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Hillsborough group puts sign over I-40 to protest Kavanaugh

Photo contributed by Heather Redding.

A mysterious light board popped up along the American Tobacco Trail Bridge over Interstate 40. It read, "Outraged? Nov 6."

The sign was supposed to say "Outraged? Vote Nov 6," but a malfunction with the lights put the “Vote” portion out of commission.

Tina Partner, a member of Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action, said that she and other members of the group stood on the pedestrian bridge for almost three hours, hoping that passersby would understand the message.

She said that many HPTA members are frustrated with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, particularly because they feel the FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations leveled against Kavanaugh by UNC graduate Christine Blasey Ford was neither full nor thorough.

Partner said she hopes the message will encourage both new and experienced voters.

“I hope that people are compelled, that the outrage is so great that they are compelled to turn up to the polls, if they had not in the past, that they feel like they cannot sit at home anymore,” Partner said. “And then I would definitely hope that people who may normally vote for the Republicans take another look and decide that perhaps that rank and file voting with their party consistently, instead of for the people, is something that they want to reconsider.” 

Margie Gayle, another member of HPTA, explained the group's reasoning behind the bridge display in an email.

"A group of us needed to do something, so we sat in a basement and made light boards with love," Gayle said in the email. "We hoped to show our solidarity with sexual assault and abuse victims and shine our support for each other down on the interstate for those passing by to see." 

Partner explained that she thinks publicly voicing support for sexual assault victims is especially important in North Carolina, the only state in the country where consent revoked after a sexual encounter has begun does not qualify as rape.

She said the confirmation of Kavanaugh communicates to harassment victims that their assaults do not matter. 

“My fear is that it just sends a message once again, to women or any sexual assault survivor, that 'we’re not going to believe you,'" Partner said. "Or 'If we do believe you, it’s not that big of a deal. We’re not going to take it that seriously.'”

Mitch Kokai, a senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, said he thinks the sign might have unintended consequences and may not solely reach HPTA's target audience.

“It’s political speech; it’s protected by the First Amendment, but the people who are putting up that message need to realize that they’re sending that message to anyone who’s driving down the highway," he said. "It’s not just going to be progressives who’ll see it, it’ll also be conservatives or others who might see the message and have a different reaction than what they were hoping for.”

Partner said HPTA wanted people to understand how they can use their vote to effect change.

"I think sometimes people feel like they have no control over the outcome and the outcome doesn’t affect them, so for us, when we did the light board on the (bridge), we just want people to know that collectively our voices can be powerful," she said.

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