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‘Indivisible’ Guide Teaches Progressives How to Play Defense Against Trump

KiMi Robinson
Intern
KiMi Robinson joined the Truthdig team in September 2016 as an intern and recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University with a B.A. in English. With bylines in online publications from The Hollywood Reporter…
KiMi Robinson

Protesters at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., show their support for the “Indivisible” Trump resistance movement. (via Indivisible)

Now that Donald Trump has been inaugurated, resistance is unavoidable. Just look at the reports of riots and protests filling your news feeds.

But preventing Congress from carrying out Trump’s agenda takes more than vocalized disapproval and demonstrations. To explain what works, a group of progressives—including former Democratic congressional staff members and those who have worked on Capitol Hill—created “Indivisible,” a guide to effective resistance that has been downloaded by more than half a million people in one month.

How would they know how to slow down federal policymaking? They’ve seen it all firsthand: In the early days of the Obama administration, these two dozen staffers could barely carry out daily tasks in their congressional offices as tea party adherents brought any action to a crawl by, in their words, “scaring congressional Democrats and keeping Republicans honest.”

“The tea party’s success was a disaster for President Obama’s agenda and for our country, but that success should give us hope today,” three former staffers wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece. “It proved the power that local, defensive organizing can have.”

Seven years later, these now-former staffers are arguing that progressives should look to replicate the ultraconservative movement’s defensive strategy. By organizing small grass-roots groups that pledge to hold their local districts’ representatives accountable to their constituents—as the tea party did, they note—progressives have a chance to prevent Congress from passing agendas that undermine democracy.

Last month, the staffers compiled their collective knowledge of how congressional representatives’ offices work into a publicly accessible Google document that suggests actions aimed at effectively “stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.”

Not long afterward, the page crashed as secret progressive Facebook groups such as Pantsuit Nation and verified Twitter accounts shared the document across the web. Responding to the high demand, the authors then created an official website for the 25-page guide, now called “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.”

The document, which can be read, downloaded and printed in English and Spanish on the Indivisible website, states: “Our goal is to provide practical understanding of how your [members of Congress] think, and how you can demonstrate to them the depth and power of the opposition to Donald Trump and Republican congressional overreach.”

It goes on to advise progressives on the most effective forms of resistance. This includes taking advantage of the fact that their members of Congress (MoC) are first and foremost beholden to their constituents.

“Every single member of Congress is very focused on that goal of convincing their constituents that they are representing them in Congress, which is why relatively small numbers of constituents can really change the behavior of members of Congress,” said Ezra Levin, a co-author of the guide and former policy adviser to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.

Conversely, the guide warns, reaching out to MoCs who don’t represent you is a waste of time. Rep. Paul Ryan, for example, is not likely to respond to anyone outside his congressional district in Wisconsin.

Resistance on the local level can and will make an impact on a national level, the authors argue, and this isn’t the time to rely on congressional members like U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., to hold Trump accountable. All it takes is convincing your representative that it is not in his or her best interest to allow the GOP-led Congress to get away with following through on Republican promises that include ending Medicare, creating a Muslim registry and privatizing public schools. If representatives go against their most passionate constituents’ interests, their re-election is in jeopardy, the authors write.

“Federal policy change in the next four years doesn’t depend on Mr. Trump but on whether our representatives support or oppose him,” the guide says. “And through local pressure, we have the power to shape what they consider possible.”

Resistance should be easier with “a petty tyrant named Trump” than with the “popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress” that the tea party faced, according to the guide’s authors. They write: “Unlike President Obama … Trump has no mandate, a slim congressional majority and a slew of brewing scandals. Our incoming president is a weak president, and he can be beat.”

However, as they draw inspiration from the tea party, the authors make sure to differentiate themselves from “petty scare tactics.”

“Their [the Trump campaign’s] ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism—and they won,” they write. Resistance to Trump would be “built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness.”

