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Post-election protesters say their work is just beginning with 'Tuesdays with Toomey' rallies




They came by the thousands Saturday to Downtown Pittsburgh, joining a “Sister March” to decry the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Many had never demonstrated before but found themselves taking part in a day of protest that ranged across town — in a separate East Liberty march — and across the nation.

But will that energy be sustained as Mr. Trump settles in? Where will those marchers be headed next?

For Sarah Myksin, the answer Tuesday was U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s Station Square office, where 200 people joined in the third “Tuesdays with Toomey” demonstration.

“Part of me wants to be around like-minded people because it feels lonely out here,” said Ms. Myksin, who said the Saturday march was her first political action since moving to Pittsburgh more than two years ago.

“Tuesdays with Toomey” protests began in Philadelphia, where activists have complained that the Republican senator hasn’t been meeting with constituents. Jennifer McDowell, who co-organizes the three-week-old Pittsburgh event, echoed that grievance.

“Toomey doesn’t see people,” she said. “He doesn’t talk to his constituents.”

Toomey spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said the demonstrations had been held “on days when Sen. Toomey is in Washington, D.C., conducting official business.” Mr. Toomey has been to Pittsburgh “regularly” for campaign and official events, she said.

Many of those events had limited audiences, and Ms. Anderson did not identify any open-invitation town-hall gatherings. But she said, “Sen. Toomey’s staff is happy to meet with constituents in the office … as issues warrant,” and staffers had met with Pittsburgh demonstrators the previous two Tuesdays.

Republicans may have reason to shun larger gatherings. Many activists hope to emulate the approach used by Tea Party protesters, who during the Obama administration often confronted officials at town halls. “The Tea Party was the dark side of the force, but we’re using their tactics to urge [elected officials] back to the center,” said Ms. McDowell.

Tuesday’s protest was Pittsburgh’s largest yet, in part because it drew education advocates focused on Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s controversial nominee to head the Department of Education. Previous Tuesday actions drew roughly three dozen participants, mostly women. Many said it was their first such action.


“Tuesdays with Toomey” was started three weeks ago by local residents. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette)

 

“I voted in every election, but I’ve never called a senator before, and I’ve never been in a march,” Kara Kernan of Brookline said at the Jan. 17 gathering.

Ms. McDowell said she’d been inundated with interest since Saturday’s march: “I’ve had people call up saying, ‘I want to do ‘Mondays with Murphy’ or ‘Thursdays with Rothfus,’” referring to area Republican congressman Tim Murphy and Keith Rothfus.

The post-election movement has experienced some growing pains, however, often stemming from issues of race.

“It’s important to have people coming to the table who weren’t there before,” Felicity Williams, a Homestead lawyer and an African-American, said outside Mr. Toomey’s office Tuesday. “But will I see this many faces protesting with Black Lives Matter? We have a lot of white faces and they are talking about DeVos, but no one is talking about [Jeff] Sessions,” Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general.

Mr. Sessions’ record includes racially charged positions that include his long-held opposition to the Voting Rights Act.

Those tensions were evident this past weekend, when African-American women led the East Liberty protest that addressed a range of concerns, including gentrification and police/community relations. When some participants began an anti-Trump chant, leaders quickly silenced it.

“When Trump got elected, it was like people saw a ghost,” said Alona Williams, an East Liberty protest organizer. “All the sudden people want to act, and they’re making it about one man” — when many minority groups were struggling long before Mr. Trump’s election.

“If you’ve always been fighting this battle, it’s hard to see people show up and say, ‘Here’s our fight!’,” Ms. McDonald acknowledged. She said she intended to connect with other movements as her own efforts took hold. 

“A lot of folks woke up on Nov. 9 feeling threatened,” said Erin Kramer, executive director of activist group One Pennsylvania. “And a lot of other folks woke up on Nov. 9 and it was just one more thing. We have to view social justice through a racial-justice lens.”

But in the end, she said, “The way to stop from being dehumanized is if we rehumanize ourselves to each other.”

Chris Potter: cpotter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533


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