Struggling to project her voice over persistent taxi horns and far-off sirens blaring through Center City, Sarah Roberts kept the megaphone close to her mouth.
Perhaps it was her nerves — this was Roberts' first time addressing a crowd through a bullhorn — or maybe the biting cold weather that left the audience straining to hear her words.
The 31-year-old petite woman in an oversized magenta beanie, nonetheless was sending a powerful message to conservatives,and using their ammunition against them.
"Leviticus—which I know [Sen. Jeff Sessions] must love because he is really fond of using it to say gay people like me don't deserve God's love," Roberts said through the megaphone. "Leviticus also says, 'When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among youmust be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself,for you were foreigners in Egypt.'"
It was the seventh week that a crowd had gathered outside Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey'sPhiladelphia outpost. Branded #TuesdaysWithToomey, constituents came en masse to send their senator a message. This week, they were urging the recentlyre-elected official to oppose Sessions' nomination to attorney general.
Roberts, an Alabama transplant, has much in common with the controversial Republican: They hail from the same Southern state; They were both raised in Methodist churches; And they both use Scripture to guide their political beliefs.
"In case anyone —Jeff Sessions, Pat Toomey — is confused, this means do not ban Muslims or Latinos from America, or treat them as second-class citizens," Roberts continued amid cheers from the crowd. "And it does not mean that black children in America should have bad schools, and white people in America have good schools."
Tuesdays with Toomey has now spread across the state, with events every week inAllentown, Johnstownand Pittsburgh. Initial gatherings in Philadelphia consisted of a band of hardly 10 protestors. This week, organizers expected 150, and saw a turnout that neared 100.
Vashti Bandy joined in its second week, and now organizes communications for Tuesdays with Toomey. In a letter to the editor published with NewsWorks, Bandy used the one-year anniversary of David Bowie's death to urge people to be heroes for civil rights— "if just for one day."
Not surprisingly, social justice is in her blood. Bandy's grandmother, a Macon, Georgia,native,marched with Martin Luther King Jr. before relocating her family to Philly, fleeing a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob. She died shortly before President Barack Obama won his first term.
"If she was still here, she'd be fighting like hell," Bandy said.
That responsibility now rests with Bandy, who has vowed to stand outside Toomey's office every Tuesday for the next six years, each week armed with a different issue.
Toomey's office is less predictable. In early gatherings, staffers invited the group up to their office, and facilitated discussion. But last week, activists were locked out of Eight Penn Center, the high-rise that houses Toomey's 17th-floor office. According to Bandy, Toomey's office was closed that afternoonand staffers didn't accept letters activists had written.
"Last week, Senator Toomey's staff was committed elsewhere at that time," press secretary Steve Kelly told Metro in an email. "Staff notified the group of the situation in advance and offered a meeting at another time."
Kelly also said Toomey's staff has met with the Tuesdays with Toomey group several times in recent months, and said they are happy to continue doing so, "as issues warrant."The senator, Kelly added, is in Washington during the gatherings.
This week, a Philadelphia Police Department civil affairs officer facilitated the exchange of more than 50 letters to Toomey's camp. But again, the crowd was locked out of the building.
Bandy, a diligent caller to Toomey's eight offices, doesn't want just a standard response —not like she's received one yet. She, and many others who gather at the senator's Center City office, are demanding more.
"We want him to work for us, and we want him to listen to us," Bandy said.
Tom Paine Cronin, a lifetime Philadelphia resident and former leader of District Council 47, made his first appearance at Tuesdays with Toomey this week. He said Trump's upcoming inauguration brought him out into the cold, and agreed with Bandy's call for Toomey to lend an ear.
"Someone, a United States senator or any representative of the government, ought to be there to hear what people have to say, whether they agree with them or not," Cronin said. "You're supposed to be at least accessible to your constituents...The fact that [Toomey] just got re-elected, you would hope that you could influence him or open him up a little bit to be more receptive to people who have different opinions."
Listening more was among the pieces of advice Toomey offered Trump before he won their party's nomination in Cleveland.
"Some of your critics might have a point," Toomey wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer. "If you listen more, and talk less, you might even win some of them over. You will have to in order to be successful."