Millions of diverse citizens are banding together to resist the Trump administration’s policies and actions, and local advocacy groups are tackling similar issues on their home turf. Among them is a group of more than 8,000 strong in Philadelphia, committed to protect and strengthen democratic institutions in the city, the state, and beyond. I’m proud to be among them.
One key ongoing project of the group has been the creation of “Tuesdays with Toomey,” a growing weekly gathering of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey’s constituents. Our mission is to urge the Republican Senator to keep his campaign promises to represent all constituents in the state.
We plan to visit his office every Tuesday, indefinitely, to hold him to the promise to “not be a rubber stamp for anyone,” including President Trump.
Senator Pat Toomey narrowly won reelection in 2016, awarding him his second six-year term on the U.S. senate. The Senator has a dismal reputation for meeting with concerned constituents. He’s failed to hold town hall meetings since 2013.
Each Tuesday, we focus on a key message that includes a wide-range of concerns. Topics include: protecting healthcare, addressing the president’s conflicts of interests, environmental concerns and opposing Toomey’s threats to defund Philadelphia if it remains a sanctuary city.
We realize that Toomey is not often at his Philadelphia office, but hope to relay messages to his staff and encourage 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 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 the staff was unavailable, though a representative from the office came down to collect our letters.
When we gathered on January 3 to address environmental issues, the welcome reception began to further unravel. Senator Toomey’s environmental record is dismal. He’s rated at an all-time low of 0% by League of Environmental Voters. In 2011, he voted “yes” on barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. In 2013, he voted “no” on protecting ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. He has been quoted on record as a climate change skeptic, calling the science “disputed and debated.”
This does not bode well for a state with some of the worst air pollution in the country. According to a 2015 report from the American Lung Association, Pittsburgh ranks 8th, Harrisburg 9th, Philadelphia 12th, Altoona 14th, and Lancaster 16th in year-round levels of soot.
Pennsylvania cities, teeming with antiquated house paint and pipelines, also have some of the highest rates of child lead exposure in the country, with more than 10 percent of children in 17 cities testing positive for lead exposure.
So on January 3rd, Tuesdays with Toomey’s mission was to ask the Senator to protect the environment by developing bipartisan legislation to address Pennsylvania’s lead and air pollution crisis. The group of about 60 people, included several children. It also included a few national organizations, including Moms Clean Air Force.
This day, when we attempted to enter the state office 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.
Last May, Senator Toomey wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer imploring then Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to “seek to unite and listen more.” Considering that eighty-five percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans think the U.S. should use more renewable energy, and more than 71 percent of polled voters believe the federal government should protect the citizens from the impacts of climate change, Toomey should worry that everyday could soon become Tuesdays with Toomey.
For more information about Tuesdays With Toomey and the growing movement across Pennsylvania, please visit https://www.facebook.com/tuesdayswithtoomey/
Photo via Twitter