Over 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Park Slope home of Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer Tuesday, calling on him to oppose Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Less than 48 hours later, an estimated 100-200 hundred protesters, led by Food and Water Watch, rallied for an hour outside Schumer’s office at 780 West 3rd Street. (Schumer did not make an appearance as he is in DC.) This comes a day after Democrats boycotted two votes for controversial nominees, including EPA nominee Scott Pruitt who has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. Environmental groups, including the executive director of 350.org, applaud this tactic saying it demonstrates allegiance with the resistance.
Many activists have voiced outrage at Democratic elected officials who are too quick to acquiesce to or normalize Trump’s presidency. But Democrats alone lack the votes needed to block any of Trump’s nominees from taking office—and there are little signs of Republican opposition to any of his picks. In fact, Republicans lambasted Democrats for what they described as partisan, obstructionist moves.
Still, Representatives for Food and Water Watch and the Sierra Club, which were present at the rally, view the activist base as driving their Democratic leaders forward. “We are seeing people relearning what it means to be in a democracy,” says Shay O’Reilly, an employee of the Sierra Club.
Marina Lutz, 57, of Hells Kitchen, and a volunteer with Food and Water Watch, says she wants to see more passion in Schumer’s leadership. “I want him [Schumer] to take a greater stand in the resistance.” This sentiment echoes the rally cry of many protesters demanding a firm stand against Trump’s nominee picks: resist or resign.
Even lauded environmental champion Sen. Bernie Sanders caught flak for stating he would attempt to work with Trump. He’s since vehemently questioned cabinet nominees during their hearings and once again gained favor. “Why is the climate changing?” Sanders asked, requesting Pruitt’s “opinion” about the matter. “My opinion is immaterial,” Pruitt replied. “Really?” Sanders countered. “You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity is immaterial?”
Schumer’s tenor, too, noticeably toughened in an earnest albeit awkward speech Monday night at an impromptu rally voicing support for immigrant rights outside the Supreme Court. Trump took the opportunity to mock both Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California on Twitter, accusing Schumer of “fake tears.”
The rally was meant to encourage Schumer to stiffen his spine as the fight over Pruitt’s appointment continues. Publicly, he’s stated: [Pruitt’s] “reluctance to accept the facts or science on climate change couldn’t make him any more out of touch with the American people—and with reality.”
He responded to his constituents on January 26th when he posted on the “What the F*ck, Chuck?!” Facebook page: “Appreciate hearing from everyone on this and on so many of the issues we will face in the weeks, months and years ahead. Wanted to share that on the upcoming vote confirming Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary, I will vote no and I will do it proudly.” Two days later, he posted plans to vote against Tillerson.
It’s unclear exactly which factors are emboldening Schumer to speak out more, but the growing grassroots movement—judged by the phone calls flooding into his office and the continued rallies at his home and office—shows no signs of letting up.
Within hours of swearing in, Trump crippled the EPA by freezing environmental rules pending review and suspending environmental grants and contracts thus stalling billions to key operations like air pollution monitoring. He ordered the EPA not to communicate to the public even to publish vital data about emissions and environmental concerns directly affecting the health of communities. Their data on climate change was scrubbed from the White House website. Veteran journalist and commentator Bill Moyers says, “Unfettered industry threatens to make America great for polluters again.”
Senate Republicans pressed forward yesterday with the confirmation of Pruitt, suspending the Environment and Public Works Committee’s rules to approve the cabinet pick despite a Democratic boycott. The 11-0 vote moves the nomination to the full Senate, where Pruitt is most likely to be approved next week.
Food and Water Watch and many of their supporters say they are in it for the long run and will continue to pay close attention to decisions affecting the ability of the EPA to protect and inform the public.
Cayte Bosler is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist who has contributed to The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Fast Company. You can find her on Twitter @caytebosler and Instagram at cayte_b