The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Some are scolding protesters at justices’ homes. It’s misdirection.

An abortion rights protester holds up a hanger outside the home of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in Chevy Chase. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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Nadine Seiler, 57, and her sparkly pink pussy hat aren’t scary.

But the magazine-ready home of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh was surrounded by layers of guards on Wednesday night, ready to take on barely two dozen protesters marching back and forth — just in case.

“They can protest, but I think going to someone’s personal residence crosses the line,” said a disapproving neighbor, watching the scene unfold with her arms crossed.

Oh really?

If you’re looking for the line, you’ll find Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on the wrong side of it, after comparing the people bringing their fear and fury to justices’ sidewalks as the court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade to the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“On January 6 of 2021, you had tens of thousands of people peacefully protesting, and yet the corporate media and Democrats slander them with the made-up term ‘insurrectionist,’” he told Fox News this week. “And yet in this instance, they are not willing to call off their goons even now as this has the potential to escalate and escalate further.”

Youngkin, Hogan ask Justice Dept. to halt protests at justices’ homes

It’s part of a broader strategy of misdirection conservatives have deployed to keep the focus off what they’re trying to do: focusing on who leaked the draft Supreme Court ruling, for example, instead of what it said, or citing “judicial integrity” to press the Justice Department to block protesters.

The urge to get out there, to scream feral, to bare our souls and claw at the universe is totally understandable. This issue is deeply, metaphysically personal.

“I don’t care if he sees me or not,” Seiler said Wednesday, in between shouts.

“Keep your religion off my vagina!” she yelled, at the soft, yellow glow of Kavanaugh’s Chevy Chase home at sunset, before turning back to me to finish her thought.

“I want America, I want the world, I want the media to see that we won’t stand for this,” she said.

She was out there, on the evening of her 57th birthday, with a group of protesters who pulled a wagon loaded with a speaker and signs — a group no bigger than the Girl Scout contingent of a small-town July Fourth parade — fighting the inevitability of a massive shift in American law and culture.

Meanwhile, a good chunk of the nation clutched its pearls at the line they believe was crossed when peaceful protests, harmless marches and earnest candlelight vigils began forming in the fancy-pants neighborhoods where conservative Supreme Court justices live.

“These images are the latest manifestation of just how extreme, just how radical, the Democratic Party is getting,” Cruz said.

There is absolutely zero comparison to the protests outside the justices’ homes to the jostling, shoving, screaming, terrifying crowd of Jan. 6. I’ve been in the middle of both.

And any line of civility, propriety or humanity was crossed decades ago by antiabortion protesters. I’ve seen them scream, harass, stalk and menace women on their way to medical appointments (not always abortions), doctors on their way to work, the children of landlords who rent to abortion clinics at their school.

An abortion clinic's landlord turns the tables on protesters who harassed his kids at school

I was there as a college intern when their extremists screamed at George Tiller in Wichita. They were at his clinic, his home and the homes of his employees. He had to wear a flak jacket to work and armor his car. Eventually, one of them murdered him, at point-blank range on a Sunday morning while he ushered at his church.

This is the standard for protest that these people have set.

And even though Seiler calmly articulated her views at a legal distance from Kavanaugh’s house — “I am not Catholic, I am not Baptist, I am not Muslim, I am not Hindu. And I don’t want any of their religions to take my bodily autonomy away” — it’s the imagined hysterical, violent, murderous scene that conservatives conjure when they describe any kind of liberal protester.

If Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the author of the leaked draft opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade, really did flee his home in fear of his safety when the candlelight protesters showed up, it’s only because of the example set by Jan. 6 insurrectionists and the violent antiabortion activists before them.

The abortion rights demonstrators have made their statements at the justice’s homes. The neighbors who joined the protests showed that this is an issue crossing socio-economic lines.

And now, sisters, it’s time to pivot.

“Organize. Organize. Organize,” said Heather Booth, when I asked her what the next generation should do.

Back in 1969, Booth was one of the women who created the Jane Collective, an organization that grew an underground abortion network in Chicago. Yes, she demonstrated like a maven. But she made real change when she organized.

The Janes were hoping no one would need to call them again.

Today, women are already forming support networks for abortion access, helping with transportation, lodging and medical fees. Organizers are lobbying their elected officials and stockpiling abortion pills for distribution.

Protesting in the sweet-smelling neighborhoods of the justices surely feels good. But right now, all it’s doing is giving conservatives more fodder to skew and obsess over.

This is a Michelle Obama moment: They went low. It’s time to go high — and make a difference.