A bus trip to stop Kavanaugh and start a better future



Protesters gather outside 26 Bleecker Street, awaiting the bus to take them to Washington, D.C. Photo: Andrew Karpinski

The group of strangers arrived one by one outside 26 Bleecker Street at 8 a.m., dressed in black, carrying homemade poster board signs and clutching rain jackets. It was a crisp fall morning in lower Manhattan, but a wet forecast awaited them in Washington, DC; they would return later that evening, exhausted, with wet socks. Thirty-four women left New York shortly before 8:30, after buying coffees for the road and posing for a group picture on the street corner. The Senate Judiciary hearing was starting in approximately two hours, and the bus — organized less than 24 hours earlier — was scheduled to drop them off on Capitol Hill by lunch time.

“We will arrive at Union Station and walk directly to the steps of the Supreme Court,” Eli Szenes-Straus said into a microphone as he handed out water bottles and snacks that were passed back from hand to hand. “From there we will join [MeToo founder] Tarana Burke and other organizers,” he continued, eliciting cheers from the passengers. Szenes-Straus, director of political affairs at Planned Parenthood, said his senior leadership team made the decision to charter a bus when Kavanaugh’s third accuser, Julie Swetnick, came forward.

A week and two days later, after senators wavered and an FBI investigation was launched and concluded, Judge Kavanaugh was confirmed by a 50-48 vote to become an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

“It’s depressing that some people are watching this and think she’s lying,” Monana Yin said during the first intermission of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Yin, who traveled from her home in Prospect Heights, sat alone in the back of the bus, knees hugged to her chest, listening intently to the hearing through NPR’s streaming app. She only broke concentration to discuss Dr. Ford’s testimony or to answer an occasional work email on her phone. “This whole [nomination] was supposed to be ran through with as little attention as possible,” she said. “The reason I came here today was to give my energy, and give my energy to the other protesters.”

The other passengers sat huddled together with their seat partners, sharing cell phone and iPad screens to watch the hearing. Streaming signals cut in and out as they headed down the New Jersey Turnpike, and the group recharged with coffee and bathroom breaks when they pulled over at a rest stop to change drivers.

“I don’t know what to expect and I kind of like that,” said Jenny Romaine, 56, who wore pigtails and a pink shirt under her black overalls. In 1981, Romaine spent a month in jail after being arrested for participating in the Women’s Pentagon Action, an anti-nuclear weapon protest directed at President Reagan’s administration. “Now I always prepare to go to jail for a month,” she said, which includes dressing in layers and wearing multiple pairs of underwear. Romaine is the co-founding artistic director of Great Small Works, an arts collective theatre group, and she canceled a performance that day to make the trip when her colleagues urged her to attend the protest. “This feels like a moment. I want to be part of an insurrection.”

The rain began to fall as they got off the bus in D.C. After a brief lunch in Union Station, the group joined a long line of protesters marching to the Supreme Court, where they held signs and joined in on anti-Kavanaugh chants. “This was good for my peace of mind,” said Alison Bateman-House, a 43 year-old medical ethics professor at NYU. “Even if it’s a waste of time [and Kavanaugh is confirmed], I want to feel like I did something…it gave me a feeling of completeness.”

Bateman-House lives in East Harlem with her husband and eight-year-old daughter, who offered to make her a sign like the one she made when the three of them attended the Women’s March in D.C. last year. “I want to ensure [my daughter] knows her mom did everything she could to fight for her freedoms and reproductive freedoms,” Bateman-House said. “It’s been heartening to receive messages from my colleagues today. My husband was proud of me. He rearranged his schedule to pick up our daughter from school. For him to be so supportive of this, it means a lot.”

When the rain picked up around 2 p.m. the group took shelter in Hart Senate Building, where they were greeted by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who thanked them for showing up on what she called a historical day. Ms. Burke arrived soon after to join a group that had grown to at least 300 people. She stood in the middle of several circles formed around each other and led a solidarity session in which the protesters took turns reading statements of support for Kavanaugh’s three accusers only to be quickly interrupted by a capitol police officer who informed the protesters they were subject to be arrested if they did not leave the building.

They raised their fists in unison and slowly walked out while Burke led them in the chorus of “We Shall Not be Moved,” a spiritual from the civil rights movement.

Protesters walked out of Hart Senate Building after being asked to leave by capitol police. Photo: Andrew Karpinski.

“It was an emotional day,” said Emily Aldredge, who lives in the East Village and works as a managing director at the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies. “I remember thinking on the way down —‘Wow, we’re headed to this.’ I liked the feeling of the collective group watching it together on the bus.” Aldredge, a survivor of sexual assault, said she had an experience similar to Dr. Ford’s at the same age and told no one for almost 20 years. In 2007 she was mugged at gunpoint and saw a therapist, which led her to talk about the earlier incident.

“It was a personal journey for me to go to D.C.,” said Aldredge. “The courage it had to take for Dr. Ford to share her story with the world…I felt a responsibility as a woman who had gone through that to support her.”

Aldredge said the day’s events would have a lasting impact on her, regardless of the final vote on the nomination. “It’s been a hard year for people like me [survivors], but now we have a chance to relive it in this raw state with every new person who comes forward with their story,” she said. “Women are becoming bolder, more empowered. I will remember this as major step in the right direction — this is a movement.”

The bus left at 5 p.m. and arrived at 26 Bleecker before midnight. The group parted ways, saying goodbyes under a green street sign named after Margaret Sanger, an activist born in the 19th century who advocated for women’s birth control rights. On the ride home Aldredge sat next to 65 year-old Barbara Mateer, the same woman she had sat beside that morning. “I complimented her raincoat and that led to us being buddies for the day,” said Aldredge, referring to Mateer’s long khaki parka. “I gravitate to people who are older than me because they have that collective wisdom. I’m sure Barbara had many reasons to go…I was lucky to share the day with her.”

Mateer volunteers as a poll worker and is scheduled to work on November 6th for the midterm elections. She said she is hopeful the passion she witnessed at the protest will help turn out Democratic voters.

Mateer went back to D.C. two more times the following week to continue protesting, but said the energy wasn’t the same because she was traveling alone. “It was good to have people to talk to and experience that day with — that’s the kind of bond that doesn’t go away,” she said. “It’s a powerful thing and you hope that it carries forward. If there’s a reason to be hopeful looking ahead, it’s for that kind of bond to empower people to continue.”