It’s possible that two women, both who say they are survivors of sexual assault, both making an on-the-spot decision to speak their minds to a US senator, turned the course of events at today’s senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Earlier this morning (Sept 28) on Capitol Hill, Flake, a Republican senator from Arizona, announced that he intended to vote with other Republican senators to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination, despite allegations that the candidate had sexually assaulted a fellow teenager when he was in high school. Flake had been the swing vote on the committee, which heard dramatic testimony from Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, now a professor of psychology in California, and Kavanaugh, who denied the allegations, a day earlier.
Minutes after Flake made that announcement, however, a woman who spotted Flake outside the hearing approached him, attempting to block him from entering an elevator. According to the New York Times (paywall), she was Ana Maria Archila, an executive director of the New York-based Center for Popular Democracy. She had just read about Flake’s decision, and she wanted him to hear her story. She was joined by Maria Gallagher, 23, another protestor who is reportedly not affiliated with the same political organizing group. Together they delayed Flake by about five minutes.
“What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable,” Archila said.
“I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me,” Gallagher told the visibly distraught Flake. “I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them.” (See a full transcript below.)
The exchange between Archila, who is also a national committee member of the Working Families Party, Gallagher, and Flake, was caught on live video, reaching millions watching on live stream feeds and television sets around the world. When the senators resumed the hearing this afternoon, preparing to take a vote, Flake said: “I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for one week for an FBI investigation…limited in time to no more than one week. I will vote to advance the bill to the floor with that understanding, and I’ve spoken to a few members on my side of the aisle to delay the vote as well.” He said he would not support the final confirmation until an FBI investigation had been conducted.
On social media, Archila and Gallagher were already being praised for their courage and quick thinking before Flake made his stunning request. Now Americans are wondering whether the two women played a critical role in Flake’s apparent change of heart.
According to the New York Times, these were Archila’s comments in full:
On Monday, I stood in front of your office [inaudible]. I told the story of my sexual assault. I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she is telling the truth. What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them. I have two children.
I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?
I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America, that they don’t matter. They should just keep it to themselves because if they have told the truth, you’re just going to help that man to power anyway.
That’s what you’re telling all of these women. That’s what you’re telling me right now. Look at me when I’m talking to you. You are telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t, and that you’re going to let people who do these things into power. That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him. Don’t look away from me.
Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.
As they spoke, Flake repeatedly said thank you, his eyes cast downwards.
Several hours later, Senate Republican leaders agreed to a new FBI background investigation of Kavanaugh.