By Teddy Robertson
It’s Feb. 16 and a big rainstorm is predicted for California tonight. It is also Day 27 of the new administration of the 45th President of the United States. I’ve come out for the first meeting of San Pedro, California, residents interested in a movement to resist the Trump agenda called “Indivisible.” I live in nearby Torrance this time of the year, so I’ve turned up too.
Indivisible emerged from the experience of former congressional staffers who saw first-hand the methods of the Tea Party in 2009 that successfully pressured congressional Republicans to block the Obama agenda. After the Trump election these ex-staffers coordinated to produce a nuts-and-bolts guide to the tactics that they knew from experience worked.
Ezra Levin (former staffer to Texas Democratic representative Lloyd Doggett) together with some 30 others collaborated on a 26-page document called the Indivisible Guide that explains how to organize by Congressional districts and influence senators and representatives. Initially a Google-doc in mid-December, the Guide went viral in January when it was publicized by Robert Reich and George Takei, and an opinion piece in the New York Times
The Guide became a website that now lists a network of some 7,000 groups across the country organized to resist the Trump agenda. Local groups emphasize actions recommended by the Guide’s authors to influence their members of Congress (MoC’s). Citizens show up en masse to Congressional district offices and events, they flood Congressional phone lines, and they write letters. The goal? Let the members of Congress know that the constituents are watching; challenge elected Republicans about their wrong-headed policies, and support or stiffen the spines of Democrats.
I’m 10 minutes late for the 7 p.m. start and the parking lot is full.
The room is full too—it’s one of the former Army barracks atop the bluff of San Pedro that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Constructed in 1941 to house draftees for the anticipated war, it survives—sturdy and serviceable—from the administration of the 32nd President. Today part of Angels Gate Cultural Center, this barrack, Building H, is a large open space that is used by dance and yoga teachers. Its golden oak floor is still in good condition after 76 years.
I estimate 90 to 100 people are seated, some brought their own chairs, a few sit on tables at the side, or like me, just stand against the walls. It’s a kick-off meeting; for political old timers, much of the agenda is predictable (the Indivisible Guide Toolkit provides a template).
Meeting organizers announce this group’s name “IndivisibleSP”—“Indivisible San Pedro.” Introducing themselves, they explain their functions and call for volunteers to assist—an overall coordinator (Mark), a news/media relations contact (Peter), social media/membership (Samantha), film/recording actions (Melanie) and a secretary (Erin). White sign boards across their chests state their functions and four have names of the four California Members of Congress that this Indivisible group will track: California Senators Feinstein and Harris, and Representatives Lieu (33rd District where I live in Torrance, whose district includes part of San Pedro) and Barragán of the 44th District which dominates the rest of San Pedro.
The speakers emphasize the approach recommended by the Indivisible Guide: demystify advocacy, be inclusive, focus on your MoCs or members of Congress. The routine is weekly organizational and planning meetings and some action that members can do, whether from home (write letters, make phone calls) or events to attend like the swearing-in roadshow at San Pedro High School of newly elected Nanette Barragán. Future “actions” will be held at their district offices and effort will be concerted since over 50 Indivisible groups exist within a 20-mile radius. Congressman Lieu and Senator Harris are active on social media like Twitter and update their followers, but Feinstein is less visible and we need to see more of her—she has four offices in the state and we will show up there.
Mark (coordinator) urges using https://www.congress.gov/ to follow our representatives, what bills they are working on, and track their schedules for town halls and other events when they return to their districts—return to us. Shake hands and when appropriate, tell them “You are doing a great job.” If the member doesn’t take questions, then we shake hands and make a statement—and we all use the same statement. The goal is a relationship with MoCs and their staffers, to let them know constituents are watching; photos and filming is welcomed at events to spread the views of these electeds.
Peter (news/media relations) elaborates: “Publicity, releases and video about our actions will go out to news media and be spread directly to the public through social media. Indivisible relies primarily on defensive tactics that oppose what Trump and Congress is doing, but we will also be undertaking some offensive gambits that will include pushing for Trump to release his taxes, calling for Congressional investigations into Russian interference and collusion in the election, as well as pushing Democrats maintain a 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.”
As the formal part of the meeting winds up, a basket is passed around for contributions to defray the cost of room rental. Samantha (social media/membership) explains the final part of the meeting routine: break into small groups to talk and get to know one another.
Mark reminds us that form letters to Feinstein and Harris urging a vote against Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch are out in the entry way—typed templates with a brief text. Tablets are there; you can quickly write out a personalized letter with your name and address.
Someone calls out a reminder that the Pruitt vote for EPA is tomorrow, Friday. Get on the phones!
Tonight’s agenda is done. As people leave, some cluster in the entryway to copy the letter text provided—just tearing off the sheets from ruled tablets and rapidly copying the four-line paragraph, adding their own views or taking a picture with their phone so they can write later from home. I’m not a California resident so I get a photo of the template too; I can change the header and use it in Michigan. I’m already signed up for Indivisible meeting in my home county, Genesee, in March.
It’s only 7:40—less than an hour has passed. Citizen action proves disarmingly simple.
“This effort will require commitment and it will take place over many months,” says the media coordinator Peter. “But remember: There are more of us than them. We have been going forward for the past decade and Trump wants to take us backwards on voting rights, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, the environment, sustainable energy, so many things. We have fought too long and too hard and we don’t intend to stop supporting them.”
EVM columnist Teddy Robertson, who will be back soon to Flint, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.