Knitting the Rows of Justice

This is the 14th time I’ve written this blog post, which was originally about Bill Cosby’s sentencing. Then, over and over, news broke about Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Certainly this isn’t a news-reporting blog. All I can do hopefully is offer some insight or at least opinion, but even opinion and certainly insight should depend on fact—unless you’re Trump and his minions. Scattered fragments of my blog drafts—printed out sheets, notepaper jottings, post-it-size scribbles—flutter across my desk, together with statistics from my clip-files. They read almost like a found poem assembled by a woman going mad. Here’s just a sampling:

• Dr. Blasey (she prefers to be called that but nobody does!): vulnerable, heroic. Asked about memory, the professor calmly educates committee as to the hippocampus. Terrified. But grace & dignity. Tries to be helpful. Eager to please, oh god.
• Is Orrin Hatch human?
• Her breathing changes when she enters the scene in memory. What she remembers most: the two men laughing. Their laughter. Their laughter . . .
• Grassley can’t even pronounce the word Ramirez, as in Deborah Ramirez, 2nd woman asking to testify, being ignored.
• Rachel Mitchell imported to interrogate Blasey in hope nobody’s noticing all 11 committee Repubs white men—who eventually dump her & take over anyway.
• Julie Swetnick, 3rd. to accuse Kav. (gang rape) is decorated US gov’t employee, has security clearance from Dept. of State, Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Homeland Security, & Customs and Border Protection. Also not called to testify.
• Committee (& Senate) rules openly flouted by Repubs—floor littered with broken precedent & laws.
1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually assaulted in this country.
• Kavanaugh: indignant, entitled, belligerent, petulant. Blatantly partisan, shockingly rude to sitting Senators. Women members of the House have come to stand in silence, staring at committee; 5—Alma Adams, Gwen Moore, Ann Kuster, Jackie Speier, Debbie Dingell—send letter stating they have been victims of domestic and sexual assault & never told.
60% of sexual assaults in US go unreported. Some studies show higher percentage.
• Kav. blusters, shouts, interrupts, yells. Then cries. Tries to interrogate Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar! Is so offensive has to apologize later but does so with a sneer: “Sorry about that.” Lies, lies, little casual lies, big bold lies. Terrifies with his anger, then sniffs sentimentally over Dad and sports. Sobs in self-pity. Classic male alcoholic behavior. Female alcoholics display different behaviors.
• GOP senators bemoan how horrible this is for poor Kav.
• Yale Law School students hold town hall on sexual assault after campus sit-in so large causes cancellation of classes. Women sitting in at committee members’ Senate offices, demonstrating in front of Supreme Court dressed in black, marching outside Jeff Flake’s Arizona offices dressed in red like Handmaid’s Tale prisoners. Mormon Women for Ethical Government, nonpartisan Utah-based group with 6000 members in all 50 states, sends letter to all 4 Mormons on committee—Hatch & Lee of Utah, Flake of Arizona, Crapo of Idaho: Please suspend proceedings until thorough investigation is done. American Bar Assoc. does same. Repubs ignore.
• Moving to vote anyway. Hirono, Harris, & Booker walk out in protest.
• OMG. Flake, Coons (Del.), & Klobuchar strike hallway deal: delay vote a week for FBI check!!!??
• OMG! Women in hallway trapped Flake in elevator—two impassioned Latinas—GET THEIR NAMES!— furious, weeping: “Look at me don’t look away from me I’m a survivor you are saying I don’t matter you are saying to all women we don’t matter.” OMG OMG Murkowski now backs deal. Now Collins. McConnell livid, Grassley befuddled, somewhere else Kav. & Trump in splenetic frenzy.
Floor vote delayed one week. McConnell knows he doesn’t have the votes. Temporary victory.

Temporary victories are like individual rows knitted toward completion of a garment—something comforting, soft but sturdy; something warm, something to wear with pride and delight, like freedom. Each row seems inconsequential, sometimes even tedious. But each row is essential. There can be no dropped stitches. Without each row, the work unravels, because where we’re going relies on where we’ve been, and shows us how to go on. Reverse needles and start again. Row by row by row.

That means we dare not overlook one triumph over injustice while pursuing another.

Gratifying as is the validation for Bill Cosby’s numerous victims/survivors on learning he was actually being remanded to prison, admittedly there was also something sad about seeing this man in his 80s, an African American icon, “America’s Dad,” being led away in handcuffs. But I worry about all the women who hand-wring over male sexual predators’ lives being ruined, while you never hear a group of men grieving over the devastated lives of female victims. So I couldn’t help noticing a few things:

Being in your 80s doesn’t qualify you for automatic cleansing of your earlier acts. Being an African American icon, as the black community often points out, usually means demonstrating acceptance by white people—and in fact “The Cosby Show” was lauded because the family was so “recognizable,” “decent,”” and “just like every other family,” all code words for the generic—and the generic in a white racist society is, naturally, white. Cosby did bestow major funding on black institutions, but the active philanthropist was Camille Cosby, not her husband. As for America’s Dad, well, maybe. After all, we still lack any reliable tally of the abuse, sexual and other, committed by America’s Dads. We do know about the epidemic of “absent Dads”—absent emotionally and/or literally. We do know that in poor communities of every ethnic group, single mothers proliferate, from rape or seduction and abandonment. We do know that when Suzanne Braun Levine, in her now-classic book, Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First, interviewed men of different ages, classes, ethnicities, and sexualities all across the US about the kind of father they’d want to be, they replied in almost identical words: “Not like my father.” Finally, we do know that though rumors and even depositions about Cosby had floated around for decades, no women were listened to until a man, Hannibal Burress, a standup comic who is African-American, referred to Cosby as a rapist during a comedy routine. After the video of that moment went viral, women began to be listened to, and then more women could come forward.

It’s been a long, long time and so many rows knitted since 2004, when Cosby fed Andrea Constand drugs and raped her. Myriad other Cosby cases fell outside the statute of limitations; in this one case that didn’t, it has taken almost 15 years to win justice. Row by row. And since Cosby refused to show remorse at his sentencing because he reportedly still sees nothing wrong with what he did, I’m going to feel no sympathy for what he faces.

Bill Cosby, now inmate NN7687, has spent these last 5 days, the first of his 3 to 10-year term, in a maximum-security state prison in Pennsylvania, where he’s kept isolated out of concern for his safety. He’d been allowed to stay at his home for months while awaiting sentencing. Now he occupies a single 7 x 13 foot cell with a 10 foot ceiling, near the infirmary. Prisoners are counted four times a day: 2 AM, 12:30 PM, 6:30 PM, 9 PM. Breakfast at 7 AM, lunch at 11 AM, dinner at 4:55 PM. At lunch one day this past week, dessert was pudding, a product for which Cosby was once the pitchman.

At some point, they have to listen to us. At some point, when two women in tears of furious pain trap a white Mormon male senator in an elevator, he has to look at us. At some point, Yale law students and factory workers, congresswomen and waitresses, farmworkers and movie stars, the named and unnamed, become visible. Thank you, Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, Andrea Constand, Julie Swetnick, Ana Maria Archilla, Maria Gallagher, all those voices crying from the human heart. Thank you, Anita Faye Hill.

Look at us when we talk to you! Don’t look away from us! Don’t just say Thank you and look away Senator! LOOK at us, NN7687! LOOK US IN THE EYE.