Help Stop Betsy DeVos from Becoming Education Secretary With Your Phone And Your Friends

feature image via NBC

We know we cannot, cannot have Betsy DeVos as secretary for education. So let’s do everything to stop her from getting confirmed — right now the committee has postponed their vote on her to January 31, pending an ethics review. This is an immediate call to action. We (Ali and Carrie) are gonna put all the very necessary, do-it-right-now info up front, and then we’re going to explain why after in case you wanna get more in depth.

Call These Senators To Voice Your Concerns About DeVos

Who needs to call: people who live in Tennessee, Wyoming, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Louisiana, Indiana, Utah, Kansas and Alaska.

Who to call: Help Committee Republicans. Here’s a list:
Lamar Alexander (TN) – 202-224-4944
Michael B. Enzi (WY) – 202-224-3424
Richard Burr (NC) – 202-224-3154
Johnny Isakson (GA) – 202-224-3643
Rand Paul (KY) – 202-224-4343
Susan Collins (ME) – 202-224-2523
Bill Cassidy, M.D. (LA) – 202-224-5824
Todd Young (IN) 202-224-5623
Orrin Hatch (UT) – 202-224-5251
Pat Roberts (KS) – 202-224-4774
Lisa Murkowski (AK) – 202-224-6665
Tim Scott (SC) – 202-224-6121

What to say:

Hello, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a constituent of [SENATOR’S NAME] from [CITY WHERE YOU LIVE]. My address is [ADDRESS]. I’m calling to urge [SENATOR’S NAME] to vote against Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education. There are plenty of reasons to oppose her confirmation, but I’m concerned with her complete ignorance around special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — which DeVos did not know was a federal law — guarantees rights to both students with disabilities and to their parents. So this isn’t just about civil rights; it’s also crucial to families. We cannot afford a Secretary of Education who’s “confused” on what the law is.

IDEA and the ADA were both signed into law by Republican Presidents. Disability rights are not and cannot become a partisan issue, and [SENATOR’S NAME] will lose my vote if [HE/SHE] votes to confirm Betsy DeVos.

Please feel free to personalize your script and make it sound more natural to you, but please stick to this message. This is a message tailored to Senate Republicans, because that is who you are talking to. They’re going to ask your zip code or address to verify you’re a constituent, and that is normal.

What to do if you don’t live in those states: talk to EVERYONE you know who does and share this far and wide. Keep in mind your audience when you’re talking to people — if your friend or family member is progressive, go ahead and share this article, that’s fine. If they aren’t or you’re not sure, talk to them, text or email them instead and express that you’re sure you can both agree on one thing: that someone being confirmed to a cabinet position needs to be more qualified than this. They have to at least know federal law in the arena they’re preparing to step into. Betsy DeVos doesn’t. Tell them to fight for the best cabinet, and that you’re confident that the Trump administration can find a better nominee.

When to take action: IMMEDIATELY. If you’re in any of the above-mentioned states, pick up the phone and call now. If you’re not, mobilize your network and share this information on social media. The Senate HELP Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination on Tuesday, January 31st at 10 am. If all Republicans on the Committee vote to confirm her, the nomination will go to the Senate floor for a final vote.


Alrighty, now for some questions:

Why these senators?

These are the Republicans on the Senate HELP (Health, Education Labor & Pensions) Committee. You’ve probably seen videos with the Democrats of this committee, people like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken. They already think DeVos is harmful and ridiculous. You can call them too and tell them good job; they don’t hear that enough! But for this action to have a snowball’s chance in Hades, it’s the Republicans we need.

The Senate HELP committee can choose not to move Betsy DeVos forward. If they do that, it forces the administration to pick again. If they pick someone just as incompetent, well. We’ll be back here doing this again.

Why aren’t we all just calling one senator?

Well, we can’t. Or rather, many of us can’t. Those of us who don’t live in the above mentioned states can’t call those senators. They don’t have to listen to us. They’re only going to listen to people who live in those states.

And all of these senators, when they begin receiving these calls, are gonna talk to each other. And they might decide that moving DeVos forward in the process is a bad idea.

Why education, specifically?

Ali: A few reasons. I believe that education is fundamentally a queer issue. Oftentimes our youth are alone in their schools or feel like they are, fighting for a good education that adults just aren’t giving them. It’s up to us to take care of them. Here’s a way we can help do it. I also think we have a shot at this one because the footage of the hearings have been SO ridiculous, so it’s good to go for something we’ve got a shot at. And lastly, I work in higher education and sit on the advisory board for an organization called WriteOn! so I have a lot of things to say about education. This is one area where I feel like I can personally make a difference, and education is how we fix this. Bolstering American education is how we try to ensure that the populace does not fall for this again. This is long term strategy.

