Nadine Bloch: How did my daughter, Margot, and I find ourselves walking through the halls of Congress dressed in bright red robes and white bonnets ― and then end up arrested ― in the first week of September?
It wasn’t a big conversation. There wasn’t much to talk about before it happened.
Just a few days earlier, I had broken my own rule and turned my cell phone on as we reached the summit of an Adirondack mountain during our annual camping outing with longtime friends. As my teenage companions on the trip knew ― and no doubt used as motivation to get to the top ― this would be one of the only moments we might actually have cell coverage during our trip. So, we all fired up our phones and were momentarily jarred from the pristine wilderness back into the bustle and frenzy of our daily lives in Washington, D.C.
“Hey, there are demonstrations happening when the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings start on Tuesday,” I told Margot. “Friends are dressing up as a Handmaids with a group called Demand Justice. We’d have to be up early and at the meeting spot by 7:30 a.m. Want to come with me?”
“Sure,” she said. “I guess that means we have to drive all the way home on Monday. Ugh. 10 hours in a car on a holiday weekend. But I’ll do it.”
It wouldn’t be the first time we had gone to a demonstration or protest together, but it would be the first time she would be making the decision as an adult, having turned 18 earlier this summer. For me, I was ecstatic to hear of a way for us to plug into the variety of activities planned to challenge the Supreme Court nomination of an anti-woman, anti-environment, anti-health care, anti-immigrant threat to our nation within hours of getting home.
It wouldn’t be the first time we had gone to a demonstration or protest together, but it would be the first time my daughter would be making the decision as an adult, having turned 18 earlier this summer. Nadine Bloch
As someone who has been working as a nonviolent activist and trainer for over 30 years, I’d been brainstorming with others about what to do, when the Kavanaugh nomination was first announced, to creatively, strategically and powerfully support senators to stand up to this outrageous move by President Donald Trump and say NO to this threat to our democracy and rights.
I was relieved that Margot didn’t miss a beat. Both of us wanted to do something ― not sit by while Kavanaugh was considered for such a powerful and influential position, especially when he has shown he doesn’t support a woman’s right to choose, doesn’t believe in birth control, doesn’t support the protection of the earth or endangered species and refuses to say whether he believes pre-existing conditions need to be covered by health care, among other disturbing admissions. Not to mention he was nominated by a “president” who is also guilty of these biases ― and, I truly believe, is an unindicted co-conspirator to crimes to boot.
So, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, both of us, along with 15 others, dressed up as Handmaids on Capitol Hill, sweating buckets under our bonnets and long robes in 100-degree heat as we walked two by two, silently, in character.
In case you’re not familiar with the now-iconic Handmaid image, it’s from a Hulu TV show based on the 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The red dress and white bonnets the Handmaids are required to wear invoke the specter of a horrific future in which fertility is so low that a religious group has waged a coup and now controls the United States, wherein fertile woman are forced to become human birthing machines and all women’s rights are limited.
You may think this is an improbable future, but given the recent (and not so recent) attacks on women’s access to health care, including birth control, Roe v. Wade and our environment, as well as social conservatives’ hostility to women in general, it doesn’t feel that unlikely ― or that far off ― to us and many others.
We all know it’s not easy to challenge men’s sexist behavior or words, and over the past couple of years, it has been powerful to witness my own kid holding her own when coaches, teachers and other students needed to be called out and held accountable.
Still, young folks need support from the rest of us ― we elders got us into the mess we’re in now, and we need to step up and take some responsibility for fixing it. So we came together, young and old, to protest, and we used the Handmaid as the symbol of all of the terrifying things that that could eventually come to pass if someone like Kavanaugh makes it to the Supreme Court.
We elders got us into the mess we’re in now, and we need to step up and take some responsibility for fixing it. Nadine Bloch
Margot Bloch: I grew up in a community full of activists and good troublemakers, watching my mom put so much on the line to fight for what she thinks is right. Through her creative activism ― which, over the years, has included building giant puppets, making signs and marching in the streets ― my mom raised me to learn the importance of change and working for what you want.
I spent my childhood going to marches and protests about everything from environmental change to immigration to economic policies. In fact, at 6 months old, I was sitting in my stroller at George W. Bush’s inauguration with a sign that read “BASTA! Babies Against State Terrorism Anywhere!” As I’ve gotten older, I have found my own place and purpose in activism and I’ve worked with anti-racism school groups and tried to make change on everything from gun violence to climate change.
Wearing a red gown and white bonnet with wings like the ones that the Handmaids wear created a world of limited mobility and vision while hiding almost my entire face and body. At the same time, I felt nowhere near hidden from the public eye, and I could feel every person’s neck ― and every photographer’s camera ― turning toward me as we walked by. After all, Handmaids in bright red and white aren’t exactly a normal sight in Washington, D.C.― nor should they ever be.
