Alaskans arrested in anti-Kavanaugh protest at US Senate

Alaskans protesting the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court were arrested Tuesday morning outside the D.C. office of Sen. Dan Sullivan. It’s a sign of the mounting tension in the Senate, where a hearing is scheduled for Thursday on a 36-year-old sexual assault allegation, which Kavanaugh vehemently denies.

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Suzanne Walsh of Anchorage said she was proud to get arrested. (Photo: Liz Ruskin)

Even hours after her arrest, Suzanne Walsh of Anchorage still wore the plastic ID band the police put on her wrist, and she clutched her charging documents.

“They wrote ‘mass arrest.’ I believe that’s civil disobedience,” Walsh said. “There’s a word for when you block the hall.”

Walsh flew to Washington, courtesy of an advocacy group called Center of Popular Democracy, to tell both Alaska senators not to vote for Kavanaugh. She and other protesters filed into Sullivan’s waiting room. He wasn’t available. Walsh says they chose to stay.

“Then we decided to just start telling our stories that we wanted to tell him personally, anyway,” she said.

Many had stories of abuse they and their family members had suffered. They sang and chanted.

A spokesman for Sullivan says the senator was at a hearing at the time and says no one from his office called the cops. But there are rules about protesting in the Hart Senate Office Building, and a limit on how many people are allowed in Sullivan’s reception area.

Capitol Police came and arrested the protesters in the hallway outside the senator’s office suite.

Walsh said about 15 people were arrested. She’s not sure how many were Alaskans, but she said she was proud to be among them.

“All day today I felt my mother’s energy, and my sister’s energy and my grandmother’s energy. None of them are alive anymore,” Walsh said. “They were all abused in their lifetimes, in unspeakable ways. And my sister committed suicide because of it. So yeah. I felt proud.”

She paid a $50 fine and was free in time for an afternoon protest outside Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office.

Molly Haigh of Fairbanks helped organize the demonstration outside Sen. Murkowski’s office. Photo by Liz Ruskin.

Molly Haigh, originally from Fairbanks, helped organize that demonstration. She says a lot of Alaska girls are young when they suffer sexual abuse, like Christine Blasey Ford was when Kavanaugh allegedly attacked her. Haigh says many girls don’t feel they’ll be believed.

“And I want a world where all teenage girls believe that we’re going to care, even 50 years later,” Haigh said. “I wish somebody had told me that when I was 15 years old, and I want to tell every Alaskan girl that: that we are fighting because we want you to matter, today and tomorrow and in 50 years.”

Haigh says she thinks Murkowski is receptive to their message.

“Oh, 100 percent. I think that if there’s one thing we’ve seen today it’s that Sen. Murkowski has been more aggressive than any other Republican senator about an FBI investigation to try to find out more information,” Haigh said.

But Murkowski isn’t actually calling for a FBI  investigation. In the morning, the senator sounded like she might be.  She told CNN, “It would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn’t it?”

Murkowski struck a different note with me.

“The response that I made was perhaps somewhat flip in that if there was an investigation here, there wouldn’t be as many questions,” the senator said.

Murkowski said few people realize the Senate Judiciary Committee staff has continued to investigate.

“And that part of the information gathering process, I don’t think has been clearly articulated,” she said.

Among the other Alaskans arrested outside Sullivan’s office was Fred John of Delta Junction. He’s 75 years old and wore a sweatshirt printed with a photo of his mother.

“My mom is Katie John,” he said. “She fought for our way of life for over 30 years and she came out pretty good, and we want to keep it that way.”

Fred John said he worries Kavanaugh could undermine the Supreme Court’s Katie John decision that guarantees important subsistence rights. John said he was happy to get cuffed for a cause and said this wasn’t his first arrest for political protesting.

“In 1967, I was in L.A. and I marched with the black people, and we got beat up,” John said. But, he added, this time the police were very gentle and polite.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at