Some people choose to lock the doors to wait out a storm. Little do they know that storm will only grow in strength, duration, and power.
Shortly after the November election, a citizen advocacy group sprang into action here in Philadelphia.
Part of a broader mission to protect and strengthen democratic institutions in the city, the state, and beyond, “Tuesdays with Toomey” is a growing gathering of constituents urging Republican Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey to represent and serve ALL constituents in the state. We visit his office every Tuesday, indefinitely, to hold him to his own promise to “not be a rubber stamp for anyone,” including the president.
Senator Toomey narrowly won reelection in 2016, awarding him his second six-year term in the U.S. senate. But the Senator does not have a great reputation for meeting with concerned constituents, failing to hold a town hall since 2013 – and having never held a town hall in Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia. Ironically enough, in May 2016 Senator Toomey wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer imploring then presidential nominee Donald Trump to “seek to unite and listen more.”
In an attempt to address wide-ranging concerns, each Tuesday with Toomey includes a key message and mission, with topics including protecting healthcare, addressing the president’s conflicts of interests, and opposing Toomey’s threats to defund Philadelphia if it remains a sanctuary city.
We realize that Toomey is not often (or maybe ever) at his Philadelphia office, but our intention is to relay messages to his staff, encouraging him to meet with us personally in the coming months. The first two weeks were impromptu gatherings in the lobby where an office representative agreed to come down for a brief chat. The following two weeks, a representative from Toomey’s staff actually met with us in his office and listened to our concerns. The process and conversations were amiable and respectful.
The fifth week was the first time we were denied a meeting and told that the staff was unavailable, though a representative from the office came down to collect our letters.
And then, when we gathered on Tuesday, January 3 to ask the Senator to protect the environment by developing bipartisan legislation to address Pennsylvania’s lead and air pollution crisis, the reception began to further unravel. The group of about 60 people included several children and members from likeminded local organizations like 350 Philadelphia and Moms Clean Air Force.
The group of about 60 people included several children and members from likeminded local organizations like 350 Philadelphia and Moms Clean Air Force. But when we went to enter the building we were met with locked doors and security guards blocking the entrance. We were told there was no one at the Senator’s office, even though many of us had phone communications with the office that day. We had been in contact with staff about our arrival so they knew we would be coming with letters in hand. But when we attempted to call up to the office to ask someone to accept our letters, no one would pick up the phone. And no one would come down to collect the dozens of letters addressed to the Senator.
So what did we do? We grew.
Tuesdays with Toomey expanded its leadership to include visits and rallies at his offices in Allentown, Pittsburgh, and Johnston.
On Tuesday, January 10 we gathered to ask Toomey to denounce the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. We were met with a crowd of about 125 people including TV cameras, resulting in media coverage from Philadelphia Magazine, CBS, and The Daily News.
We let them know that Tuesdays with Toomey is part of a long-term movement to hold ALL of our elected officials accountable to representing the needs of the people. We also continue to make our voices known to Democratic Sen. Casey, encouraging his positive efforts and expressing concern when we feel he isn’t making enough noise on the senate floor.
Together with the national majority movement, our calls have stopped a middle of the night attempt to strip the independence from the congressional ethics office and postponed the hearings for Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. We believe we also had a part in encouraging Casey to co-sponsor Senator Warren’s bill to resolve Trump’s conflicts of interest.
Our grassroots movement has led one local political columnist to make it his personal mission to hold Toomey accountable and demand a Philadelphia town hall and another to write, “Right now, I have the most faith in the American people who are refusing to go down without a fight – the hecklers at the confirmation hearings, the relentless “Tuesdays with Toomey” activists who meet outside U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s Center City office every week in an almost nostalgic hope of having their elected public official actually meet with the public.”
And, on January 28, when our governor, mayor, state representatives, councilpeople, and democratic senator dropped everything to come to the Philadelphia Airport to protect our civil rights, where was Toomey? At a Koch Brothers donor retreat in Palm Springs.
We will not let this fire burn out like everyone else expects it to. When people ask us how long we continue to do come out on Tuesdays our answer is, “As long as it takes.”
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