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Kavanaugh protests challenge supreme court injustice

Faline Bobier

October 10, 2018

The recent spectacle of the confirmation of Republican Brett Kavanagh's nomination to the Supreme Court in the US is yet more proof, if we needed it, that women's oppression is alive and well and being supported, condoned and encouraged by Trump and his cronies.

Some on the left have commented on events asking how anyone could be shocked about the venality of the Supreme Court or have any illusions that this body would ever deliver justice for women, Blacks or working-class people in general. On one level, of course, this is true. The judicial system in the US, like all judicial systems under capitalism, pretends to neutrality but in fact rules in the interests of the few over the many.

Capitalist institutions

Here is American writer and activist Howard Zinn on the folly of depending on the US Supreme Court for justice: “The law can be just; it can be unjust. It does not deserve to inherit the ultimate authority of the divine right of the king. The Constitution gave no rights to working people: no right to work less than twelve hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance. The Brown decision on school desegregation did not come from a sudden realization of the Supreme Court that this is what the Fourteenth Amendment called for. After all, it was the same Fourteenth Amendment that had been cited in the Plessy case upholding racial segregation. It was the initiative of brave families in the South—along with the fear by the government, obsessed with the Cold War, that it was losing the hearts and minds of colored people all over the world—that brought a sudden enlightenment to the Court."

Likewise, in the 1970s it was not the Supreme Court that was responsible for finally winning women's right to abortion through the Roe vs. Wade decision, but the efforts of the women's movement and of hundreds of thousands of women and men who mobilized to defend a woman's right to choose, along with the right to equal pay and against discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

However, not to recognize that the nomination of a ruling class, entitled misogynist scum like Brett Kavanagh matters in the current context is to ignore why thousands of women and men in the US mobilized against his nomination. Hundreds staged a sit-in against Kavanaugh's nomination on Capitol Hill where Capitol Police arrested a total of 302 people. Thousands more stormed the steps of the Capitol when the vote was taking place. Millions followed the testimony of Dr. Blasey-Ford in the live broadcast, as she testified about being sexually assaulted by Kavanagh 36 years ago.

The disgusting spectacle of known sexual harasser Donald Trump mocking Blasey-Ford at a rally in Kentucky days after her testimony only underlines the fact that the rot definitely starts at the top.

Of course, the Democratic Party wants to funnel all the anger into the mid-term elections in November. And some who participated in the rallies and demonstrations against Kavanagh's nomination will see that as the only hope.

Faint hope, since when there really did seem to be a different vision on offer with Bernie Sanders, a vision which resonated with ordinary people—a vision of an anti-racist, feminist and socialist America where working class people could actually get ahead—the establishment preferred to lose with Hillary Clinton, the ruling class candidate who claimed that America, with its institutional racism, sexism and anti-working class bias was “already great.”

Struggle from below

But for many others who have been involved in the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, teachers' strikes and other protests over the last two years, this is the latest episode in a continuing process of education about the reality of the power structure inside the US.

Karl Marx wrote that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of that class itself, because it is only working people who have a real interest in getting rid of capitalism, but also because people must rid themselves of the “muck of ages” in order to be fit to bring forth the new society.

The “muck of ages” refers to all the backward ideas – sexism, racism, homophobia – that divide us from each other and make it that much more difficult to confront the powers that keep us in our place. When people go into struggle it is often around questions of identity, such as we are seeing with the current reaction of many women to the horrible sexism brought to light through the hearings to confirm Kavanagh.

The reaction of the left should not be to 'instruct' women that it's silly to protest because it's clear the Supreme Court is rigged from the start. As Russian revolutionary Lenin argued socialists need to be the “tribune of the oppressed,” which means struggling alongside those who are fighting and at the same time arguing about the way forward, not standing on the sidelines above the fray.

How could people living under this system, which seeks to divide and conquer by using our identities against us in concrete material ways, not react to events which underline our oppression? In a recent column for the Guardian, Gary Younge, a Black British writer and activist, explains why people mobilize around the question of identity:

"When […] women are being paid 18% less than men, gender is a material concern; when for every $100 in wealth a white person has in the US an African-American has just $5, race is a material issue. Likewise, if there is no lift and you’re disabled. If you can’t get married to the person you love and can’t leave them your pension, sexual orientation is a material issue. If you can’t walk down the street without fear of the police stopping, searching or shooting you, or if you cannot control decisions about your own fertility, those are material issues. Acknowledging diversity does not undermine solidarity. Indeed by rendering it more inclusive and better informed, it should make that solidarity more effective. ‘Labour in the white skin,’ wrote that flaky identity hipster, Karl Marx, ‘can never free itself as long as labour in the black skin is branded.’"

Through struggle people can and do learn that their oppression is connected to that of other groups, and beyond that, to an economic and political system that thrives on keeping us all down.

Emily Comer, a leader in last spring’s teachers’ strike, confronted West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, one of the Democratic fence sitters in terms of whether or not he would support Kavanagh's nomination. Manchin tried to convince protestors that they should wait for the FBI investigation to take its course. This is how Comer responded:

"We don’t need an FBI investigation to know that Brett Kavanaugh is bad for women and is bad for Americans quite frankly. Even before the assault allegations we know where Brett Kavanaugh stands on reproductive rights. We know where Brett Kavanaugh stands on health care. We know where Brett Kavanaugh stands on unions. And he stands directly opposed to all of those things. Speaking as someone who is a sexual assault survivor, who is a union member, who just went on strike with workers who were 74 percent women against austerity..."

The protests around Kavanagh's nomination are a step in the direction of ordinary people taking control and not relying on the Democrats, the “rule of law” or the Supreme Court to win their rights.

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