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Galvanized by Kavanaugh, women's groups turn to midterms

Galvanized by Kavanaugh, women's groups turn to midterms
© Greg Nash

Advocates for sexual assault survivors and women's rights, who mobilized against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, are now turning their energy to the November midterms and beyond.

The groups gained national attention over the past month with their protests in Washington, D.C., and around the nation, personally confronting senators and sparking mass arrests at the Capitol.

Even though the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh on Saturday afternoon, the groups now hope to harness their influence to elect congressional candidates and press for legislation on Capitol Hill.

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“There’s no question that the energy from this moment will relate to the energy that we will all see in November,” Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, told The Hill.

Graves said the protesters’ objectives were broader than just electing Democrats.

“Anyone who covers for abuse, anyone who is not interested in changing the institutions that cover for abuse, will find themselves vulnerable,” she said.

After Christine Blasey Ford went public with her allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party in 1982, sexual assault survivors quickly mobilized to oppose his nomination. Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegations from Ford and two other women.

In one dramatic incident, Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance MORE (R-Ariz.), was confronted by protesters in an elevator on his way to a Senate Judiciary Committee vote to advance Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate.

On Thursday, more than 300 protesters were arrested for flooding the Hart Senate Office Building. Many of the protesters donned shirts reading, “I am a survivor” and “believe women.”

Many of the protests against Kavanaugh were coordinated by progressive and women's rights groups including CPD, Women’s March, the National Women’s Law Center, anti-sexism group Ultraviolet and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA).

The groups told The Hill they are tapping into a national movement and are looking ahead after the confirmation fight.

“I think all roads lead to November,” Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory told The Hill on Thursday at one of the anti-Kavanaugh demonstrations that included Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBig Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches DNA is irrelevant — Elizabeth Warren is simply not Cherokee The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump seizes on immigrant 'caravan' for midterms | WHCA criticizes Trump for praising lawmaker who assaulted reporter | Trump takes harder line on Saudis MORE (D-Mass.) and other Democratic lawmakers in Washington. " ‘November is coming’ has been one of our campaign slogans since we’ve been engaged in the ‘Cancel Kavanaugh’ campaign.”

Many of the groups already had initiatives to register voters, such as the Women’s March's "Power to the Polls." But Women’s March co-chairs Mallory and Linda Sarsour told The Hill that the Kavanaugh fight helped energize those efforts.

"People are fired up," Sarsour said. "That’s gonna be a problem. [This] could be another opportunity for us to fuel our effort."

Sarsour said the Kavanaugh fight is "an opportunity for us to leverage women to be even more involved and participate at a deeper level in this activism work." 

The NDWA was another group that emerged as a prominent voice in the fight against Kavanaugh. It represents domestic workers, most of whom are women of color, and is focused on improving workplace conditions and preventing sexual harassment.

Marzena Zukowska, NDWA's communications director, told The Hill that they are also focused on registering voters ahead of the midterms.

She said the organization has targeted a few races, such as Democrat Stacey Abrams’s gubernatorial campaign against Republican opponent Brian Kemp in Georgia. Abrams would be the nation's first black female governor. NDWA was founded in 2007. Its electoral arm, Care in Action, had never endorsed a candidate before Abrams.

Some groups said they hope to punish senators who backed Kavanaugh.

Emily Comer, a sexual assault survivor and activist who joined the sit-in at Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Democrats slide in battle for Senate Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada MORE’s (D-W.Va.) office this week, told The Hill she wouldn't vote for the senator again if he backs Kavanaugh. Manchin on Saturday voted to confirm Kavanaugh.

Manchin is up for reelection in November in a state Trump won by double digits, but has been leading GOP challenger Patrick Morrisey.

Maine progressive groups had pledged to donate millions to Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE's (R-Maine) 2020 opponent if she backed Kavanaugh. On Friday in a floor speech on the Senate floor, Collins said she would vote to confirm. The crowdfunding site crossed the $2 million mark later that afternoon.

Collins has dismissed the crowdfunding effort as a “bribe." Only one person, physician Cathleen London, has announced her intention to challenge Collins so far.

Beyond the election, Zukowska said her group will press lawmakers to pass legislation at the federal, state and local level that “respects the rights” of domestic workers, who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence.

Zukowska said the group will throw its weight behind legislation such as the Empower Act, a bipartisan House bill that would target sexual harassment in the workplace.

The measure is sponsored by Reps. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelGalvanized by Kavanaugh, women's groups turn to midterms Female House Dems urge Senate to delay Kavanaugh testimony for FBI investigation House Dems punt action on rule change for Speaker nominee MORE (D-Fla.), Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockElizabeth Warren’s DNA test sounds more like ‘identity theft’ The Memo: Trump chats up media ahead of midterms Comey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race MORE (R-Va.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and others, with a companion Senate bill from Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBig Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches Sanders thanks Iowa voters for giving momentum to progressive agenda Sanders: Trump setting 'terrible example' for our children MORE (D-Calif.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: Palin unpopular in Alaska following jab at Murkowski Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Ex-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party MORE (R-Alaska). Murkowski bucked her party by voting against Kavanaugh.

Advocates also hope to put new pressure on the Trump administration. Some groups told The Hill that they will be fighting to block the Department of Education’s efforts to roll back Title IX protections, which they say are a key tool for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses.

“The Department of Education is preparing to gut Title IX sexual violence protection and it is exactly that age group that I’m worried about,” Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center told The Hill, noting that Ford was 15 years old at the time of the alleged assault.

Advocates for women and sexual assault survivors say the Kavanaugh fight brought the "Me Too" movement to Washington, and it’s here to stay.

Writer and activist Soraya Chemaly told The Hill it was “a shock and disturbing” to see the Senate push ahead with Kavanaugh's confirmation.

“One would hope that that would motivate people to turn their anguish into political action,” she told The Hill. “We’ll wait and see.”