senator Orrin Hatch’s callous disdain of women.

You can’t unsee Senator Collins 45 minute long pointless justification for voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh, with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Senator Cindy Hyde Smith (R-MS) grimacing behind her.

4) We won because we inspired an entire generation of young Americans to pay attention and join us.

If they didn’t understand it before, the true nature of the Republican party is now clear to them, too.

We have said from the beginning that the people who will be most harmed by Justice Kavanaugh are young people, especially young people of color, especially young women of color, because Justice Kavanaugh is only 53 and will likely serve for 30 years.

He is the seventh white person on a court of nine in a country that will be majority people of color by 2040.

At the confirmation hearing September 4–6, 2018 if we the protestors hadn’t been there, there would have been hardly any young people or people of color present.

On September 27, 2918, the day Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testified, the Hart Senate Office Building was flooded with young people, mostly young women of color.

George Washington University undergraduates in line to witness Dr. Ford’s testimony, September 26, 2018
Current Holton-Arms students, who are the age now Dr. Ford was when Justice Kavanaugh assaulted her, at the Hart Senate Office Building on September 26, 2018.

On October 6, 2018, the day the Senate confirmed Justice Kavanaugh, there were even more.

Holton-Arms alumnae taking a lunch break from protesting on October 6, 2018
Nick is 16 and lives in Montgomery County, where Justice Kavanaugh is from. He started an organization that has registered 100s of young people to vote when they turn 18.
These young women are 17 and 18 and attend American University. They decided on October 6 to start their own Campus Democrats organization since the current one is run by white men.
These young Muslim American women held a spontaneous speak out in front of the Supreme Court on October 6, 2018. Many speakers shared their sexual assault experiences in schools and universities, and their fears that this epidemic will only intensify since Republicans have signaled to sexual predators everywhere to go right ahead, there will be no consequences, and to those they assault, don’t bother complaining, you will be revictimized and your assailant will not be held accountable.

These young people are fired up, and are going to remain so for the foreseeable future.

5) We won because we are going to channel our anger about this outcome for the next 31 days and on through 2020, 2022 and beyond.

We will ensure that those who support Kavanaugh and Trump are voted out, and those who stood with us, like Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McKaskill and Joe Donnelly, remain in office.

We will mobilize for House races and state and local races too. We have great candidates in all 50 states. And we will help get folks to the polls.

Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the House of Representatives, the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

In her 1970 must-read memoir, “Unbought and Unbossed,” Shirley Chisholm described the problem:

“Our representative democracy is not working because the Congress that is supposed to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the chief reason is that it is ruled by a small group of old men….. all a man has to do is stay alive and keep getting reelected, and he will be a power in Washington in 20 or 30 years. He may be from a rural backwater, the odds are that he will be, because the safe districts are generally that kind. He may be a reactionary, a bigot, a mediocrity. The odds are that he will be, if nothing worse, a man of narrow outlook and modest endowments, because a man of that caliber is the kind who will be satisfied to stay in the House and do nothing for decades that will risk his chance for reelection.

So our troubled, embattled, urban society, looking to Washington for wisdom and help, finds that the processes of change are thwarted by the control of old men whose values are those of a small-town lawyer or feed store operator. If they react at all to the challenge of our age it is with incomprehension and irritation. Congress seems drugged and inert most of the time. Even when the problems it ignores build up to crises and erupt in strikes, riots, and demonstrations, it is not moved. Its idea of meeting a problem is to hold hearings or in extreme cases, to appoint a commission.”- Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed

Now, this handful of angry old white men and the angry old white women who serve them have the audacity to claim that we, the protestors, want to impose “mob rule.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What we want- what we got arrested for- is what America claims to be, a representative democracy.

We want to be safe and free from the mob: Donald Trump, the 50 Senators who voted “yes” on Kavanaugh, and the 80,000 people in three states who made Donald Trump our President, with assistance from the Russians and Facebook.

Trump had no mandate to add a fifth Conservative justice whose views are extremely different from those of the majority of Americans.

This tiny handful of Americans are imposing their will on all Americans, but they don’t represent the vast majority of us.

In closing, do not cry, my sisters.

Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation may help the Republicans in the midterms, but it will be the undoing of Trump and the Republican party.

Even though we lost, we won.

Photo of Karen Fleshman, Esq. by Melissa Segal

Karen Fleshman, Esq. is a San Francisco-based attorney, activist, and a nationally recognized expert on racism, feminism, workplace fair practices, police brutality, and politics.

Working in nonprofits and local government, Karen came to understand that racism is the underlying problem in our society.

In 2014, Karen founded Racy Conversations, a training company, to inspire the first antiracist generation.

She gives talks and facilitates workshops at companies throughout the United States on unconscious bias, micro aggressions, sexual harassment, and raising antiracist children. Her clients include the Sierra Club, the Wikimedia Foundation, Yahoo, Sony, Xero, Salesforce, Upwork, and KARGO. She blogs for Huffington Post, Moguldom, and Blavity, and is a Medium Top Voice on Racism, Feminism, and Politics.

Karen dedicates much of her time to police accountability activism and serves on the workgroup overseeing implementation of the United States Department of Justice recommendations on ending bias at the San Francisco Police Department. She was arrested five times at the US Senate protesting the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Karen is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, the University of Texas at Austin, and New York Law School, and is admitted to practice law in New York.

Karen Fleshman

Written by

Founder, Racy Conversations Inspiring the first antiracist generation in America.

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