Last Friday, three dozen Bowdoin students protesting the potential confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were featured on national news. The demonstration, held in Portland at the office of U.S. Senator from Maine Susan Collins, was in opposition to Kavanaugh’s position on women’s rights and his opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Protectors want Collins to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
MSNBC and The Hill featured clips of protesters marching down Congress Street, holding signs and chanting slogans like “Kavanaugh has got to go” and “Our bodies, our freedom.”
The rally was organized by Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) and other advocacy groups on campus as part of an ongoing effort to engage students with activism on campus.
“[Bowdoin Climate Action] decided [protesting Kavanaugh’s nomination is] of great importance because if confirmed, he will have a lasting impression on the American legal system in a way that is inherently in opposition to progressive goals and would make the Supreme Court far to the right of where the American people are,” said Isabella McCann ’19, a co-leader of Bowdoin Climate Action.
As a Republican senator in a swing state with a pro-choice voting record, Collins has been the target of both local and national uproar. According to an Associated Press report, her office has received over 3,000 coat hangers in the mail. A crowdfunding page has also received over one million dollars for her opponent in the 2020 election for the US Senate, which will be donated only if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh. While Collins has been critical of these more aggressive forms of activism, her office encouraged the students to voice their grievances.
“We are happy to hear your voices and carry messages to Senator Collins,” a Collins staffer said. “This is the most effective way to get these messages to her.”
An accusation of sexual misconduct published in the New Yorker the day before the rally heightened protesters’ opposition to Kavanaugh. The allegation comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has exposed many prominent political figures as having committed sexual misconduct in the past.
Collins, a professional advocate, released a letter encouraging both parties to testify to the Judiciary Committee.
“Dr. Ford’s attorney would be permitted to question Judge Kavanaugh, and Judge Kavanaugh’s attorney would question Dr. Ford,” said Collins in her letter. “Each would be permitted equal time to do so before Senators began their round of questions. Such an approach could provide more continuity, elicit the most information, and allow an in-depth examination of the allegations.” Student leaders, however, want more.
“The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh are absolutely disqualifying. Our federal institutions should be, and those who are a part of them should absolutely be, held to a higher standard. I think the professor’s allegations are very credible,” said McCann.
In the past few years, faculty and students have criticized the lack of political activism on campus. In a survey conducted by the Orient last spring, students were asked to rate their own level of political activism on a scale from one to ten—one being “not active” and ten being “very active.” Of 378 responses, students rated their peers’ activity at a 5.3 out of 10 and their individual activity at a 4.7 out of 10.
“People have very strong ideological beliefs that don’t always translate politically outside the presidential election. I think part of it is people don’t know [activism] is that easy,” said Eleanor Brakewood ’19, leader of the Bowdoin Reproductive Justice Coalition.
Political groups on campus are hopeful that the rally and the impending midterms will be a catalyst for activism on campus and will encourage students to participate in grassroot actions such as canvassing for candidates, phone banking, and contacting senators.
At the conclusion of last Friday’s demonstration, staff at the office of Senator Collins asked protesters where they were from. About a fifth of the participants were native Mainers.
Some protestors took the inquiry as a way to emphasize that many were not native Maine residents; however, many protesters are registered to vote in Maine and do not believe that the emphasis on protesters’ home states was important.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m from Maine or not, she is my senator,” McCann said. “That makes her accountable to me, just like it makes her accountable to anyone else in Maine. I am her constituent.”
In contrast, onlookers in Portland showed support for the student protest by beeping and chanting along.
According to Maine resident Liz Dunn, “it’s wonderful. I am incredibly proud of your bravery and willingness to stand up for what you believe in. It’s for your future and you need to fight for it.”
As part of a continued effort in opposition to Kavanaugh, BCA and Maine for Accountable Leadership (MFAL) compiled video clips of students explaining why they opposed the confirmation.
“The big thing for me is health care. I am pretty sure I am going to be paying for it on my own and I’ll likely get Obamacare at some point. That’s in jeopardy as someone with pre-existing conditions and a very expensive chronic medical condition,” said Haley Maurice ’20, a co-leader of BCA.
The video will be sent to Collins later this week.