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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Students, activists in Red Square protest Kavanaugh decision

Photo by Rachel Alexander

By Hannah Blank

The noon bell rang across Western’s campus as a crowd gathered in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault on Thursday, Oct. 11. Many stood on the edge of Fisher Fountain in Red Square holding handmade signs in protest of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation into the United States Supreme Court.

Although three women accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, he was confirmed following an FBI investigation of the allegations. The primary accusation came from Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, who testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27.

Freshman Jose Ortuzar organized the event along with fellow students.

“We were really impacted by the Kavanaugh hearing, specifically Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony,” Ortuzar said. “We knew we wanted to do something but we couldn’t find any kind of protest or rally around this issue in the area.”

Ortuzar went to work with a group of freshmen to organize an event on Facebook. He said they started planning on Monday and after gaining attention, they joined forces with another rally planned by Western’s Planned Parenthood Generation club.

“The whole message is to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence,” Ortuzar said.

The protest had multiple speakers lined up, beginning with one of the event organizers, junior Joe Addison. Megaphone in hand, Addison stood in front of the growing crowd.

“We do not stand here to protest his [Kavanaugh’s] nomination, we stand here because there are survivors among us,” Addison said.

With a pink sign in hand that read “Western believes survivors, do you?,” Addison went on to address the victim stereotype, typically a white, heterosexual cisgender woman an image that he said is not inclusive to all those affected by sexual violence.

“That means not every single person that comes forward today will be what we’ve seen on the media,” Addison said. “They will not be the traditional roles we see; you will see [survivors] from every background.”

People holding signs reading "We Believe survivors" and "1 in 6" stand looking grim.
Demonstrators stand around the rim of Fisher Fountain. // Photo by Taylor Kibrick

One by one, the speakers stepped forward. One woman shared her experiences of sexual assault. Another speaker shared a poem she wrote about sexual violence and the current climate surrounding the topic.

Junga Subedar, member of the Whatcom Civil Rights Project and Whatcom Peace and Justice Center, was invited to speak at the protest.

“Having [Kavanaugh] confirmed into our Supreme Court the highest court of this country legitimizes silencing of women and the violence against women,” Subedar said. “Women have the strength to protect each other – we have an enduring strength that will last beyond this.”

Subedar, also a lawyer, called for the Supreme Court to be held accountable, especially in cases regarding gender, race, and sexual orientation. She asked the crowd to remember black women, indigenous women, women of color and womxn, who are disproportionately targets of sexual violence in this country.

Cameron Eckardt, president of the Current Events Club on campus, shared his thoughts on the national discussion concerning the body autonomy.

“I’m not here to condemn the Republican party nor to oppose a conservative judge,” Eckardt said. “I stand here to oppose a man who does not know any of the ways the world ought to be, or the nation ought to be – a man who is unqualified for the bench for many reasons. A man who has a history of wrongly assuming the right to another’s body.”

The protest was, for the most part, against Kavanaugh, but the theme participants returned to was the importance of believing survivors of sexual assaults and violence.

Those who spoke, whether to share personal experiences of assault or voice their support for survivors, asked everyone in Red Square to take them seriously and listen. Furthermore, many called the people in attendance to action with elections drawing near.

“We all have a role to play in our political process, we have the right to that. I urge you to take that responsibility,” Eckardt said. “Vote, attend city council meetings, write to your representatives or run for office yourself. Play a part, you have that right.”

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