Hundreds of demonstrators, including comedian Amy Schumer, were arrested Thursday after staging a thunderous protest at the Hart Senate Office Building opposing Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee who faces allegations of sexual misconduct.
Among them were victims of sexual assault, who, in many cases, had only just begun to speak openly about what they had endured.
Several women and one man from Alaska, Arizona, Maine and the District stood before the towering pillars of the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the day to ask their senators for one thing: faith.
“Believe us,” they said. “Believe survivors.”
Their voices shook, breathing quickened. Some reached out to hold onto someone next to them as they told a crowd of thousands: “I am a survivor.”
The crowd called back, “We believe you.”
An initial Senate vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination is scheduled for Friday, and a final vote could happen over the weekend. Several other demonstrations were planned Thursday night and Friday in what protesters described as their last chance to be heard.”
Organizers of the demonstration — which included a march from the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse on Constitution Avenue to the steps of the Supreme Court — had promised many boldfaced names including singer Alicia Keys and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal.
But Schumer and actor Emily Ratajkowski appeared to be the only celebrities at the protest.
“A vote for Kavanaugh is a vote saying women don’t matter,” Schumer told the crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court. “No matter how this goes, they cannot keep us down.”
U.S. Capitol Police said they arrested 293 people for unlawfully demonstrating in the Hart building. As she was led out by officers, Schumer raised a fist and applauded as other women were picked up and led away. Nine others were arrested for protesting at the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Demonstrators from states as far as Alaska said they traveled to D.C. this week to take to the streets — and their senators’ offices. Three, in particular, appeared to be the focus of last-minute efforts to swing the confirmation vote: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), all of whom have declined to indicate how they will vote.
Sarah Evans, 31, an Alaska Native woman from Dillingham, said she and 135 of her fellow Alaskans were scheduled to meet with Murkowski late Thursday afternoon.
Many of them intended to share stories of how they were sexually assaulted.
“The state of Alaska has the highest sexual assault rate in the country. I‘m a survivor myself. I don’t know any Alaska Native women who aren’t,” Evans said. “It’s been hard watching what’s been going on (in Washington), so we wanted to come and make sure our stories were heard.”
Susan Roth, 68, stood in the crowd quietly lifting her open palms into the air. On her hands, she wrote every age at which she had been the victim of sexual misconduct.
It started, she said, when she was 13.
“Last week, I was at a protest and I had been telling people it happened to me when I was 15, but the more I thought about it — and I started remembering all these other things I had just let go — I realized it probably started when I was 13,” Roth said. On her hands were other ages: 15, 25, 27, 30.
“I wish telling our stories could make a difference,” she said. “But I fear it will not.”
On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), a red-state Democrat whose vote the GOP had been courting, said she would vote against Kavanaugh.
Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) remains the only Democrat undecided on the nomination.
“November is coming,” protesters chanted. “Survivors will remember.”
When confronted in the Hart building, Manchin told a protester, who accused him of failing to listen to survivors: “I am listening to you.”
Challenging her claim that he was refusing to look her in the eye, he said: “I’m looking right at you,” before adding, “how do you know how I’m going to vote?”
Manchin said he would make his decision once he had finished reading the report Friday morning.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) lambasted the FBI’s probe into Kavanaugh’s past as a sham investigation constrained by the White House.
“The investigation was never meant to get to the bottom of this,” she said. “This investigation was not thorough. It was not complete.”
In the windows of senators’ offices at the Hart Building, messages began to appear. They invoked Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school more than three decades ago.
“We believe Dr. Ford,” read one.
“I believe her,” read another.
Ben Bergquam, who seemed to be one of the only counterprotesters, had flown in from California for the demonstration.
Bergquam, a who runs his own organization called Frontline America, said he supports sexual assault victims but felt that Democrats were using real survivors’ pain for political gains.
He spent much of the protest calling out over speakers and arguing with protesters as he shouted, “Don’t be sexist. Don’t believe women just because they’re women.”