An Astoria lesbian activist long involved in the fight for immigrant rights and the empowerment of New York City lower-income communities was one of two women who confronted Senator Jeff Flake on Friday morning, September 28 just moments after the Arizona Republican, a member of the Judiciary Committee, announced he would vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice.
Ana María Archila, who is the co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, which works with grassroots organizations and labor unions across a broad range of progressive issues, had traveled to the US Capitol on a number of occasions in recent weeks to protest the Kavanaugh appointment. As the Judiciary Committee was preparing on the morning of the 28th to vote on advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, Archila and another activist, Maria Gallagher of Westchester County, whom she had just met, spied Flake as he was approaching an elevator in the Capitol. They scurried after him.
As Archila held her foot in the elevator’s door, Gallagher, a sexual assault survivor, said to Flake, “Look at me when I’m talking to you. You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter. That what happened to me doesn’t matter. That you’re going to let people who do those things into power.”
Archila, who several days earlier, while standing outside Flake’s office, had for the first time publicly told the story of her own sexual assault as a five-year-old child, said to the senator, “You are allowing someone who is unwilling to take responsibly for his actions to sit in the highest court of country. Do you think he is able to hold the pain of this country and repair it? That is the work of justice.”
The exchange was captured and broadcast by CNN.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Archila said she had never before told her parents the story of her abuse, fearing they would “feel that they had failed in taking care of me.” She said she texted her father on Friday to alert him, “You’re going to hear something that we haven’t talked about, and I want you to know that I’m okay.”
Several hours after Flake’s encounter with the women, he, alone among the 11 Republicans on the 21-member Judiciary Committee, made his vote to advance the Kavanaugh nomination to the Senate floor conditional on the FBI reopening its background investigation into the nominee to take account of sexual abuse allegations made by three women against him. The committee’s vote came just one day after dramatic testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the first of his accusers, and an angry rebuttal by the judge.
Interviewed Friday evening by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Archila said of her decision to speak publicly about her abuse as a child, “It was an incredibly painful moment. I did it because I feel this country needs to hear these stories. I did it in solidarity with Dr. Ford. And I did it to protect my children.”
Though Flake “wanted those elevator doors to close and that conversation to end,” Archila told Cooper, “I saw in his face that he could not escape the emotions.”
Describing Kavanaugh as a danger to “our country… to the rights of women to choose what we do with our bodies, [and]… to our health care,” Archila said, “The way that justice works is that we recognize harm, we take responsibility for that harm, and only then can we begin to repair it. And I don’t think Brett Kavanaugh is able to take responsibility for his actions, therefore he should not have the power to take responsibility for the actions of the country.”
Disclaiming any direct credit for Flake’s move on the Judiciary Committee, Archila said: “If it had been just one story, my story and Maria’s story, it would not have made a difference.” It was Blasey Ford’s testimony, backed by thousands of stories, she said, that made the impression on Flake.
Prior to assuming the leadership at the Center for Popular Democracy, Archila was co-executive director of its sister organization, Make the Road New York, which works on behalf of and to empower its more than 16,000 working class immigrants, most of them Latinx, from the city and Long Island. Herself an immigrant from Colombia, Archila, in a 2013 Gay City News op-ed, argued that the needs of LGBTQ immigrants must be addressed in any acceptable immigration reform effort. Archila was a 2017 Gay City News Impact Award recipient.
Since the FBI reopened its investigation into Kavanuagh’s background, congressional Democrats have voiced strong concerns about the limited interview list it is working from and the tight constraints that the White House and Senate Republicans are exercising over its scope. The query is due to be completed within a week.