We Shall Overcome: A Cloudy Day at the Capitol Building
Tigerlily Theo Hopson
October 8th, 2018
As I waited to board the Megabus, I stared at Javits Convention Center. I tortured myself with memories of the last time I had looked up at this ominous building, almost two years ago, election night, 2016. I remembered waiting anxiously in this building for the results, surrounded by many others who had been lucky enough to get tickets to “Hillary’s Victory Party.” I remember how the pantsuit I had worn scratched me as I prayed that what seemed to be happening was only my imagination.
Today, I boarded the New York City Megabus, whose stop was coincidentally in front of Javits Center. Gloomy clouds swarmed the sky as the bus began its journey to Washington D.C. My headphones boomed Public Enemy rapping “Fight the Power,” as we zoomed past half-naked women on billboards, the words “gentlemen's club” pasted on their exteriors.
Five hours later, I arrived in D.C.. After running across some fellow protestors, my mom and I found out that the Kavanaugh vote was to take place momentarily inside the Capitol Building. We walked past a chanting crowd on our way to the capital of our nation, and found no one there. It was empty. Silent. Desolate. Only a few tourists wandered about, taking family photos.
Two blocks behind me, the crowd dimly roared in front of the Supreme Court building. Speeches and chants drifted through the air, but, it all seemed so wrong. It was like protesters were backed up into a neat little enclosure—from which we could yell and chant to our heart's’ content, but not bother anyone, and not be seen or heard by the voting senators. People were using their voices, but to whom?
My mom and I went back to the Supreme Court protest, to try to get people to come where the senators could hear them. My mom went up by a little podium where survivors told powerful stories, and asked a man if someone could make an announcement that the senators were starting the vote at the Capitol Building. The man rolled his eyes. “Nobody wants to be there,” he scoffed. “This is where the protest is. This is where we have the permit.” He went on to say that all the people who had protested by the Capitol earlier had gotten arrested—three hundred in total, according to him. We were determined to witness the vote.
So here I stood, in front of the Capitol Building, my sign held high, tears pricking the sides of my face. On the other side of these walls at that moment, senators were voting for our next Supreme Court Justice. Inside, they were deciding my future. Heavy fog clogged up the gloomy sky. Police officers paced in front of the building. One took a plastic zip-tie handcuff from his belt and fiddled with it. He looked at the few protestors who had silently arranged themselves. Almost daring us on.
Word of the vote began to spread, and people began to file solemnly onto the grass in front of the Capitol. Among the women in pink pussy hats, parents, children, veterans, people with Kavanaugh buttons, and women in hijabs, a man played “We Shall Overcome” on his phone, and the lyrics washed over me. Tears soared down my face in rivulets, as I watched this still and quiet assembly. Will we? Will we overcome? I thought. We have to. We at least have to try.
I broke out in sobs, memories of that November night at Javits Center flooding back in. It felt like America would never learn its lesson. Deep sorrow embedded my soul. The story of the Handmaid seemed like now it could easily become the story of my life. How could they allow someone who had sexually assaulted a girl in high school—a girl my same age—to represent us in the highest court of America? Is that who I was seen as in America? Someone to rape and then toss out like a dirty rag? Tears pounded down my face as I curled up into my mother’s arms. I felt the crowd around me like a blanket, their sighs and whispers soothing me.
A kind, silver-haired woman’s eyes began to well up, as she watched me slowly disintegrate. When she caught my attention, she thanked me. “Your generation gives me hope,” she said. Our generation. Like the generations who have come before us. Fighting for the generations who will come after us. It is our duty.
Another woman remarked that she had come all the way from California on a red-eye the night before. Her first protest was when she was seven and marched against Clarence Thomas. Here she is again, years later, incredulously fighting the same fight.
Senators began to file out one by one from the building, signifying the end of the vote. The first to exit was Elizabeth Warren. She strode right up to the crowd as it cheered, waving confidently, dressed in a hot pink blazer. After her, Republicans began to exit the building, and were welcomed with screams of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” At one point Ted Cruz strutted out waving, but he was greeted by continuous cheers of “Beto!” The senators left out of a side exit, but Mike Pence walked out on the front steps of the Capitol Building, and was met with high pitched screams and middle fingers. Pence was scared back into the building, and swarmed by the secret service. We had made him go back in. It was a small victory.
A cancer survivor at the front of the congregation screamed “Cowards!” on the top of her lungs. She was soon echoed by the the crowd, which had grown exponentially since the beginning of the vote. “Who is going to pay my bills when my breast cancer comes back?” she yelled. “Without healthcare, my life is ruined.”
When it seemed all the senators had left, people began to walk away, leaving me again alone to stare at the Capitol Building. It looked grey and empty under the dark muggy clouds. I waited for a long time, hoping someone would run out of the Capitol yelling, “Surprise! This was all a big joke!”, but I eventually joined the flock of people at the Supreme Court building. Cheers of “This is what democracy looks like!” and “We believe survivors!” rang in my ears. As darkness crept into the sky my mom and I left, and walked across the grass in front of the Capitol Building. No one was there.
I later found out that as I walked across that lawn, Brett Kavanaugh had been in the building getting confirmed at that very moment. No one remained in front of the Capitol to object or disrupt him. I felt a pang in my chest again that this was not right. The people were protesting at the right time, but at the wrong place.
At 8:00 p.m., I boarded the Megabus back to Javits Center. As I was rocked to sleep by the bus in motion, the vision of the empty Capitol Building haunted my mind. One thought became clear: we can impeach. We will impeach. We must impeach.
At 12:30 a.m. I got off the Megabus, and started the two hour journey home on the subway. The train platform was alive with people, and almost as crowded as it is in the daytime. As we waited to board the 1 Seventh Avenue Local Line, an African American woman read my sign and nodded. I had recycled my sign from the Women's March, the front detailing a picture I had drawn of a man ripping out a woman’s uterus in front of a government building.
“They’ve been raping us for too long,” she said. Her eyes had bags under them, and the deep wrinkles in her face seemed to be the result of her arduous history. She reminded me that although it might feel hopeless, we can not give up. We have to keep on fighting for ourselves and every woman. I will do it for that strong woman on the 1 Line.