The two women who helped alter the course of American legal history by staging an impromptu protest in a Washington lift have revealed they were driven by memories of private trauma and inspired by the courage of Christine Blasey Ford.
New Yorkers Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher loudly berated Senator Jeff Flake for planning to back Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the supreme court on Friday, influencing him to alter his view. Afterwards they spoke of their personal motivations for cornering him in the Senate offices.
Archila, a 39-year-old from Queens, has disclosed that she was assaulted at the age of five.
“I wanted [Flake] to feel my rage,” she said. “I believe Judge Kavanaugh is dangerous for women.”
Archila, a co-director at the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a not-for-profit advocacy group that campaigns for an “inclusive, equitable society”, and her fellow protester, Gallagher, have been hailed as heroines by Democrats and by international supporters of the #MeToo movement for persuading the Republican senator, at the eleventh hour, to call for a week-long FBI investigation before Kavanaugh’s nomination was agreed. Kavanaugh, 53, has been accused of sexually attacking Dr Christine Blasey Ford 36 years ago.
“If it was just my story and Maria’s story it would not have made a difference. It was the fact that it was thousands of women’s stories,” Archila said on Saturday.
“I did it in solidarity with Dr Ford. All the emotions I have felt over the last weeks came pouring out. It was Dr Ford’s story that allowed me to tell this secret to my parents. I now have to do the work of how my parents [and I] process this experience, and I don’t know how this is going to go.”
Archila’s father discovered his daughter had been assaulted as a child when he watched news footage of the encounter with Senator Flake. Archila said he messaged her immediately to apologise for not having protected her.
Speaking to Newsnight, Archila said the encounter with the senator took place soon after she and Gallagher had read that he planned to back Kavanaugh’s nomination in the committee meeting he was about to attend. Flake, she said, appeared to want “to be anywhere else but in that elevator”.
She said: “Immediately after he came out of his office, we – in an outpouring of frustration and rage and sadness and anger – stopped him, confronted him and forced him to listen to our stories and … questions.
“We forced him to listen to our stories. He, I think, understood and had to confront the level of pain and rage that women across the country were feeling watching Dr Ford being put on trial in front of millions of people. I think that he had to confront the emotion and examine his decisions again,” she said.
Speaking to the American media, she explained the impact of Ford’s testimony on her. “When the #MeToo movement broke out, I thought about saying it — but I wrote things and deleted it and eventually decided I can’t say, ‘me too’. But when Dr Blasey [Ford] did it, I forced myself to think about it again.”
Gallagher, a 23-year-old from Westchester, has also talked about her actions in the lift, tweeting that she was relieved to learn that Senator Flake had “heard their voices”. “We absolutely need an FBI investigation and for him and all senators to vote NO,” she wrote.
Gallagher said she had never told anyone about the assault she suffered and that her mother called her after seeing her protest on television, adding that the family conversation to come would not be easy.
“It was all kind of a blur. We all ran after him. We held open the elevator and I just started telling him why it was important and what had happened to me and why he should not let Brett Kavanaugh on the supreme court,” she recalled.
“He wouldn’t meet my eye. It made me very angry,” Gallagher continued. “He kept saying ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ and wasn’t taking into account what his actions would be doing to millions of people and what this means for everyone.”
Gallagher has not given further details of an assault she said she never expected to reveal to a US senator.
Asked if she thought it was their efforts that had led Flake to change his mind, Archila spoke of the outpouring from all those who had come forward to tell their stories.
She said: “I think if it had been just me, just me and Maria telling our stories, it would have had no consequence. It was the result of thousands of people coming out telling their stories, showing up to their offices and millions of people watching Dr Blasey Ford being put on trial.
“It is really the result of the collective effort, of all of us trying to make sure that our country does not shy away from staring at the darkness and shame of sexual violence, and a culture that condones it, but ignoring survivors.”