It had been a while since Wythe Keever had used everyone’s favorite 1980s piece of technology, but Pat Toomey’s phone lines had been clogged all week and he needed a way to get a message across. So he dusted off the fax machine in the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s office (PSEA) and punched in the numbers for Toomey. He proceeded to fax a list of reasons why he believed Betsy DeVos would be a poor pick for education secretary and why Toomey should reject her appointment.
Keever, assistant director of communications for PSEA, is not alone in going retro to protest in the present. Not by a stretch. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 11,500 faxes had been sent to Toomey in the last week, according to the tracking website Fax Zero. In the last 24 hours alone, the count was more than 8,000. He also gets tweeted at every couple of minutes, usually related to DeVos, ACA or another concern of progressive constituents. It’s become clear: Toomey is one of the most wanted Senators in the United States.
No other member of Congress or Senator in Washington has come close to receiving the amount of faxes he has in the past week. His count of 11,500 was about 10,000 more than the next-closest recipient, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Fellow Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey had received about 800. Ohio Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, who have also been considered possible no-votes on DeVos, weren’t among the top 10 in faxes, having received fewer than 750 in the last week.
“It’s amazing,” said Hannah Laurison, an organizer of the protest group Tuesdays With Toomey. “Who would’ve thought fax would be the weapon in the political wars of 2017?”
People trying to get to Toomey are choosing fax in large part because it’s proven impossible to reach him over the phone. Laurison would know. She has saved the numbers for all of Toomey’s offices and dials each of them multiple times a day. The last time she reached an actual person in a Toomey office was last week.
“We’ve now been encouraging people to fax and email,” Laurison said. “We were saying weeks ago, ‘call, call, call.’”
The deluge of attempts to contact Toomey comes as the vote on DeVos, scheduled for Friday, nears, and as activist groups have ratcheted up awareness. Tuesdays With Toomey, Laurison said, had crowds of around 1,000 at six of Toomey’s seven district offices this week and each person who protested was encouraged to email or fax the senator. PSEA released a statement with Toomey’s phone numbers, email and Twitter handle and asked people to take action. Other groups like Keystone Progress and Working Families have done the same in recent days.
The result has been all the faxes, calls and emails. How much more is he receiving now than in the past? Fax-wise, Toomey had received just 50 the first three weeks of January. His Facebook posts about topics completely unrelated to DeVos get countless comments about DeVos.
“The response has been tremendous,” Keever said. “We’ve seen a great level of participation by our members on this issue.”
In response to specific questions about how the office is handling the volume of correspondence, Toomey spokesperson E.R. Anderson gave a statement saying his staff was “all hands on deck” responding to phone calls and emails.
“Senator Toomey is very much aware of the magnitude of the call volume,” she said, “and receives a roundup of constituent communications and their positions.”
And honestly, it’s looking very much like this is all for naught. Toomey announced Wednesday he planned to vote for DeVos. Laurison has little hope the Senator will change his mind but still plans on bombarding him with calls, emails, faxes or whatever might get his attention on this issue and others to come.
“He should’ve held a townhall with us in the early going,” Laurison said, “and people would’ve probably gone away.”