In an interview with Truthdig, “Indivisible” co-author Angel Padilla, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., emphasized that nothing in the guide is groundbreaking. It simply tapped into an already existing network of people who want to resist Trump but don’t know how.

“Indivisible” is “kind of the secret sauce that explains what is bubbling up as what may be the start of the anti-Trump movement,” MSNBC personality Rachel Maddow explained in a segment on her eponymous show.

She continued: “This has not really been cooking openly, in the Beltway media and on cable TV news, and in places we usually look for news about politics. It really has been cooking online, where it has taken off.” With 2,400 registered local “Indivisible”-inspired groups across the U.S., and counting, there seems to be a chance that the guide’s tea party-inspired strategies could be a boon for progressives. These groups in various congressional districts live-tweet from state senators’ offices, share scripts for phone conversations with congressional staffers, and host conference calls to organize members. The Austin, Texas, chapter of Indivisible, for example, provides scripts for a phone call or email to urge Texas senators to fight for the Affordable Care Act.

The guide suggests town halls, office sit-ins and protests at public appearances as the best ways to demand answers from a member of Congress. The strategy it provides for attending public events reads:

Be prepared to interrupt and insist on your right to be heard. Since you won’t get the mic at an event like this, you have to attract attention to yourself and your message. Agree beforehand with your group on a simple message focused on a current or upcoming issue. Coordinate with each other to chant this message during any public remarks that your MoC makes. This can be difficult and a bit uncomfortable. But it sends a powerful message to your MOC that they won’t be able to get press for other events until they address your concerns.

Slate’s Jim Newell explains why the Indivisible movement has a chance of succeeding on Capitol Hill:

[T]he authors admit that Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will have the votes to push through what they want to put through. Activists’ goal, even if they can’t prevent something from going into action, is to make their members own the consequences and lay the groundwork for their repeal. … ‘Indivisible’ is a more useful document for progressives than all of the online hand-wringing since election night combined.

Newell and the authors of “Indivisible” are not the only ones who think tea party tactics might work against a GOP-led Congress. In a closed-door session with Democratic lawmakers earlier this month, President Obama—whose administration lost the House in 2010 after being met with ardent tea party resistance—reportedly said Democrats must “replicate the tea party” in opposition to Republican lawmakers’ rolling back the Affordable Care Act.

But others are more skeptical about applying tea-party strategy to the Democratic Party.

“This only works if the Democrats are progressive in the first place. There can be no left-tea party without an organizing ideology,” writes Jamie Peck at The Guardian. “For all the New Democrats’ talk of pragmatism over ideology, it seems the truly practical thing would be to grow some sort of ideological backbone. … The good news is that once this happens, progressive activists and lawmakers will be able to use tea party’s tactics better than the tea party itself, because the left has actual grassroots movements.”

But so far, the more than 2,000 Indivisible groups are enthusiastically counting their successes, day by day, as they disrupt the operations at local congressional offices.

Missouri’s Indivisible Kansas City has organized around convincing Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., to stand against repealing the Affordable Care Act. So far, the group has sent a scrapbook filled with anecdotes of families receiving care under the ACA and staged three events at the senator’s mobile office, for which the senator was not present.

“Roy Blunt rarely ever comes back to the state he represents. He was not at any of these mobile office events,” organizer Emily Riegel told Truthdig in an email. “At the mobile office events last week, there were 10 to 30 people at each of the three events. That doesn’t sound like many, but those staffers were clearly not prepared to have more than a few people attend, and certainly not to have people attending who are going to ask tough questions.”

At the dawn of the Trump administration, Riegel and her group’s work is just beginning. Padilla says the guide’s authors couldn’t be more encouraged by how she and more than 100,000 others have made “Indivisible” their own. In the coming weeks, he said, the authors will continue to rework the guide for optimal inclusivity.

“[T]his fight won’t be won by politicos in Washington, D.C.,” the guide declares. “It will be won by you, and it starts today.”

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