Dressing up and acting like a Handmaid was a different experience than other protests I’ve been involved in because it was much more of a theatrical political performance and truly a statement piece. The costumes were suffocating, and I was unable to be myself. If we broke character, everyone around us would take notice. I definitely felt controlled. It was really hard to do this for a few hours during a couple of days, and I can’t imagine living my life this way.
Once our initial protest in our Handmaid costumes was over, my mom and I felt a call to do something more. Since the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings were still going on and the line to enter the room was short, we decided to join the activists who were intent on disrupting the hearing.
Public viewers were only allowed in the hearing room for 15 minutes, but it was painful to listen to what was being discussed for even 10. I don’t understand how senators could sit in that room all day and ignore the cries and screams of women, people with disabilities, immigrants and children as if they aren’t even worthy of being having their rights ― and their lives ― protected. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t nervous, because I was, but honestly, I don’t think I could have been in that room and not disrupted what I was witnessing.
This was going to be my first time being arrested for my activism (or otherwise), and though it seems a little weird to say this, the thought of it happening didn’t seem that intimidating or unusual to me.
There have been nights in my past when I came home from school only to find family friends at my house because my mom had been arrested for protesting. So I knew from her experiences what to expect, and though I knew there were times when the police had treated her horribly, she always made it home safely. I believed in what she had done ― and what we were now doing together ― and being arrested seemed like a small price to pay to make a statement that I knew was important, powerful and necessary.
Because we were crammed into the hearing room, my mom and I were separated, but each of us was still positioned near others who were also planning to disrupt the proceedings. I waited for the perfect moment to make my move, and when there was a brief lull in the hearing, I got up on my chair and began yelling, “I’m 18! I’m here for the youth of this country! You’re ruining my future!” as the police grabbed me and lifted me through a door in the side of the room.
I don’t think I could have been in that room and not disrupted what I was witnessing. Margot Bloch
The cops were rough with me and the other protesters as they dragged us out of the room, but once we were out, they were pretty calm. We were handcuffed, put in police vans and brought to a holding area before we were processed and then released.
The whole time though, we were together with our community of activists and had people waiting for us on the other side. We all sang songs of protest and resistance together, and I could feel the support from everyone around me. It’s hard to explain what an incredible feeling it is to be surrounded by a community that has your back, and I’m especially thankful to organizers and activists from groups like the Center for Popular Democracy and Housing Works for providing action and jail support.
Nadine: It was powerful to hear my daughter raise up her own voice in resistance, taking a risk for what she believes in. However, as her mother, I also found myself in an odd position in that moment ― both glad she was there and proud of her for what she was doing, but also slightly worried that the police would handle her roughly or inappropriately. Yes, it’s a small fear compared to what is at stake for our nation, but nonetheless a real and unshakable one for a parent.
This experience at Kavanaugh’s hearing reinforced what I know to be true as an activist and trainer: It’s invaluable to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, even for 90 seconds of role-playing. To stand for hours as a Handmaid in the halls of Congress was excruciating, terrifying, but ultimately extremely motivating to join and represent the resistance in this way. #WeWontGoBack.
The reality is that once I found myself in one of those suffocating outfits designed to keep women in their place, the weight of our oppressive system and the fear of what this country could become was suddenly even more tangible for me. It also felt creepy ― too close to potential reality. We felt vulnerable.
Once I found myself in one of those suffocating outfits designed to keep women in their place, the weight of our oppressive system and the fear of what this country could become was suddenly even more tangible for me. It also felt creepy ― too close to potential reality. Nadine Bloch
It was good to walk together, not alone. When we raised our heads to peer out at those looking at us, we could see that the Handmaids were jarring to many. I hoped we’d be a coherent warning of what could be in our futures, and as an artist, I hoped the use of the Handmaid costumes might get through to those who work in the capital Beltway and halls of Congress in a way that other protests might not. Maybe, I reasoned, this striking image would reach them in their gut and provoke an empathetic and emotional response that could help shift their consciousness and possibly even effect real change.
The intensity of the Handmaid roleplay also led us to develop a quick camaraderie across our diverse group of activists, and some of the members are already planning to meet up again. Handmaid Happy Hour, anyone? Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Someone suggested it might be more appropriate to go with “Bitches in Bonnets,” but, either way, it’s all about sisters in resistance!
I am encouraged by this intense feeling and will do whatever I can to help stoke it in order to continue making connections and help grow investment in activism however and wherever I can. This is the essence of people power, and I truly believe that without civic engagement where compassion leads to action, we are doomed.
Margot: Given what is happening in our country and around the world today, I am more inspired and motivated than ever to be an agent for change. The older I get, the more I realize that we must use our own privilege and be willing to make sacrifices in order to fight for what we truly care about.
In the end, this isn’t just about blocking Brett Kavanaugh’s ascent to the Supreme Court (which, to be clear, is absolutely imperative). We must band together to fix our broken political system and challenge injustice whenever we encounter it. It’s only when we work together that we can challenge our unjust systems of racism, patriarchy and economic injustice. In order to win equality and rights for everyone, we will need as many people as possible to pledge their time, energy and resources to the resistance.