African American women were vocal, active participants during Thursday’s Senate hearing on Capitol Hill, as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified about her accusations of sexual assault and he offered a counter defense.
From the women of the Congressional Black Caucus who marched with fellow lawmakers to the proceedings, to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the only Black woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to protestors who packed the Senate office building amid heavy security and police, Black women, teens and little girls from across the country were present.
Angela Ferrell-Zabala, who was sporting a short Afro and all black clothing, came with colleagues from Planned Parenthood. LaDon Love, who’s part of a social justice group called SPACEs wore a T-shirt that read: Believe Women. So did Rose Walters, who proudly described her Caribbean roots.
And Triana Arnold James, a veteran who traveled from Georgia to attend the hearing, wore a T-shirt that noted: `I Am A Survivor.’
Many Black women told ESSENCE they felt compelled to be part of the Democratic process as it unfolded in real time.
Ebonie Riley, who’s in her 30s, is the D.C. Bureau Chief, National Action Network, the civil rights group founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. She came to the hearing with Minister Kirsten John Foy, the Northeast Regional Director of NAN, Isabel Zeitz-Moskin, a NAN national field organizer and Katrina Jefferson from the New York City chapter.
“Kavanaugh’s nomination was already disturbing given his history of anti-civil rights decisions. But this process has been a rushed attempt to put Kavanaugh on the bench without thorough vetting by any means necessary,” said Riley.
“Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s courageous testimony make it clear: this is not the Supreme Court Justice Americans deserve. We at NAN stand with survivors everywhere in calling on the Senate to reject Kavanaugh’s nomination once and for all. The integrity of our justice system depends on it.”
Annette Martin, a Baby Boomer in her 60s, said she rose at 4 a.m. trying to decide if she would brave the crowds while navigating in a wheelchair.
“I had to be here,” said the social worker and native of Iowa. “I am a sexual survivor myself,” she said. “I am trying to still find strength to talk about the situation.”
“I remember Anita Hill’s testimony and how badly they treated her. I wanted to be here to bear witness. I want to be here for Anita as well as for Dr. Ford.”
Kavanaugh also had supporters at the hearing, including women.
The hearing drew crowds and long lines of people waited to watch Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimony. In the public overflow room, response varied; folks applauded, sighed, groaned or even laughed as professor Ford and judge Kavanaugh offered several hours of emotional remarks broadcast to the nation. Both answered questions from lawyer Rachel Mitchell; the Arizona prosecutor, whose bio notes a background in sex crimes, was selected to pose questions on behalf of the Republican majority at Thursday’s hearing.
A soft-spoken Ford unequivocally told the committee that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party back in the 1980s in the Maryland suburbs.
The judge forcefully denied the allegations; at one point, he tearfully spoke about his family. He also thanked President Donald Trump for his steadfast support.
Sen. Harris commended Ford for coming forward, and pressed Kavanaugh about the allegations. Harris specifically questioned Kavanaugh on whether, like Ford, he had taken a polygraph, whether he would call for the White House to open an FBI investigation into the allegations, and other issues.
During Ford’s testimony, Harris drew a contrast between Kavanaugh and Ford stating, “You have passed a polygraph and submitted the results to this committee. Judge Kavanaugh has not. You have called for outside witnesses to testify and for expert witnesses to testify. Judge Kavanaugh has not. But most importantly, you have called for an independent FBI investigation into the facts. Judge Kavanaugh has not.”
She also thanked Ford for her testimony, stating, “You have bravely come forward. And I want to thank you because you clearly have nothing to gain for what you have done. You have been a true patriot in fighting for the best of who we are as a country. I believe you are doing that because you love this country, and I believe history will show that you are a true profile in courage at this moment in time in the history of our country, and I thank you.”
During the second panel, Harris asked Kavanaugh whether he would call for the White House to authorize an FBI investigation. She was the fifth Senator to do so, asking, “Are you willing to ask the White House to authorize the FBI to investigate the claims that have been made against you?”
Kavanaugh did not answer. Later, Harris concluded her questioning by asking Kavanaugh, “Did you watch Dr. Ford’s Testimony?”
He responded, “I did not.”
African American women lawmakers and leaders reacted strongly to Kavanaugh’s testimony.
“At today’s hearing, Congressional Republicans re-victimized Dr. Ford in order to advance their political agenda. Instead of doing the right thing and allowing for an FBI investigation, Senate Republicans put the victim on trial because they are afraid of the facts,” said Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus of Black Women and Girls. “They are trying to rush their very questionable nominee through to the Supreme Court. Dr. Ford is a true patriot and her courage can and will inspire other victims to stand up, speak out and fight back against the pervasive culture of sexual abuse, harassment and assault in our society. We believe survivors and times up for abusers.”
Teresa C. Younger, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women told Essence in a statement:
“It is shameful to witness a survivor relive the trauma of their assault. It is horrifying to see men in positions of power and privilege rally to protect their own, as they continue to silently terrorize other women with impunity. But this is nothing new. So much of what has happened today mirrors Anita Hill’s experience as she testified in 1991, and it is a shocking reminder that this country will always prioritize the stories of men over the stories of women, and that men in power will resort to anything to hold on to that power.”
“We believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and all survivors of sexual assault. We are moved by her testimony and thankful for her courage. Congress must do the right thing and reject Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.”
On Friday, all Republican members on the 21-member Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor; Democrats did not.
Republican Senator Flake (R-AZ) was among those who called for there to be a one-week delay in a floor vote to allow for the FBI to re-open its background investigation into Kavanaugh.
Trump has since authorized the FBI investigation. It was not clear when a vote by the full Senate on Kavanaugh’s nomination will be brought to the Senate floor.