Ana Maria Archila On Confronting Jeff Flake NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Ana Maria Archila of the Center for Popular Democracy about her widely-publicized confrontation with Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona in a Capitol Hill elevator.

Ana Maria Archila On Confronting Jeff Flake

Ana Maria Archila On Confronting Jeff Flake

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NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Ana Maria Archila of the Center for Popular Democracy about her widely-publicized confrontation with Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona in a Capitol Hill elevator.


In Washington on Friday, all eyes were on Senator Jeff Flake, the Republican from Arizona. As the Senate judiciary committee was approaching its vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Flake slipped out from the hearing room. When he returned, he made a surprise announcement, calling for an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. That morning, he had been confronted by two women as he entered a Capitol Hill elevator. They were recounting their sexual assaults and demanding action.


ANA MARIA ARCHILA: Senator Flake...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But why did you (unintelligible)?

ARCHILA: ...On Monday, I stood in front of your office with Ali Barton (ph). I told the story of my sexual assault. I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford's story that she's telling the truth. You have children in your family. Think about them. I have two children. What are you doing, sir?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The exchange between Senator Flake, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila was broadcast live on CNN. Ana Maria joins us now. She's co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. Welcome to the program.

ARCHILA: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Part of what you did when you confronted Senator Flake is talk about your own story of sexual assault. I mean, was that something that you knew you were going to tell him about, or was it something that kind of just came out? Because it's - if you listen to the tape, it's incredibly emotional.

ARCHILA: So only a few days before that interaction in the elevator, I had stood in front of his office with hundreds of people who were visiting different members of the Senate. And I had decided in that moment to tell my story, a story that I had kept quiet for more than 30 years. And I did it both inspired by all the women and all the men that are telling their stories of surviving sexual violence, reliving our trauma in order to help our country really face the darkness of kind of the culture that condones sexual violence.

So on Friday, when the judiciary committee was getting ready to vote, I decided to go back to his office. I had just met this young woman, Maria, a few minutes before. And so we both went hoping that we would be able to just talk to him. We were not really prepared to confront him in this way.

But a few minutes before we saw him, we realized that he had already made up his mind that he was going to support Brett Kavanaugh. And both of us just kind of - the - like, let the emotions that had been swelling up after weeks and weeks of hearing these stories and knowing that Dr. Ford represents us and so many women. We allowed our emotions to come to the surface. And we decided that we wanted him to really be confronted with the gravity of the decision that he was about to make.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should say Senator Flake has said your protest didn't influence his decision. The entire encounter was captured live on CNN. Do you think that had something to do with what happened?

ARCHILA: I think if it had been just my story or just Maria's story, it would not have made a difference. It's really the accumulation of thousands and thousands of stories, of hundreds and hundreds of people that are traveling to Washington, D.C., from across the country, showing up at the doorsteps of - the offices of Senator Flake, Senator Collins, Senator Murkowski and many others and, really, Dr. Ford's courage and bravery in putting herself through this incredibly difficult process to protect the country. And, yes, the cameras are important because they allow the world to see, and they create pressure. But that pressure wouldn't exist if people hadn't been actually showing up in those moments that are not captured in the cameras.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator Flake has called for a new FBI investigation on Kavanaugh. And that's apparently going to go forward. How do you feel about where things stand now? I mean, are you happy with the result? Do you think that this is what you had wanted?

ARCHILA: I am reminded of the power that we have as people to come together, to listen to that seed that tell us I must do something. I am reminded that that's how we make change in this country. But I think one week seems to me and to many others like a very artificial deadline.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to end by asking you what you think it'll mean if Kavanaugh is confirmed after the testimony that we saw.

ARCHILA: I think Kavanaugh's really dangerous for this country. I think he's dangerous for women. I think he's dangerous for people who desperately need health care. And I think he's dangerous because he will undermine the legitimacy of the court. I also - I am a lesbian woman. My wife and I are raising two children. I am afraid for my family. So his nomination would cause me pain. And that's why I'm here. At the end of the day, that's why I'm here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ana Maria Archila of the Center for Popular Democracy. She was one of two women who confronted Senator Jeff Flake on Capitol Hill on Friday. Thank you very much.

ARCHILA: Thank you so much.

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