Melissa Alexander is bouncing a big, blue-eyed, burbling two-month-old on her lap in Democratic Senator Patty Murray's conference room. She's never sat in Senator Murray's conference room before. She's never spoken about the importance of clean air and water into a bull horn at a political rally in front of approximately 120 people before, either. In fact, she voted Republican in the last four presidential elections, and most of her family back home in the Philly suburbs are Republicans.
But here she is on a Tuesday morning, sitting in a room with two other concerned citizens, speaking with Murray's point person for the Greater King County area, Nataly Morales; congratulating Murray for doing what she can to oppose Trump's cabinet nominations; and sending a clear message: we're here, we're watching you, and we'll be back next Tuesday.
A few minutes earlier, Alexander was outside the federal building, speaking into a cheap, black megaphone: "I know people wanted jobs and tax cuts," she said, "but I don't know how Americans will be happy with a new job if their children can't breathe." She went on to list a number of reasons why Scott Pruitt, Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is unqualified for the position and should not be confirmed, including the fact that he's a climate change denier who has sued the EPA fourteen times.
Alexander was one of seven speakers and over 100 people who gathered to protest Trump's cabinet picks at a mid-morning rally on the brick plaza in front of the Federal Building. After the rally, armed with letters and postcards from the larger group, the speakers met with staffers in the offices of Sen. Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington State's other Democratic Senator.
This action was one of several happening simultaneously across the country, all in response to an "emergency phone call" from Indivisible and MoveOn.org that went out on Sunday night. On that call, the two liberal orgs launched #ResistTrumpTuesdays, a weekly action based around a theme. This week's theme was "Stop Trump's swamp cabinet."
Kay Kite, a teacher who's worked in public schools for twenty-five years, stood in front of the crowd and questioned Betsy DeVos's qualifications to run the Department of Education, saying "[Devos] doesn't even know that the federal government funds education for the disabled."
Lisa Keller volunteered to dress down the likely incoming Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Keller is a teacher librarian who is married to a foreign service officer, and boy did she sound like it, offering up a well-reasoned, well-researched analysis of traits that should disqualify Tillerson from the job.
"The Secretary of State must be interested in and invested in multilateral negotiations with other countries," she said, adding, "But his interest appears to be narrowly bilateral!"
These people weren't activists. They weren't tapping into the rousing rhetorics of freedom and justice typical of rallies. They were retired Boomers and people with flexible schedules who have first-hand experience working in careers subject to these government departments. Many read their prepared speech off printer paper, prepared to cite their sources.
At one point, the crowd started chanting, "Next...Tuesday! Next...Tuesday!"
Some chuckled at the mundane slogan, but my heart swelled. It sounded to me like the rumblings of a heretofore complacent left trying to settle into a new routine, a future where they walk out their door with their morning coffee, their packed lunch, and their protest sign.
The co-host for the event, Iga Kozlowska, told me the group was "following up on the energy of the Womxn's March."
Kozlowska admits that Trump's cabinet picks are expected to breeze through their hearings, but she's undeterred. "We will applaud Senators Murray and Cantwell for voting against them. That's the kind of positive reinforcement we want to send to them," she says. "But we also want to tell them that we are here, watching their every vote."
Aaron Brethorst, 34, who spoke out against Tom Price's nomination, says, "We're not going to win every battle. There's no question about that." But he's not convinced they'll lose them all. "If we lose hope, though, we will lose them all," he says.
But is this movement really shaping up to be the liberal Tea Party, a huge force dedicated to confronting representatives across the country? And will any of this action do anything? Does any of this communication really matter in a context where Democrats are a minority in both the House and the Senate?
On the question of size, Senator Murray spokesperson Kerry Arndt says there has been an uptick in people contacting the office, especially since the cabinet nominees were announced. "On the EPA nominee, at last count, our office has gotten 8,000 pieces of mail," she says. "Those are counted and accounted for. She gets a report from the people who take the calls and letters about each issue."
Sen. Murray welcomes this increased engagement and applauds Tuesday's action in Seattle, as well as the ones that took place at her offices in Vancouver, Spokane, and Everett. "This is exactly what she hoped would happen," Arndt says. In addition to calling Murray's office, she encourages Washingtonians to tell friends and family in other states to call their Senators, too.
Sen. Cantwell echoes Sen. Murray’s desire to hear from constituents, either by “phone, e-mail, Facebook post, or in-person," says her spokesperson, Bryan Watt. "In fact, she flew back to Seattle after late votes in the Senate so she could be with Washingtonians at the Womxn’s March on Seattle," he says. "She’s always wanting to hear feedback from individuals and groups on nominations and other issues critical to our state, and encourages her staff to do the same.”
As for the direct political impact on the cabinet nominees, Arndt says "the math is not with the Democrats right now," but is quick to add that "the best line of defense right now is to ensure there's a full airing of these [cabinet] candidates."
The next big battle will be over Trump's Supreme Court pick, which the administration is expected to announce sometime next week. Republicans will need Democratic support in order to get the 60 votes needed to confirm the candidate, so the spine-strengthening efforts of a group like #ResistTrumpTuesdays might have a little more impact in this regard.
One of the dismal white men on Trump's SCOTUS shortlist is William Pryor, who, according to BBC, "has criticised the Supreme Court's 1973 landmark abortion ruling Roe v Wade as 'the worst abomination of constitutional law.'"
Ardnt says that on Tuesday, Murray "expressed concern" on the Senate floor about Trump's promise to pick a Supreme Court nominee "who's beliefs about women's reproductive rights simply could not be more backwards or more damaging." Backing Sen. Murray up on that concern, and maybe sending her a few relevant stories, might help strengthen her resolve.
If this form of influence still seems like a lot of weak tea to you, keep in mind that constituent communication has compelled legislation in the past. Ardnt mentions 2016's "The Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act," 2015's "Every Student Succeeds Act," and 2013's "Violence Against Women Act." All of that happened under the Obama administration, but those bills do serve as some evidence that constant communication with representatives can move issues forward.
Perhaps Washington's #ResistTrumpTuesdays protesters may get tired of complimenting Senators Murray or Cantwell for resisting Trump's administration where they can. And maybe they'll get frustrated with their lack of power on the national stage. But I think it's good news that Boomers with afternoons off are developing a weekly practice of civic engagement.
My hunch is that these people have cars. Come 2018, they can drive us all out to the red districts and help us convince the people there to save what little will remain of our democracy. Or, if they continue demonstrating downtown, maybe they'll be more likely to stop by City Hall? In addition to the national emergency, there are many local emergencies that deserve our attention.