The classic organizing song “Solid as a Rock” echoed in my head as I occupied Sen. Joe Manchin’s campaign office in Charleston along with a group of women asking him to commit to a no vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Our group had sung the song together the night before -- “Rooted like a tree, I am here, standing tall, in my rightful place.”
Like so many, I was engulfed in every emotion while watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Like too many other women, I had nearly the same scenario happen to me. Mine was also 30 years ago. I can also tell you without a doubt who did this, the thoughts in my head at the time, that feeling of “what is happening?”
Unlike Dr. Ford, I didn’t fight back. I let it happen. I thought to myself, “This guy is popular,” while squirming underneath him. He didn’t even know my name.
I didn’t fight it then, but I am fighting now. I am fighting for that girl who was so insecure and scared that she didn’t say no. I am fighting for my fellow women and men who have been taken advantage of, attacked, molested, raped. I am fighting for my country where a man who has been accused of three different sexual crimes and gross misconduct shouldn’t get to hold a position of power on the highest court in our land. I am fighting and risking arrest because I am human.
We sat in Joe Manchin’s office with only one demand -- a no vote on Kavanaugh. We sat for nearly 10 hours, reading stories from women and a few men who had sent emails and contacted us through our Facebook page.
These letters were powerful. We were powerful as support flowed in from around the country from the people watching us online. And briefly I thought that our plan to get a no vote might actually work.
Manchin finally agreed to speak with us via conference call. I watched and listened as the strong ladies around the table, including me, retold our stories and told the senator why Kavanaugh should not get this job. This is a job interview, we said. Brett Kavanaugh is up for a job.
We tried to convince the senator to take a stand. We said “vote no, Joe” repeatedly. We were adamant that a decision of a no vote should have been easy to reach even before Dr. Ford’s testimony. What this man represents doesn’t mirror anything West Virginia’s working class represents and our senator should also represent.
We were disappointed to get wishy washy responses, with Manchin telling us, “But I called for the initial investigation,” 11 times. It’s not enough.
We were told by his staff that our Sen. Joe Manchin hears us, that he cannot begin to understand what it would be like to have any form of sexual violence happen, and that he is truly sorry for what women go through.
The call ended.
Manchin’s campaign staff told us earlier in the day that absolutely no woman would be arrested in this office and to continue telling the stories of survivors as long as we needed to.
But after our fruitless conversation with Manchin, we said, “We’re not leaving.” That’s when Manchin finally decided to take a stand on an issue and that issue was us.
After over 11 hours, the staff started boarding up the windows so no one could see in or out and police officers came through the back door.
Although we’d been told that no one would be arrested, Manchin went back on his word. We were led out of the office in handcuffs and charged in the parking lot with trespassing.
“I am here, standing tall in my rightful place,” keeps repeating in my head. Our action was absolutely our right. These are our officials who we have elected to serve us. We didn’t get the commitment we were demanding, but we are not silenced.
“Solid as a rock, rooted like a tree.”
We will continue to fight for survivors and hold those in power accountable. I hope that our action was seen and heard as an act of patriotism, not civil disobedience. I think of the popular saying, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” As American women and as West Virginia women, we choose to rise.