Activism

Published on September 27th, 2018 | by Guest Contributor

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Ohio Native Among Yale Students Arrested at Kavanaugh Protests Reflects on Privilege and Power

Jacob Schriner-Briggs was born, raised, and educated in Youngstown, Ohio. He is a 2017 graduate of Youngstown State University who studied philosophy and political science. Currently, Jacob is a student at Yale Law School. He is especially interested in civil rights litigation, criminal justice reform, and political activism, strategy, and commentary.

By Jacob Schriner-Briggs

Members of elite institutions benefit from a set of privileges that, prior to my acceptance by Yale Law School in early 2018, were beyond my lived experience and imagination alike. Now, over a month into the fall semester of my 1L year, I have been forced to reckon with fundamental questions of inequality, power, and prestige.

These are questions that now apply to my own life, questions that have become especially salient in light of the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

Once the news of Kavanaugh’s nomination broke, influential writers and academic powerbrokers coalesced in support of him, making an ostensibly “liberal case” for his confirmation in one instance, touting his traits as a basketball coach and carpool dad in another. These glowing reviews demonstrated a prioritization of professed intellect and cosmetic kindness over substantive jurisprudential concerns defined by a history of written opinions spelling trouble for women, criminal defendants, and labor writ large. They also brought into clearer focus the same questions that had been on my mind since joining the Yale community: why are people in power so often inclined to protect and defend their peers?

Image provided by Jacob Schriner-Briggs

Why can so few possess so much while so many have so little?

Why would people now “return my phone calls” or offer me opportunities because of the name of my school alone?

As I wrestled with my newfound privilege, the national conversation abruptly shifted. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had come forward with credible allegations of sexual assault implicating Kavanaugh. Nonetheless, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee moved to rush the confirmation process. As these events unfolded, brave and passionate Yale Law students pushed back and organized, culminating in protests at the law school and in D.C. alike.

On Monday, September 24th, I joined a group of over 100 of my YLS peers in attending the D.C. demonstrations. We partnered with the Center for Popular Democracy and entered the Hart Senate Office Building together. We visited the offices of Senators Collins, Flake, and Sasse, demanding they vote against Kavanaugh and treat women like Dr. Ford with the respect they deserve. Then, as the day drew to a close, I took part in a peaceful act of civil disobedience alongside dozens of others which resulted in our arrests.

With so much on the line for the most marginalized and vulnerable among us, and with so little of my own to lose, the choice was clear.

Though some have questioned the prudence of my decision to engage in an arrestable demonstration, it was ultimately a straightforward one to make. With the privileges bestowed upon me by my race, gender, and Ivy League credentials, I felt compelled to express solidarity with women who have been silenced, with people of color disproportionately incarcerated, with the victims of economic injustice who struggle to pay rent, buy groceries, and receive healthcare. With so much on the line for the most marginalized and vulnerable among us, and with so little of my own to lose, the choice was clear.

 

 

Bookending our trip to D.C. were two additional women coming forward with allegations.

Deborah Ramirez’s story dropped shortly after we departed from New Haven, and Julie Swetnick’s emerged after our return. Ramirez and Swetnick, like Dr. Blasey Ford, deserve to be heard and treated with respect. If uncertainty remains after a thorough, good-faith vetting of these claims, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination must be withdrawn. At best, his presence would cast a shadow over the Court, undermining its actual and perceived legitimacy. At worst, a sexual predator would be taking a seat on the highest court in the land with women’s rights hanging in the balance.

 

I was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. People in Youngstown face challenges and obstacles that don’t manifest in places like Ivy League universities or the sprawling political apparatuses of Washington, D.C. Having now been in both worlds, questions of morality, accountability, and equity are all the more urgent for me. At a time when so many powerful people walking the halls of elite institutions perpetuate injustice, resistance is paramount.

At worst, a sexual predator would be taking a seat on the highest court in the land with women’s rights hanging in the balance.

With this in mind, I call on other men of privilege to use it, to amplify the voices of people when so few are willing to listen. Believe and support women. Demand accountability. Lift up the belittled and forgotten. More than that, I strongly encourage anyone reading this to join in political opposition if and when you are able. Call your Representatives and Senators. Attend marches and protests. Canvass, phone-bank, and vote. Even when things look like they can’t get any worse and yet they somehow do, remember that you are a part of a system of government that must answer to you if you force its hand.

English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley expressed this sentiment better than I ever could, so I leave you with his words, not mine:

“Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number –

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are many – they are few.”

Jacob Schriner-Briggs was born, raised, and educated in Youngstown, Ohio. He is a 2017 graduate of Youngstown State University who studied philosophy and political science. Currently, Jacob is a student at Yale Law School. He is especially interested in civil rights litigation, criminal justice reform, and political activism, strategy, and commentary.

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3 Responses to Ohio Native Among Yale Students Arrested at Kavanaugh Protests Reflects on Privilege and Power

  1. Carol Herron says:

    You are a strong and honest man. Thank you. Please never change.

  2. Tami says:

    So proud of you my fellow Youngstown born brother. Your insights into the difference in your treatment due to the name of your current location of higher education may open some eyes. Most importantly though, your call to participation by the less fortunate,( which outnumber the fortunate by the millions) is slowly taking hold. Keep up the good fight!!

  3. Tim Newell says:

    Thanks Jake. This is a very thought provoking issue. I know that I take certain privileges for granted while many other people cannot. One feature of the Trump administration is that we get to turn over a lots of rocks to see what’s squirming around underneath. The unexamined life etcetera- it hurts but it’s worth it.

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