Baer: They demand to talk to Toomey. His office says it’s trying. Democracy in action
Maybe you've heard or read something about this.
Lots of Pennsylvanians angry about President Trump's cabinet picks, refugee/immigrant travel ban, plans to repeal Obamacare, or all of the above, say they can't get Sen. Pat Toomey — who supports all of the above — to hear, read, or respond to their concerns.
There've been news stories about a group called "Tuesdays With Toomey" protesting outside one or more of the senator's offices (there are seven in the state), and stories of always-busy Toomey phones and faxes, voice-mail boxes too full to take messages, and general unresponsiveness from Toomey.
Here's a sample email I got on the issue:
"I am extremely frustrated in my attempts to contact Patrick Toomey (my representative in the senate). I have repeatedly tried to get through on the phone and have actually gone to his local office to try to voice my concerns to him. … I have not been able to leave a message (let alone speak to someone from his office). I have not even been able to get a fax through to his office! This is absolutely unacceptable."
That came from Felicia Bloom, who, after I responded to her, said she's a 54-year-old Montgomery County nurse, married to a physician and worried about people losing their health care. She says she's not political but attended three protests in the last two weeks — "three more than I have ever been to in my entire life!"
I and other political writers got a steady stream of emails Monday about frustration/anger with Toomey.
They follow a pattern of complaints about unanswered calls or emails, and in most cases contain similar language about Toomey's failing to listen to constituents.
Turns out some, if not most or all, emailers are tied to a national online effort called "Indivisible" urging grassroots opposition to Trump's agenda.
The effort includes a guide (indivisibleguide.com) to resisting the Trump agenda by identifying and inundating Trump-supportive congressional offices with calls, emails, visits, etc. to force them to "redirect energy away from their priorities."
The guide says that congressional offices have limited time and limited people, and that "a day that they spend worrying about you is a day that they're not ending Medicare, privatizing public schools, or preparing a Muslim registry."
It also encourages individuals to reach out to media.
"Sen. Toomey is very much aware of the magnitude of the call volume and receives a roundup of constituent communications and their positions," says Toomey press secretary Steve Kelly.
He adds, "Many are not aware that we are not a large call center. We average three to four staffers in all seven state offices … all of whom have many other responsibilities, whether it be outreach or constituent casework related. So everyone is doing their part to answer as many calls as possible."
Kelly also says voice-mail accounts are emptied regularly but refill too quickly: "We appreciate everyone's patience. Another good way to reach the office is via the website Toomey.senate.gov."
There's nothing wrong with political activism. There's nothing wrong with expanding citizen involvement in politics. If there was more of it, maybe our government would work better, or more often in the overall public interest.
(Though one wonders whether an aggressive call to action might have been more effective before the 2016 election; and whether it's at all effective when aimed a senator who doesn't face voters again until 2022.)
And however annoying or ineffective some might find citizen protest or outreach to elected officials, both are fundamental to creating or maintaining a society that actually cares about how and by whom it is governed.