The women settled into the black-and-red seats on the coach bus in the dark parking lot on Portland’s Marginal Way, passing candy and slices of pizza, calling out for Scotch tape and markers for posters. Before the bus departed, they introduced themselves one by one.

The group opposing Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination gets ready to leave Portland on a charter bus Wednesday night with the goal of meeting with Sen. Susan Collins in Washington. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

They came from Portland and Lewiston, Bangor and Fort Fairfield. They came from different stages of life. But many of them repeated the same line.

“I’m a survivor.”

The bus bound for Washington, D.C., carried about 25 women and one man. They set out Wednesday night in hopes of meeting with Sen. Susan Collins and telling her about their experiences with sexual violence and pressing her to oppose Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Collins and fellow moderate Republicans in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona, called for the FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault and misconduct by Kavanaugh that has stalled his nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has dubbed their trio “The Gang of Three,” and other conservative Republicans are pushing to put Kavanaugh on the bench as soon as possible.

Even on a weeknight in a park-and-ride, the debate flared. As the group loaded their bags on the bus, a woman stood nearby and chanted in defense of Kavanaugh.

“See through the SMEAR,” her pink poster read.

TV cameras hovered around the bus, and the women waved their own posters out of the windows.

“Don’t reward Kavanaugh’s lies,” one read. “Susan, please vote NO.”

Susan Melcher of Pownal, left, shows her support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh outside a bus carrying protesters headed for Washington, D.C., Wednesday night to urge Sen. Susan Collins to vote against his confirmation. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Former state legislator Diane Russell organized the trip, which she said is being paid for by the Center for Popular Democracy and other progressive groups. She said she put out the call on social media and in personal invitations, and most of those on the bus have indicated they have a survival story they want to share with Collins.

The group will spend as few as 12 hours in the nation’s capital. As of Wednesday afternoon, they had not yet been able to arrange a meeting with the senator. However, Russell expects the women will be able to speak with staff in the senator’s office. A spokeswoman for Collins’ office said they are attempting to accommodate all Mainers with a staff meeting.

On a similar bus trip last week, five women from Maine met with Collins to share their experiences of sexual assault and their reasons for opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“They kept telling me they felt heard,” Russell said. “It’s a big risk to go tell one of the most powerful women in the country something incredibly personal, and when they walked out, I could tell the difference.”

She described the group watching a CNN broadcast from the capital last week during a break in their trip and seeing a clip about similar protests in their home state.

“Maine people have spoken as loudly and resoundingly as they can that they do not want this nomination to move forward,” Russell said. “We need to bring a little bit of Maine to D.C.”

Russell said the senator seems troubled by the allegations against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford and two other women, as well as President Trump’s remarks mocking Ford at a rally Tuesday night. She believes Collins will oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t,” she said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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