Carrie: “Special education” isn’t just the “separate classes” thing you might be used to. I was always mainstream schooled, educated alongside nondisabled people, and in honors or Advanced Placement courses, and I have special education laws like IDEA to thank for every single part of that. Without them I might not have been able to go to school at all. That’s not an exaggeration — over one million disabled kids had zero access to public schools in America before IDEA came to be. My education, largely via public schools, is what allows me to hold down jobs, live an independent adult life, and do all of the disability advocacy work I’m taking on now. Betsy DeVos is not just a joke of a nominee. She is actively, malignantly ignorant, and I can’t sit by while future generations of disabled folks have their rights and futures snatched or “confused” by the Muggle equivalent of Dolores Umbridge.

Look at it this way: Trump’s cabinet only has 1,379 days to do their worst, and their success depends on us being uneducated and afraid. You have it in you to be neither.

But this statement doesn’t even say some of the most vile things about her! She’s for vouchers! Grizzly bears and guns!

Again, this is a statement tailored to Republican senators, not people who already agree with us. Republicans aren’t going to necessarily be into the idea that vouchers are a no-go right off the bat (though we hope to get them there in time). It’s better to have a clear, concise statement that a Republican can get behind. And calling lets them know their constituents are watching. Also of these things are the most vile things about her.

Okay… what exactly is IDEA?

At its core, it ensures that disabled students have the same access to education as nondisabled students, and at the time of its original inception under a different name more than one million disabled students didn’t have access to public schools, so it solved a present and dangerous problem. If you’ve ever had or heard of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), this also guarantees those. It guarantees a whole host of other things as well, it’s pretty vast and awesome. Also President Ford signed it into law. Y’all, it is not a good look to be against or ignorant of IDEA, regardless of political party.

Oh, and also: there’s a case up in the Supreme Court right now that’s set to determine basically the scope of what public schools have to and should provide disabled kids, so this is pretty relevant and we can’t really have a Secretary of Education who doesn’t know this.

Staff Writer for Autostraddle, Part-time Faculty at The New School (teaching digital storytelling), Managing Editor for Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard Center for Research On Women. Follow me on Twitter @AEOsworth or on Instagram, also @AEOsworth.

A.E. has written 544 articles for us.

51 Comments

  1. Hey! It’s actually folks from Alaska, not Arkansas, who need to call! Lisa Murkowski is the Senator from Alaska (AK) not Arkansas (AR).

    That being said, thank you for this list!! Have reached out to my friends from those places.

  2. “Without them I might not have been able to go to school at all. That’s not an exaggeration — over one million disabled kids had zero access to public schools in America before IDEA came to be.”

    Oh my god.

    • Right?! So much of what seems like common sense now only feels that way because of these laws. It’s not that everyone suddenly “had a heart” or whatever–it’s that we passed legislation, and we can’t afford to roll that back now or ever.

      • Right. If we waited for people to do stuff out of the goodness of their own hearts, nothing would ever happen on a grand scale.

        That’s what always bugs me about, like, when marriage equality was put before the Supreme Court and all of these people were like, “but the people should decide, it has to be the will of the people,” and I’m like, but people are assholes! Fact: People had already decided that marriage was a legal right, whenever straight marriage was encoded in our laws. Now we were just forcing them to face the full implications of that.

        We’ve decided in this country that children are supposed to receive a free education, so it is imperative that the law enforce that opportunity for every child. The end.

          • It is a basic principle, you’re right about that–but I think a lot of people, even on “our side, assume (especially when it comes to disability rights laws) that they don’t know anyone who is affected by or has benefited from stuff like this, and the fact is they’re wrong. So while you are preaching to the choir, the choir might have needed a little refresher anyway. Thanks for that!

  3. I live in Texas and as a student with disabilities here, I could not be more outraged by this candidate, if we can even call her that. I’m extremely worried that my rights as a student will be taken from me if she becomes the secretary of education. Please on my behalf CALL! I have a waiver and get accommodations but will I lose all that? Will I be able to sit next to my fellow college students and learn as they do with help that the government should provide for people like me? This is terrifying!

  4. Thanks for this! I will share this article with my friends who live in these states. I started a monthly letter writing group in November that has been successful so far. There are between five and a little over a dozen people at any given meeting and we typically send out about forty letters to our elected officials. We’ve even heard back from some of them. I highly recommend starting a group like this–it’s super easy and a great way to get stuff done while building community.

  5. This is amazing!!! I would love to have something like this for all of them? Or more of them? Having the information on who the relevant senators are and when the votes are and what would be good to say for more of the cabinet members would do a world of good. Maybe there is another website or organization that has compiled this info and made it accessible, if so I’d love to know that.

    • hi jaclyn! we’re doing our best to have coverage like this for all relevant issues and candidates, but unfortunately a lot of these issues are moving so fast and these pieces take so much time & research that it’s difficult to every time. we have shared a few resources that do a lot of this work also — here are newsletters that will deliver action steps, often including call scripts, into your inbox each day! i’d also definitely recommend looking into what was previously called We’re His Problem Now and is now called The 65, which organizes weekly calls to actions with phone scripts and more! you can check in each week to be part of a nationwide action on a certain issue or person!

      thank you for your interest and for doing this work! <3

  6. Just made a call from Anchorage, Alaska and I’m spreading the word to everyone in my office and all my friends up here too. Thank you, Carrie and Ali, for the rundown! And thank you for a script that might appeal to Murkowski and other Republicans. She is reasonable sometimes, but we sure have to stay on top of her to do the right things.

