PORTLAND, MAINE — Frustrated. Angry. Betrayed. That’s how Maine women described their feelings in the days since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. Meanwhile, their senator, Susan Collins (R), has yet to comment publicly on whether she even believes Ford.
It can’t be overstated that Collins is largely viewed as a champion for women; the senator was even honored by Planned Parenthood last year. Collins is considered part of a proud history of female leadership in Maine, beginning with Margaret Chase Smith, who in 1948 became the first woman elected to the Senate without being appointed to replace a deceased husband.
This is why Collins’ silence since Dr. Ford’s testimony last week and throughout the media reports thereafter questioning Kavanaugh’s integrity is all the more vexing, dozens of Mainers told ThinkProgress.
“What I have seen so far is not leadership. Leadership is saying ‘I’ve seen his temperament and he’s not prudent enough to serve on the court of last resort.’ Leadership is comparing the facts to his statements,” said Eliza Townsend,
the executive director of the nonpartisan group Maine’s Women Lobby. “Instead, what we are getting is silence and from time-to-time a comment when others are expressing leadership.”
Collins has only spoken out publicly to say she supports an FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations and that a third accuser should be included in the probe. And she only publicly called for an FBI investigation after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) did, saying he felt pressure from sexual assault survivors.
“The result is women are getting more and more angry and agitated. And having to, it seems, go to further and further lengths and tell their stories and get arrested because they are not feeling heard,” Townsend told ThinkProgress.
“Why can’t they be heard without reliving trauma?”
Sexual assault survivors have now become the face of the anti-Kavanaugh movement. On Monday, Maine survivors shared their own stories to Collins’ staff in Portland. One mother told staff she was raped and wouldn’t know what to tell her 8-month-old daughter should the senator she helped elect into office in 2014 vote to confirm a man who may have assaulted at least two women. Another survivor, Tina Marie Davidson of Portland, was arrested at Collins’ office for trespassing an hour after she disclosed during the protest that she was assaulted as a child.
Most Mainers opposed Kavanaugh before Dr. Ford’s moving testimony last week, with a lot of the opposition being women-led. Indeed, a majority of women objected to his nomination, 53 percent to 34 percent, according to a poll conducted in mid-September by Maine People’s Resource Center.
And nonpartisan groups have been meeting with Collins and staff for some time, urging her to reject Kavanaugh’s nomination. Climate groups, for example, who helped convince Collins to reject another Trump nominee, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, have met with her and staff to talk about Kavanaugh.
“His record is very poor on the environment; 16 out of 18 cases, he sided with the polluter,” said the political director of Maine Conservation Voters, Beth Ahearn, of Kavanaugh’s record as a federal judge to the D.C. Circuit. “We are hoping the totality of everything will cause her to vote against his confirmation — so not just the environment but his treatment of women and his stances on other issues.”
This opposition is only growing.
Many first-time activists met at a crunchy cafe called the Local Sprouts in the Old Port on Tuesday to discuss a national walk-out for Dr. Ford. “This has been a week that’s taken a lot out of survivors and women in particular,” said Amy Gaidis of Mainers Against Kavanaugh, and so the idea is that Thursday will be “a day for us to actually withhold our labor for an hour.”
More seasoned activists affiliated with national groups like Planned Parenthood and the Democratic Socialists of America were in attendance. But there were also a lot of fresh faces, like 21-year-old activist Sydney Avitia-Jacques.
“We can be so angry that we don’t do anything… or we can be so angry that it pushes us to action,” Avitia-Jacques told ThinkProgress. She recently joined Maine People’s Alliance, a group that’s raised nearly $2 million for Collins’ 2020 Democratic challenger should the senator vote to confirm Kavanaugh.
These are the kinds of organizers that can make a sizable difference now, in 2018 and in 2020 when Collins is up for reelection. Mainers don’t coalesce around political parties but causes, said Sarah Skillin Woodard of Emerge Maine, a training program for Democratic women candidates statewide. And the cause these days is women’s rights, a phenomenon that’s emerged since Donald Trump took office, she added.
Skillin Woodard worked for Shenna Bellows when she ran against Susan Collins in 2014. The state representative and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine executive director lost to Collins given the incumbent’s popularity. But the combination of Maine’s new ranked choice voting system and progressive wave of galvanized voters puts Collins in a very different position come 2020.
“I think for the first time in many many years she is going to be vulnerable,” said Skillin Woodard.
Collins’ vote on Kavanaugh will likely be the deciding factor.