In the elevator video, two rape survivors show how democracy works | Jill Abramson | Opinion

Truth spoke to power. And the US Senate finally listened.

In the end, after a full day of official Senate hearings, all it took was two gutsy women, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, to stop the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. The two women, who said they were survivors of sexual assault, stubbornly refused to let the elevator doors close as Senator Jeff Flake, the critical swing vote on the Senate judiciary committee, was on his way to cast his vote to advance the supreme court nominee.

That was before he got in the elevator. Archila and Gallagher blocked him from scurrying away. Archila, who had never told her story of being raped as a small child, spoke first.

“I told it because I recognized in Dr Ford’s story that she is telling the truth,” she told Flake, her voice breaking with emotion. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the supreme court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them.” She wanted him to feel her fury.

Then came Gallagher. “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me,” she said. “I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter.” The women protesting with them gained strength as they spoke. The elevator doors began to close but the crowd made sure they didn’t.

The two women were part of a large contingent that had been in Washington all week to show support for Dr Christine Blasey Ford and to protest against the Senate’s apparent determination to confirm someone credibly accused of sexual assault. By the time Kavanaugh finished his angry, defiant testimony last night, it looked to many as if their cause was lost. But the women were not disheartened. They were determined.

Flake struggled to remain impassive and kept murmuring “thank you”, in a strained attempt to show a modicum of respect. He looked frightened and awkward and must have been praying that the elevator had a trap door. But there was no escape as CNN captured the live encounter.

It was thrilling to watch, not because a senator was being put on the spot but because this is what it means for citizens to hold power to account. Anyone needing a lesson in how American democracy should work must watch the elevator video.

Flake’s eye darts around, nervously. “Don’t look away from me,” Gallagher demands of Flake. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”

On the tape, it is impossible to tell what effect the encounter had on Flake. But between the time the elevator doors did finally close and he went to cast his vote, his mind had changed. In a move that stunned his Republican colleagues, Flake said that he would only support a confirmation vote for Judge Kavanaugh after the FBI had been granted at least one week to conduct an investigation. Trump was forced to order the investigation on Friday afternoon as a result. The crucial Senate confirmation vote remains on hold until then.

Time is not on Brett Kavanaugh’s side. Although the hearings on Thursday were confined to a single accuser, Dr Ford, more women have emerged with stories about Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct in high school and college. The eyewitness Dr Ford has named to her assault, Mark Judge, should be subpoenaed if the FBI does a thorough inquiry. Deborah Ramirez’s allegations about Kavanaugh exposing himself and touching her, published in the New Yorker, must be investigated. Dr Ford’s corroborators must be interviewed. New evidence could emerge.

But until the women blocked the elevator, none of that was going to happen. After the women confronted Flake, several Democrats did walk out of the committee’s hearing.

Archila, Gallagher and other grassroots political activists are reshaping the political landscape this fall. Already, many of them, political outsiders, have won primaries in upsets to the Democratic establishment. It’s been thrilling and uplifting to watch them change our rancid political order.

Democratic senators, despite their best efforts, seemed unable to stop Brett Kavanaugh. Archila and Gallagher showed the world what real power looks like.

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