WASHINGTON — Jessica Cathcart, a 24-year-old from California, says university professor Christine Blasey Ford inspired her to speak up about her own sexual assault, which took place when she was in high school.
Angela Trzepkowski, 55, from Delaware, says she would be devastated if Brett Kavanaugh, accused by Blasey Ford of attempted rape, is confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Both were among a sea of women who descended on Washington Thursday urging lawmakers not to confirm the judge, now at the center of one of the most polarizing debates of Donald Trump’s presidency.
With a Senate vote poised for as early as this weekend, thousands of people who had traveled from across the United States came to protest and in some cases to meet with their representatives, hoping to prevent Kavanaugh from taking a place on the highest bench in the land.
Last week Blasey Ford testified before lawmakers — and more than 20 million Americans watching live on television — that Kavanaugh attacked her in 1982, when they were both teenagers.
Her powerful account, along with Kavanaugh’s angry rebuttal, has divided the country, rekindling the national conversation on sexual misconduct and the burden of proof in the #MeToo era.
As top Republicans confidently asserted Thursday morning an FBI probe had found nothing to support Blasey Ford’s claim, marchers and Democratic lawmakers decried a process they said was designed to exculpate the powerful.
“Whitewash,” steamed Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. “A check-the-box scam.”
Carrying signs that read “Women must be heard” or simply “Kava Nope,” protesters marched from Washington’s District Court to the steps of the high court, chanting along the way.
“We believe Christine Ford” banners were unfurled at a Senate office building where police began arresting hundreds of protesters staging a sit-in.
Capitol Police eventually arrested more than 300 people, including comedian and actress Amy Schumer, a relative of Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.
Model Emily Ratajkowski said on Twitter that she was also detained and arrested.
Walking to the Capitol, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein was approached by a woman who thanked her for her work on the investigation and told the senator she’s a multiple rape survivor. Feinstein shook her hand, then put her own hand on the woman’s cheek. The woman started crying, and simply said, “Thank you, thank you.”
A round of Senate voting has been scheduled for Friday morning, with the final vote likely Saturday.
Both Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, among a handful of senators who have not said how they will vote, praised the FBI investigation Thursday, indicating they may move to confirm Kavanaugh.
The pitched struggle taking place over Kavanaugh reflects the stakes. At 53, he is likely to serve on the court for decades if confirmed. In the short term he could provide the decisive fifth vote for a conservative majority on the nine-member court.
On the hot seat, some senators have been using police escorts in recent days to shield them from protesters and the media. The stepped-up police presence comes as senators — especially Republicans — have expressed unease over protesters who have confronted them at their Senate offices, restaurants, airports and even their homes. Personal information about some lawmakers also has been released online.
A few women who identified themselves as sexual assault survivors approached Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah on Thursday and asked why he’s backing Kavanaugh. Hatch waved and told them to “grow up” as he entered an elevator surrounded by aides. As the women yelled at him from the hallway, Hatch smiled and waved.
‘Not what we bargained for’
“I’m a survivor myself, and I didn’t really tell my story, it happened in high school,” Cathcart said at the District Court.
“Seeing the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and then seeing the response to her testimony, and the response to his testimony, I had to come here.”
“I believe Dr. Ford, and I believe Kavanaugh is part of a Big Old Boys club that are going to protect him no matter what,” said Trzepkowski, who came to the march with two male friends.
“If he is confirmed, “it will be devastating because the president had his thumb on the scale,” she continued.
“This was not the open, fair investigation we had bargained for.”
Carolyn Heyman, a 41-year-old attorney from Alaska, said she had traveled to Washington with a group of friends to attend the protest and meet with their senator, Lisa Murkowski, a centrist Republican who said Trump’s decision to mock Blasey Ford at a rally was “unacceptable.”
“Regardless of what you think about the allegations, the way he reacted to the questions presented doesn’t show he has the right temperament,” she said of Kavanaugh’s testimony.
“He was sarcastic and belligerent at times. That’s not what you want on any court let alone the Supreme Court.”
But as the march snaked its way around the capital, not everyone expressed their support.
‘A big wave’
Sporting a red “Make America Great Again” hat, Ben Bergquam, a Trump supporter from California who carried his own sign in favor of Kavanaugh, baited protesters and questioned their sincerity.
“This is all being done because they’re afraid they’re going to lose Roe v Wade,” he said, referring to a 1973 judgment that paved the way for legal abortion in the US, which analysts say is imperiled if conservatives gain a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court.
“This entire thing is being done to protect abortion. I believe we should have thousands more Americans, who support our president, out here. I’m praying that Kavanaugh will be confirmed and I believe that he will.”
Asked what she thought of the protest, Doreen Robinson, who was visiting the capital as a tourist from Washington State, said: “Not much.”
Blasey Ford “wasn’t raped, I just think they’re blindly following a woman who has no evidence,” she added.
“It’s scary. I have a son and a daughter. I wouldn’t want my son treated like Kavanaugh, and I wouldn’t want my daughter saying that somebody assaulted her and not have any evidence of the fact.”
Many of the protesters meanwhile were resigned to the genuine possibility that with a Republican majority in the Senate, Kavanaugh remained on track to be confirmed.
“The best that I can say is that, being realistic, he is going to get confirmed,” said Cathcart. “But coming here, seeing this — there is such a big wave coming, such a big wave, for women, for people of color, for all minorities.
“We are a giant melting pot and that is the best part of this country. He is probably going to get confirmed but their time is limited.”