Student Facebook event turns viral

Senior Erin Swauger said she sobbed after watching nine hours of the Supreme Court committee hearing on Sept. 27 for the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who faces multiple sexual assault allegations by former classmates.

Mothership Strategies—a political organization based in Washington D.C.—assigned Swauger, who works as a digital fellow for the company, to watch the hearing from start to finish.

On Friday, Swauger received news on Facebook from her friend, sophomore Annie Noel, that Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a critical Republican swing voter who confirmed Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court, would make an appearance at the Forbes Under 30 Summit on Monday.

At the time, Forbes scheduled Flake to appear in Colonial Theatre, just feet away from the Walker Building where Noel and Swauger have their Monday classes.

Swauger opened Facebook on her laptop and made an event page entitled “Tell Jeff Flake to Reject Kavanaugh.” Swauger made the page so students could express their anger at Thursday’s events and protest Flake’s appearance in Boston and on the college’s campus. She told Noel right away. From there, they became co-organizers.

“I just thought I was going to roll up to the street after class and be like ‘Boo, Jeff Flake!’” Noel said in an interview on the day of the protest. “I felt energized and confident in taking this on. That student activism, young activism, can make a difference.”

After starting the event page, Swauger and Noel reached out to close friends and other Emerson students with possible interest.

Although the location of Flake’s appearance moved from the Emerson campus to City Hall Plaza on Sept. 29, Swauger’s event page garnered more than 1,000 interested supporters by Friday night.

“I’m just so happy that so many people want to be politically involved, and that so many people care about trying to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation,” Swauger said in an interview a day before the protest. “But at the same time, it’s just completely overwhelming, in the best of ways.

Shortly after, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts reached out to Swauger and brought on Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union to promote the event and help with permits.

Sophomore Mari Sitner said she saw the news of Flake’s appearance pop up on a Facebook page called “Emerson Shitposting” on Friday. As a member of the Boston Socialist Alternative familiar with NARAL’s work, Sitner said she took it upon herself to reach out to NARAL and Swauger.

“I just want to emphasize the fact that this movement isn’t untouchable,” Sitner said in an interview on the day before the protest. “It isn’t for rich people that live in Silicon Valley and went to Yale and know people who are going to be Supreme Court justices. It’s for every woman and everyone who has ever been sexually harassed or abused.”

In the United States, according to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Nearly two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment. More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.

“I am a survivor—I talk about that in my speech,” Noel said in an interview minutes before the protest took place. “I just think that what was going on in those hearings was absolute bullshit.”

On the day of the protest, the Facebook page showed 3,900 people as “interested” and 961 people as “going.”

“This has been possible because we spoke up, not just myself and Annie forming this Facebook event at Emerson, but because of all of the survivors around the world, every speaker here today, and Dr. Ford,” Swauger said in her speech at the protest. “I am honored to be a part of this movement. I am honored to fight for survivors everywhere.”

While speaking at the event, NARAL Executive Director Rebecca Hart Holder reminded everyone in attendance the students still held the spotlight. 

“I just want to take a moment to thank students from Emerson College who helped launch this,” Hart Holder said. “You’re gonna hear from elected officials, you’re gonna hear from survivors today, you’re gonna hear from nonprofit organizations, but it is the students that lit the fire.”

Sitner said she felt the organizations actually pushed aside her and her peers’ student voices.

In an interview on the day before the protest, Sitner said the professional organizers like Planned Parenthood and NARAL sent emails to her, Swauger, and Noel with updates they didn’t know anything about.

Swauger said they found out the time and location of the protest changed from the Facebook event page she made.

“I think there’s the danger of it becoming about them as opposed to about the students and the protesters and just the ordinary everyday people who come out,” Sitner said. “And I think that on the organization side it has kind of fallen into that trap a little bit.”

Noel said she didn’t feel in control of the event either.

“We had been reaching out to them saying that we didn’t feel like this was our event anymore,” Noel said. “But we will take the opportunity we are given and make the most of it.”

NARAL organized the majority of the speaker list and gaveSwauger, Sitner, and Noel two to three minutes each to speak at the end of the event. NARAL gave other speakers like Sen. Edward Markey and Mayor Martin J. Walsh five to seven minutes.  

Organizers also added speakers to the list just minutes before the speaker portion began, according to Swauger.

“I do understand that we want these large speakers to draw a crowd and give more attention to the topic,” Swauger said. “I do wish the students especially had more of a voice though,” Swauger said.

Swauger’s mother, Laura Swauger, and brother took off work and drove down from New Hampshire to witness the spectacle. Laura Swauger said she brought up her daughter to be politically active like her.

“It’s turned into so much more than just heckling someone on the street,” Erin Swauger said. “It’s turned into an actual movement.”

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