The Trump Administration Thinks Grad Students Aren’t Workers. Grad Students Tell Them to Think Again.
Graduate students aren't just mobilizing against the NLRB. They're demanding democracy in their workplace.
A judge on the highest court in the land should be required to — at the very least — cross the lowest bar of qualifications. With every passing day, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh proves he is further and further from jumping that hurdle.
Kavanaugh’s nomination was controversial even before multiple women accused him of sexual abuse. A wide range of groups banded together in the wake of Kavanaugh’s nomination to oppose his confirmation to the Supreme Court. Before the recent allegations were revealed, activists were already concerned about the judge’s potential impact on everything from reproductive justice to workers rights to environmental protections.
Now, activists across the United States are standing up in solidarity with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — who testified last Thursday in front of the Senate Judicial Committee about her alleged assault by Kavanaugh — and all survivors of sexual violence. In doing so, they’re also demanding accountability for the members of an elite class who have long lived by their own set of rules.
Protests have grown significantly in the days since Dr. Ford stepped forward. Women have shared their own stories of sexual violence with legislators in an attempt to sway them from confirming the judge. As activists sprang into action, many people across the country expressed their frustration that such a deeply unpopular figure could receive a lifetime appointment to one of the most important governing bodies in the country. Judith Howell, a D.C.-based security officer and leader within SEIU 32BJ, summed up the frustration succinctly at a rally outside the Capitol on Friday.
“We’re tired of the voices of political donors being more influential than those of the men and women who vote for those politicians. We’re tired of the voices of sexual assault victims being ignored so that people like Brett Kavanaugh can make decisions about what women are allowed to do with their own healthcare and with their own bodies.”
“Let us be clear,” Howell said, “it is the people who are just trying to put their allies on the court who are manipulating this process.” After all, elites have long been rewriting the rules of politics to benefit themselves at the expense of the rest of the country. Naturally, they play the same game on an interpersonal level as well.
As sociologist Shamus Khan writes in the Washington Post, Kavanaugh’s affluent upbringing and elite education likely cultivated a sense that the rules don’t apply. During his testimony, Kavanuagh kept reminding the public that he got into Yale (though he omitted the fact that he was a legacy at the Ivy League) in an effort to suggest his academic accomplishments meant he was less likely to be a serial abuser. But, Khan cites study after study showing that the narrative of exceptionalism at those academic institutions allow their students to believe they can behave as they please without consequences.
There’s plenty of data to explain their lack of concern. Research has shown that affluent white youth are far less likely than black and brown youth, as well as working-class white kids of the same age, to face the consequences for breaking the law. The exclusivity of schools like Georgetown Prep provide, in part, protection from repercussion for those who help maintain the charade of deservedness.
One anonymous Georgetown Prep alum, for example, attempted to cast doubt on another Kavanaugh accuser, Julie Swetnick, by deriding her public school background and suggesting she wasn’t likely to run in the same circles as the judge. Kavanaugh hinted at the values of this exclusivity himself in a speech at Columbus School of Law in 2015, when he said that “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep. That’s been a good thing for all of us.”
But every passing day of the confirmation process removes a little more of the veneer that protects elites like Kavanaugh, revealing a darkness that’s long been common knowledge, but rarely explicitly named. The polish gets removed with every account from women like Dr. Ford, who comes from the same world as Kavanaugh and can testify to its corruption. And it continues to be removed when public citizens demand accountability from a government that’s supposed to serve the people, not protect the elite.
Tamika Turner, who spoke outside the Capitol on Friday on behalf of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, summed it up as she urged senators to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“Going to prep school doesn’t make serving on the court your birthright. Going to an Ivy League doesn’t make serving on the court your birthright. And being a white man who has never been held accountable for his actions doesn’t make serving on the court your birthright.”