The woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty speaks out at 'Stop Kavanaugh' rally

Kadia Tubman
Reporter

Statue of Liberty climber Therese Patricia Okoumou, who ascended the base of the statue on July 4 to protest the Trump administration’s policies, stood before a crowd of New Yorkers on Sunday wearing her favorite green dress with the words “I really do care, why won’t u?” on the back.

The slogan was a reference to the jacket first lady Melania Trump wore in June to visit migrant children on the Texas border. The occasion was a protest at city hall against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

And there, in front of several hundred strangers, she revealed her reason for opposing Kavanaugh.

“I’ve had two abortions in my life and I am proud,” Okoumou told the crowd. “As a woman, it’s my body and it’s my choice, America.”

Therese Patricia Okoumou, Statue of Liberty climber and ICE protester. (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This was the first time Okoumou, 44, publicly shared her story. “I wanted to make a statement,” she said. “The easiest way to do it was to disclose my abortions.” Her first abortion occurred when she was 18, when she was still living in her native country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her second happened soon after she arrived in the U.S. in 1994.

“At the time, I didn’t think it was hard,” said Okoumou about her abortion in the U.S. “I went to one place and right away it was done. Like piece of cake, no problems. Now there are forces out there, men especially, who want to have a say in what women can and cannot do with their bodies.”

Okoumou was one of thousands of people across the country who marked this year’s Women’s Equality Day with protests against the nomination of Kavanaugh. Over 165 “Unite for Justice” events were held on Sunday, led by pro-abortion-rights organization NARAL in partnership with MoveOn.org and over 70 other groups. The events ranged from letter-writing in Alaska to rallying in streets of New York City.

“This day of action is to show the administration, to show the Senate, that stopping this nomination is the right thing to do because Kavanaugh is an extremist and because a conservative majority on the court will have dire consequences,” said Erica Mauter, a spokesperson from MoveOn.org.

Demonstrators in L.A. rally in protest of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Aug. 26, 2018. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP)

“Donald Trump’s legacy, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, isn’t going to last for four or eight years,” added Kaylie Hanson Long, national communications director at NARAL. “It’s going to last for the rest of our lifetimes. We have to make sure Trump’s anti-choice legacy is not the law of the land.”

A federal appeals court judge, Brett Kavanaugh drew instant opposition from abortion rights groups that consider him a potential fifth vote to overturn the right to abortion. His nomination, Trump’s second Supreme Court pick, also alarmed voting- and LGBTQ-rights activists and environmental protection advocates, all of whom claim a stake in the #StopKavanaugh movement.

Organizers also called attention to Kavanaugh’s expansive view of presidential authority.

“The left doesn’t typically mobilize around the judiciary,” said Mauter. “But it’s become especially clear with the news on Tuesday of guilty pleas for [Trump campaign manager Paul] Manafort and for [former lawyer Michael] Cohen that if the president is implicated in crimes he picked Kavanaugh because Kavanaugh is not going to hold him accountable.”

Rallies against Kavanaugh picked up steam last week after Manafort was found guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud, and Cohen plead guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

Democrats, calling Trump an “unindicted co-conspirator,” warned that if the investigation of the president by special counsel Robert Mueller results in a case reaching the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh’s record suggests he would give Trump maximum leeway to avoid accountability. In a 2009 article by Kavanaugh in the Minnesota Law Review, he argued that presidents should not be subject to civil lawsuits or criminal investigations in office because they were “time-consuming and distracting.” Now, in light of convictions against Trump’s former aides, Democrats and #StopKavanaugh protestors fear if Kavanaugh is confirmed to the court, he could provide a crucial vote to make Trump immune from criminal investigation while in office.

A protest against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in New York City. (Photo: Eduardo Muñoz/Reuters)

“Nothing less than the future our democracy hangs in the balance with this vote,” Long said to the crowd of protesters in New York. “Let’s be honest, do we really want Michael Cohen’s potential co-conspirator to be in charge of picking our next Supreme Court justice?”

Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings are set to begin on Sept. 4 and are expected to last three to four days. Blocking his confirmation looks like a long shot, unless the Democrats in the Senate unite against him and at least one Republican breaks with the president. Republicans Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, support access to abortion services, but Collins said she was satisfied by Kavanaugh’s assurances that he considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.”

“We’ve heard already from Senator Collins and Murkowski and [West Virginia Sen. Joe] Manchin that they are very much listening to their own constituents,” said Mauter. “They are still on the fence. We would like them to come off the fence.”

To that end, Mauter said Sunday’s rally set its sights on voters who could help influence not only the outcome of the confirmation hearings, but also the midterm elections, “especially people who live in Maine and Alaska, people who live in the red states that have Democratic senators, and people who live in blue states with Democratic senators and wish they would make some more noise and be aggressive.”

Therese Patricia Okoumou takes part in a protest against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, in New York City, Aug. 26, 2018. (Photo: Eduardo Muñoz/Reuters)

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