  7. Hey all! Long time lurker here but just joined. I have social anxiety but want to help and live in one of the listed states. Can someone tell me if I would reach a real person or a recording if I did this? Thanks!

    • Hi Tali and welcome! The answer to your question is “it depends”.

      I live in Alaska and when I called Murkowski last week I got a machine and left a message. Today I got an actual person on the phone. I struggle with social anxiety too and I know it can be hard. Just remember, the Senators work for us not the other way around. Don’t be nervous because we are actually their bosses! If anything, they should be nervous to hear from you.

      Also, generally the person who picks up is just concerned with getting down your name, address, and message. They won’t be asking you any questions or trying to intimidate you or trip you up. It’s just their job to deliver your message, so once you get through the script you’re done! I promise it’s not quite as scary as it sounds and the more you do it the easier it becomes. You can do it!

    • Hi there! I have the same issue! My strategy, when I can’t muster the strength to face a human phone voice, is to call outside of regular business hours. There is always a voicemail box available at those times, if that is the method of contact you prefer.

    • Hey, though I am an extrovert, I sometimes get really nervous on the phone. I know it’s not the same thing, but I have had great success in these moments by beginning with “I get a little nervous on the phone, so I’ve written down my statement and I’m going to read it.” And then I just read it and say thank you at the end! If that feels better for you, feel free to take and use that strategy!

  8. Hey NC constituents! So the North Carolina senator you actually want to call (who is on the fence about the confirmation) is Thom Tillis– phone: (202) 224-6342. Senator Richard Burr has already committed to voting yes on Betsy DeVos. So glad you all made this!

    • Hey everyone! You are welcome to call Senator Tillis as well as Senator Burr’s office, but the person who you talk with when you call for Tillis has informed me that they do not sit on that committee, and while they will pass along the message, that they do not expect to take any direct action otherwise.

  9. If you are calling senator Burr, tweak the last bit of the script — he has already announced that he will not run again after this term, so threatening to withhold a vote for him will be a hollow promise. Maybe say that you won’t vote for him or whomever runs from the Republican Party to take his seat?

  10. so i see a lot of places also encourage you to call even if your reps are dems/have already spoken in opposition to betsy devos (or whatever issue). is this rly useful at all? just wondering what y’all think/know

  11. Kansas people! Roberts’ DC office stopped answering the phone a few days ago. His local offices are still answering, so call there first.
    Dodge City: (620) 227-2244
    Overland Park: (913) 451-9343
    Topeka: (785) 295-2745
    Witchita: (316) 263-0416

    • Even though we are not supposed to, I went ahead and emailed all of the republican senators on the HELP committee anyway. If there was an option to ask for a response, I said “Yes” to make certain that someone sees my letter. The vote is on Tues, so I don’t know if they will receive these responses on time, but I could not get through on any of the DC phone lines!

      Anne

  12. I have been trying to figure something out; maybe one of you can take it further than I have. To preface, I am from Grand Rapids MI where it is just about impossible to be unaware of the doings of the DeVos family. In September, Betsy DeVos’s son, Rick DeVos, sponsers a giant art competition called Art Prize. The dates of the 2016 event were September 14-20. Trump visited Grand Rapids, somewhat unexpectedly, during Art Prize to meet with the DeVos clan. Supposedly, they had not yet decided whether to support Trump. What I am trying to find out is the dates of DeVos contributions to the members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and if significant money was donated after that meeting. In other words, was a deal made at that meeting? I know this family way too well and I oppose this appointment. I know the DeVos family paid big bucks for her appointment but if such a deal was made, is this at some point this illegal?
    I realize this is a long comment, but, as I said, I want to figure this put.
    Thanks

  13. God speed Betsy! I’m confident in your ability to make education more accessible and accountable! Take our kids education out of the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats and unions!

    • Trevor, you have found your way into a part of society that you are not welcome in, and from your pathetic endorsement of Betsy De Vos, you have outstayed your welcome. Go back to your White Heterosexual, Christian universe and don’t come back here.

  14. Thanks so much for writing this down in such an informative yet concise manner!

    I feel like we’re all reeling and upset, but many of us are still not clear on how to do the whole I’m-the-kind-of-person-who-calls-my-Congressperson thing.

    And I’m friggin thrilled that so many of these kinds of articles are popping out. This, however, has been my favorite. Please keep it up and thanks again!

  15. If you’re having trouble getting through to Tim Scott, (SC) here’s a number to his staffer, Anton Castaneda, 202-224-2824. (I think he and I are going to be close friends by the end of these next four years.)

  16. I read the article and made the calls to all of them and said support her its time for a good change instead of these brainwashing schools continuing as they are with their way or the highway. Wish she was here 30 years ago

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