PORTLAND, MAINE — “I was raped three times,” one Maine resident said to Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-ME) senior staffer as she jotted down notes on a memo pad.
The woman speaking was a registered Democrat who visited Collins’ local office Monday to plead that a senator she helped elect in 2014 not confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after last week’s moving testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford detailing her allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh.
“What am I going to tell my daughter?” the young woman asked Collins’ staffer, Kate Simpson, imagining a scenario in which Kavanaugh was confirmed to the nation’s highest court with Collins’ help.
And like Ford during her testimony on Thursday, she sounded as if she was crying but showed no tears. This was a common refrain on Monday as more than 50 activists, many of whom were sexual assault survivors and three of whom were arrested, occupied the senator’s Portland office.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation largely comes down to two Republican women, with both Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) representing pivotal swing votes. It fell on Collins to save Obamacare, and she ultimately did when she voted against the GOP health care bill last summer, activists reminded Simpson as she took notes. Now it’s time for her to be a hero again, they said.
One mom tells Collins’ staffer about her daughter who was sexually assaulted a year ago. She doesn’t know what to tell her if Collins ultimately votes in favor of Kavanaugh. pic.twitter.com/FRG6yPr1te
— Amanda Michelle Gomez (@amanduhgomez) October 1, 2018
The protest was organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership, who have also raised nearly $2 million for her 2020 Democratic challenger should Collins vote to confirm Kavanaugh. They’ve also staged a dozen or more sit-ins at Collins’ local office since Kavanaugh was nominated. Other protesters have gone as far as visiting the senator’s Bangor home. Collins has yet to publicly indicate how she will vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, saying for now that she is pleased with the FBI’s week-long investigation into the various sexual assault allegations.
The fact that the senator has yet to indicate which way she’ll vote was a point of frustration among activists, no matter their party preference. “Does she enjoy this?” asked one activist. “It’s a political calculus,” said another.
“I think from the get-go she was willing to tell us she couldn’t vote for Donald Trump… she needs to every step of the way say, ‘I can’t support this president’,” said Naomi Mayer, Portland resident and organizer with March Forth. That needs to include Trump’s Supreme Court nominee who, like the president, is accused of sexual assault.
“Unless she wants us to think she’s an idiot or a pawn — which I know she isn’t — she’s playing a game that none of us want to play,” Mayer said.
Before they shared personal stories with Simpson, several organizers said they empathized with the position Collins and her staff are in. A clash between protesters that followed led to one of the day’s tensest moments. One protester blasted Simpson when she asked him not to repeat himself as she had to get to everyone’s testimony before the end of business day. It was also clear she was exhausted; she’d just heard several women describing their own assaults and, as one protester pointed out, Simpson was “a human being” and a mother.
“I understand your job position,” said the male activist. “No, you don’t, you never asked,” retorted Simpson, before she left for a short break.
When Simpson left the room, Mayer reminded the male organizers it wasn’t helpful to anger Collins’ staff.
Simpson returned to hear at least a dozen more testimonies from activists. Many emphasized Kavanaugh’s temperament, referencing the way he yelled and how he was especially rude to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) during last week’s hearing, asking her if she drank too much to remember an event. Dr. Ford could have never acted that way, they said, and was in fact more methodical and almost too apologetic during her testimony.
Activists tried to reason with Collins’ staffer, citing, for example, Kavanaugh’s partisan tone. But the staffer gave no indication regarding which way the senator would vote, further frustrating Mainers who will now have to come back again later in the week to let Collins know she’s in serious political trouble should she vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Several women, including local teacher Rosalee Lamm of Portland, said they’d won’t vote against Collins next time around should she side with Kavanaugh.
Maine activists made a considerable difference to Collins’ Obamacare vote, by filling her inbox. And other activists already shook Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who only asked for an FBI investigation after a sexual assault survivor confronted him on Friday at the elevator. Perhaps, these Mainers could make a sizable impact now.