The shouted chants erupted in the middle of the cafeteria, stopping congressional workers mid-bite.
“What do we want?” asked a protester.
“Justice!” answered dozens of women of color in unison.
“How do we get it?”
“Stop Kavanaugh!” the women cried.
Two weeks before the Senate is to begin confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, hundreds of protesters converged in the District this week demanding that their senators reject his nomination by President Trump.
Multiple days of protests highlighted several issues: reproductive rights, health care, workers’ rights, unions and those issues’ disproportionate effects on women of color.
But the message at each protest was the same.
“We do not think that Kavanaugh will stand up for our rights,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, a branch of the national reproductive-rights organization.
Women from across the country arrived in their senators’ offices this week to discuss their concerns. One delegation flew from Alaska to hand-deliver letters.
After police asked the activists to leave the cafeteria in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, several made their way to the Hart Senate Office Building. They climbed the stairs to terraces overlooking the atrium, pulled out stacks of papers from their bags and flung fistfuls into the air.
As the leaflets floated to the marble floor, the women cheered.
“Our struggle for #reproductivejustice is at stake,” the papers said.
It was a prelude to Sunday, when, in honor of Women’s Equality Day, more than 200 events will be convened around the country to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Some will protest in city centers and state capitals. Others will coordinate letter-writing campaigns and phone-a-thons. One woman in Minnesota is offering 10 percent off the price of haircuts at her salon for those who write postcards to their senators.
“I don’t think people have lived in an era in recent generations where they felt the impact of SCOTUS decisions to be so personal, in so many ways,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, using the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States. “With the recent [Supreme Court] decisions, it was just like bam, bam, bam. And something about that just shook people and made them feel like, ‘We’ve got to stop this.’ ”
After guilty pleas Tuesday by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, on charges of campaign-finance violations, Democrats have sought to slow Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. They argue that a new justice could be tasked with deciding legal questions surrounding Trump, including whether he must comply with a subpoena from prosecutors and whether he can be indicted while in office.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), declined to delay Kavanaugh’s hearings, which are scheduled to begin Sept. 4.
Activists said they would visit each senator to ensure that those who are expected to oppose the nomination do not break ranks, while also trying to persuade Republicans to vote no.
Having a single-seat majority in the Senate, Republicans cannot afford to lose more than two votes in Kavanaugh’s favor. If Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is unable to attend a final vote because he continues to receive treatment for cancer, the difference could come down to one.
“This is a wake-up call to our legislators. This is us saying, ‘We see you, and I hope that you see us,’ because we’re not going anywhere,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, an Atlanta-based reproductive-rights group, who arrived in Washington this week.
Some activists said they were focused on “key senators” they hoped would be willing to hear their concerns. Constituents came from Maine and Alaska, two states with Republican senators, Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who have been longtime supporters of abortion rights.
Two Democrats, Sens. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Edward J. Markey (Mass.), publicly canceled their one-on-one meetings with Kavanaugh this week.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) joined a demonstration on the steps of the Supreme Court on Wednesday that rallied during a thunderstorm to decry Kavanaugh’s record on workers’ rights. Gillibrand joined members of the labor movement and Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the Fair Pay Act of 2009.
“It has to be a 50-state strategy,” Gillibrand told protesters. “We need our senators to stand up and vote no against this judge because he is going to harm this country, and he is going to harm women.”
Sunday’s events will not include a national march or rally. There will not be an event in the District, although a rally is planned in Alexandria.
As a reason, organizers cited their desire to focus on local constituencies and encourage people to appeal to their own senators.
“The hearings are in Washington, the Senate is in Washington and there will be a lot of action here leading up to those hearings and afterward,” said Steve Kerrigan, coordinator for NARAL’s national day of action on Sunday. “This is about folks all across the country engaging their senators.”
On Thursday, when the last of the protesters cleared the atrium of the Hart Building, hundreds of the leaflets were left behind on the ground.
Each bore a rallying cry, “#StopKavanaugh,” highlighted in black.
Before any lawmakers were able to enter the room to see what the commotion had been about, police cordoned off the area and swept the fliers away.