I was Arrested for Protesting Kavanaugh. This is Why I Did It.

Karan Ireland is escorted from Senator Joe Manchin’s campaign headquarters in Charleston, West Virginia, by a Charleston police officer. Ireland and eight other women were arrested after occupying the senator’s office for ten hours, demanding he pledge to vote no on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo: Roger May

It’s nearing 7 p.m. the evening after I and eight other women were arrested for trespassing in West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s campaign office. We had refused to leave until he assured us that he would vote “NO” on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. My daughter, who at 15-years-old had joined us earlier in the day to share her story of survival, has just gotten home from work. Her brother has had a long day at school and pops his head in to say hello; my fiancé is about to fire up the grill.

Gina Hays, one of nine women arrested for trespassing in Senator Joe Manchin’s Charleston, West Virginia campaign office, waits to be released after nearly ten hours of occupying the office. The women were protesting Senator Manchin’s immediate unwillingness to vote no on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Photo: Roger May

It’s the end of an ordinary day, but, for me, there are hours of work yet to do: conference calls, press inquiries, updates for social media and an essay to write. The laundry, the stack of bills and my actual job will have to wait. In a world where women still do more unpaid work at home than men, I am grateful to have a flexible work schedule and a supportive partner who also happens to love structure and order. Still, the question nags at me: How will I get everything done?

How will I parent my children, do my chores, go to work, share my most personal stories, support other women, recognize my privilege, participate in democracy and– lest I forget the internet trolls’ sage advice– lose weight. All while dealing with the effects of trauma.

I’m exhausted. I think we all are.

One forgets, though, how exhausting it can be to stand up for something– to add something to our already overflowing plates, regardless of how important or meaningful. It’s like forgetting the pain of childbirth.

“Sure, let’s have another baby!” “Yes, let’s dismantle the patriarchy!”

I’d gotten a call Saturday evening from my friend, Cathy Kunkel, who asked how I would feel about participating in an action to pressure Manchin on his Kavanaugh vote. I told her that I was ready to do something, especially after spending Thursday and Friday of the week before curled up in the fetal position, glued to my computer screen.

Okay– perhaps the fetal position thing is a bit of an exaggeration. What’s not, though,  is that I couldn’t look away from the heartbreaking testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh’s stomach-turning rebuttal. By Thursday evening, all I wanted was flannel pajamas, a jigsaw puzzle and a cigarette. I was feeling the effects of cultural misogyny: the overwhelm, the exhaustion, the despair that some things would just never change. But by Saturday, after spending the day with two solid and caring men working on a project close to my heart, I was rejuvenated and ready to act.

We met Sunday evening, about twenty of us, to strategize and plan. Organizer Katey Lauer led us through exercises so that we could be as prepared as possible for one of several possible outcomes. The action, though logistically complex, was simple: we would go to Sen. Manchin’s campaign office in downtown Charleston, ask him to give us his assurance us that he would vote no on Kavanaugh and leave only once we got it. We talked about the possibility of arrest and prepared for it, but it was not our goal to get arrested.

West Virginia women rally in Senator Joe Manchin’s campaign office in Charleston, West Virginia, shortly after a late-night phone call with the senator facilitated by his staff. The group of nine women vowed to occupy the office until they secured a no vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Photo: Roger May

Later that night, as I drafted my statement to the media, I thought about the reasons I wanted to participate. Why was I willing to risk public scorn? Why risk the relationship I had with Sen. Manchin’s staff and, by extension, the Senator himself? My answers came through prayer and meditation.

I believed Dr. Ford’s compelling testimony. I witnessed Judge Kavanaugh’s partisan outbursts and poor comportment. I felt strongly that the next justice appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court should be one of impeccable character and even the possibility that he committed a sexual crime disqualifies him in my mind I wanted to share this with Sen. Manchin in a way that was impactful and meaningful and could not be ignored.

I approached my daughter about whether she would feel comfortable with me mentioning her in the statement I shared with Sen. Manchin’s staff, in a general way. She interrupted to say that she wanted to participate in the action, too. After a lengthy conversation about the emotional risks of sharing her story and logistics of her missing an afternoon of school, I made the tough parental decision to allow her to participate. She could walk in with us to share her story and her strength, and stay unless and until the police were called– and that’s just what she did.

Emily Comer (left) and Jamie Miller (right), both handcuffed, wait for their citations to be written and issued after occupying Senator Joe Manchin’s campaign office in Charleston, West Virginia. After nearly ten hours, Comer, Miller and seven other women were arrested for trespassing and later released on their own recognizance. The women have a court date of November 8, 2018. Photo: Roger May

The rest, or much of it anyway, is Facebook Live history. We sat-in. We told our stories and the stories of dozens of others spontaneously emailed to us that day. We sang, laughed and cried. We waved to our friends and allies out on the sidewalk who had come to deliver supplies and words of encouragement.

Although we were firm in our commitment to stay until we heard the words we came for from Sen. Manchin, we were nevertheless surprised by the arrival of the police in the wee hours of the morning. The staff had told us, on camera, that no woman would be arrested in their office. Clever, I thought later, to wait and to obscure their windows. As a lover of political strategy, I wish we’d seen that one coming.

All day during our sit-in, I struggled with my own internalized misogyny: “Why am I making such a big deal? I’m overreacting. Wait — could her story be true; it seems so outrageous? They won’t like you anymore. What if you cost Manchin the election — his opponent is so much worse?! Just sit down and shut up!!”

I made the mistake of reading some of the online comments, which one should never do. I feel raw and vulnerable and so, so tired. I understand why, like so much unwanted sex, it can seem easier to just let what’s going to happen, happen.

But for me the answer is clear: I just can’t do that anymore.

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