Outraged protesters are showing up at their legislators’ offices and homes. Friends of yours and mine are making it a daily practice to call their senators to object to the Republican agenda. After two weeks of protests and outrage and jamming up congressional phone circuits, everyone is wondering: Is it working?
Thus far, every cabinet pick (including Betsy DeVos — boo) has been approved by the Senate. The Mexico border wall is moving forward, and President Donald Trump’s executive orders continue at a breakneck pace. These developments are, well, disappointing.
But take heart, fellow revolutionaries, the Resistance is making its mark. Senators on both sides of the aisle are feeling the pinch. A few Republicans have changed their votes, and the Democratic leadership is developing a backbone.
Here’s proof that we’re making a difference …
Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) were poised to vote for billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As members of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, they both voted to advance DeVos’ nomination to the full Senate. But both legislators come from mostly rural states that aren’t excited about DeVos’ ideas about vouchers and “school choice.” Their constituents reminded them of this with a tidal wave of phone calls and protests.
In back-to-back speeches on the Senate floor, Collins and Murkowski stunned their party by announcing they would be voting against DeVos’ confirmation. They were among the first Republican senators to break with their party on any Trump nominee. Murkowski cited the misgivings of her constituents, saying, “I have heard from thousands, truly, thousands of Alaskans who have shared their concerns about Mrs. DeVos.” It’s worth noting that Sen. Murkowski had received $43,000 in campaign contributions from the DeVos family, which makes her “no” vote even more remarkable.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, also had a change of heart last week after the protests hit home. Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, the senator extended an olive branch to the new president on infrastructure projects and trade deals, saying, “There are certain issues, if he sticks to good values that we believe in, we’ll work with him. We’re not going to oppose things just because Trump’s name is on it.” Schumer reportedly reprimanded Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, for saying that he would filibuster President Trump’s Supreme Court pick no matter who it was.
Then came the Muslim travel ban and the executive order on construction of the Mexico border wall … and a few thousand protesters in front of Sen. Schumer’s apartment in Brooklyn. The rally, organized by a group called Resist Trump New York, was called “What the F*ck, Chuck?!” and demanded a filibuster on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. The next day, Schumer announced that the Democratic Party planned a filibuster.
Coincidence? You decide.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, is hardly a progressive firebrand. Her voting record is solidly moderate. In fact, in 2007, the California Democratic Party considered censuring her for supporting President George W. Bush’s agenda one too many times. But her spine has stiffened noticeably in the last few weeks, after hearing from her constituents and after 200 protesters showed up outside her home in San Francisco.
“In my lifetime, I have never seen this many people out on the streets,” Feinstein said last week on MSNBC. She reported that her office received 55,000 calls urging her to vote against Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, and as many as 50,000 calls opposing other nominees.
As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein is now leading the charge to oppose Sessions’ nomination. The day after the Women’s Marches, she publicly solicited input from Californians who attended the protests so that she could cite our stories in the confirmation hearings.
Feinstein described her interactions with the protesters as being fraught with concern about the future of our country. In an impassioned speech — it wasn’t electrifying, but it’s the most passion I’ve ever seen out of our senior senator — in the Jan. 24 Judiciary Committee meeting, she asked to postpone the vote on Sen. Sessions’ nomination in honor of the women marchers. “They want to have their voices heard,” she said.
In that speech, Feinstein reflected on the advice she had for protesters: “The one question that several marchers asked me was, ‘What can I do?’ I told them they need to get out there, make their voices heard, call your members, state legislators and local officials, organize, run for office, play a direct role in governance, don’t wait for someone else to do it.”
Take it from Sen. Feinstein, friends: Keep making those calls and keep showing up. You’re making a difference, one small victory at a time.
Alix Rosenthal is a municipal attorney, nasty woman and progressive activist who mentors and trains women to run for political office. She can be found on Twitter at @alixro and her blog is at www.votealix.com.