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She confronted Jeff Flake over Kavanaugh. Now she’s a guest at the State of the Union.

“Elected officials are rarely forced to connect your humanity to their humanity,” said Ana María Archila, who will attend the event with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ana Maria Archila on October 4, 2018 in Washington, DC
Ana Maria Archila on October 4, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

A little over four months ago, Ana María Archila confronted then-Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) outside an elevator to urge him to vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault.

Today, Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court. But Archila, the co-executive director of the progressive Center for Popular Democracy, will attend the State of the Union on Tuesday night as the guest of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). And she believes her decision to confront Flake and share her story of experiencing sexual assault was not in vain.

“That confrontation seems to have given people a sense of hope,” she told me.

For many years, Archila helped lead an organization called Make the Road New York, which works on behalf of immigrant and working-class New Yorkers and is based in Ocasio-Cortez’s district. Archila remembers voting for Ocasio-Cortez in her primary last June, while she was helping to organize a protest against the separation of children from their families at the border.

“I woke up early, voted for her, went to DC, helped organize [the protest], and then came back to the hotel to the news that she had won,” Archila said.

I spoke with Archila by phone on Monday about the Kavanaugh hearings, the invitation from Ocasio-Cortez, and her hopes — and fears — for Tuesday night’s event. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Anna North

How did you decide to confront Sen. Flake? And how did it feel to speak to him directly about your experience?

Ana María Archila

I had been in and out of the protests for many days, and I had watched and heard the testimonials. We all heard Dr. [Christine Blasey] Ford’s testimony and the quiver in her voice as she was forced to narrate again and again the details of her experience.

After her testimony, I joined the hundreds of women in front of the Supreme Court and we blocked the street in righteous indignation. And then the next day, we heard that the Republicans had decided that they had enough information, they were ready to vote. We kind of thought, this part of the fight is over. We lost, they’re going to vote.

I just happened to meet [fellow protester] Maria Gallagher that morning. She was there for the first time, so she was not tired or jaded. She was like, “What can I do?” And so an organizer told her, “Grab two people and go to Senator Flake’s office.” And she grabbed my friend and my friend grabbed me and we went. In my mind I was like, “This is over, but we have half an hour, we might as well just use it.”

I hadn’t talked to any senator. I don’t talk to people like that in general. But in that moment, I really felt like, you do not understand the message that you’re sending to women. You don’t understand the gravity of these decisions, and I have to force you to grapple with this, and look at me, and really let it sink in that what you’re telling women in this moment is that you don’t care, that we don’t matter, that our experiences are not relevant or to be believed.

It was the culmination of lots of very intense emotion. It felt like all of us were walking around with this sense of profound sadness and disbelief, and it was collective.

Anna North

Do you think the senator listened to you in that moment?

Ana María Archila

I think that he couldn’t escape the emotions, that as much as he wanted those doors to close and that moment to end, he couldn’t escape the gravity of the pain in our voice and the urgent demand to connect. Elected officials are rarely forced to connect your humanity to their humanity.

I’m not in his head. But I think that if it wasn’t a deciding factor, it was definitely a moment that tapped into some discomfort that he already felt with the course that he was taking.

[Then] he made a decision following the boss in his party, Donald Trump. He failed to rise to the moment and the opportunity that he had to demonstrate how to be a man in power who listens and respects the experiences and the voices of women. But the courage that I saw, the courage that invited me to share my own story, was so profound, so moving, so intense, and so powerful.

Anna North

Given the outcome — obviously, Kavanaugh was confirmed and now sits on the Supreme Court — what do you think was the impact of that moment between you and the senator, and of the protests more generally?

Ana María Archila

That confrontation seems to have given people a sense of hope, like, if I too join, I can be part of these moments of transformation. And obviously, the decision was incredibly demoralizing because it’s displayed how resistant the political system is to the voices of people.

But in some ways, we are all very lucky because just a few weeks later, the entire country had an opportunity to show up to the polls and vote, and it was historic. What came out of it was a very significant step in transforming Congress to be more representative and more filled with voices of people of different generations, of women, of women of color.

Anna North

How did Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s invitation to the State of the Union come about, and what was your reaction?

Ana María Archila

I was out of the country when I first heard about it. By the time I found out, her staff had reached out to me.

I got to speak with her this weekend about what this moment means for both of us and what our vision for the country is. Last year’s State of the Union was very much like, we are all in the grips of Donald Trump. And now it feels like because people rose up and elected a new Congress — yes, this is his stage, this is the moment where he’s gonna hold the mic, but the country that he doesn’t want to exist is actually right there in his face. It’s a country led by women, it’s a country that has people of color and our stories, and our joy, and our dreams, all of that is there in the room.

Anna North

What does it mean for you for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez to serve in Congress, as someone who’s done activism in her district for a long time?

Ana María Archila

It means so much. The work that I’ve done in that district has always been in a context where it felt like we had to explain who we are and why we are in this country, and why we too deserve to be paid a living wage, and why our children too deserve to not be sitting in overcrowded schools. [With Ocasio-Cortez,] it’s a totally different starting point because she started by saying, “I’m you, I’m with you, I understand you because we have so much more that’s shared.”

Sitting with her, it’s not just about imagining how do we get the basics, but it’s imagining how do we get the dream.

Anna North

When the president speaks on Tuesday, what will you be watching for, and what should other Americans be watching for from home?

Ana María Archila

I imagine that he’s going to beat the same drum, the playbook that he’s used that got him elected, of speaking into people’s fears, painting a vision of a country that is dark and that excludes the possibility that all of us actually belong together and can share in the abundance of this nation. I imagine that he will continue to spread lies, or repeat the lies he says about immigrants, people at the border, refugees.

He will continue to make the case for building a wall, I imagine, and to berate anyone who doesn’t agree with him. Which is why it is so powerful to have Stacey Abrams respond to his speech, and to have members of Congress like AOC and others fill the room with the people that represent what’s possible.

Anna North

What does it mean for you for Stacey Abrams to deliver the Democratic response, and what are you excited to hear from her about?

Ana María Archila

She really has this unique ability to speak to the hardship of people’s lives, especially of black and brown folks, the impact that the policies of the last 40 years have had on communities of color, and the sense that we don’t have to repeat history. If we are bold enough and able to look at each other now, we can actually build a different country and carve a different story for ourselves.

With the Kavanaugh nomination, [Trump] and the Republicans told women, “We don’t believe you.” And I think Stacey can tell Trump, “We don’t believe you and your vision for the country. We’re not succumbing to your bullying and your attempts to make us fearful of each other and distract us from the fact that you have your hands in our pockets.”