Group Reading and Defense Plan: “Indivisible”, Ch 1

Hopefully we have all been writing and calling our Representatives, trying to find ways to engage with our neighbors, and taking time to make sure we don’t go crazy. As time goes on and these things become easier, we have more room in our hearts, and our lives to take on more responsibilities. We level up. How do we level up our activism and advocacy in ways that make a difference, are effective, and are still manageable in our lives?

To learn how to do that, we are going to go over together the online document “Indivisible: A practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”, chapter by chapter:

Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda

Former congressional staffers reveal best practices for making Congress listen

 

Donald Trump is the biggest popular vote loser in history to ever call himself President-Elect. In spite of the fact that he has no mandate, he will attempt to use his congressional majority to reshape America in his own racist, authoritarian, and corrupt image. If progressives are going to stop this, we must stand indivisibly opposed to Trump and the members of Congress who would do his bidding. Together, we have the power to resist – and we have the power to win.

 

We know this because we’ve seen it before. The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own members of Congress to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism – and they won.

We believe that protecting our values and neighbors will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda – but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness. Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Barack Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.
Who is this document by and for?
We: Are former progressive congressional staffers who saw the Tea Party beat back President Obama’s agenda.
We: See the enthusiasm to fight the Trump agenda and want to share insider info on how best to influence Congress to do that.
You: Want to do your part to beat back the Trump agenda and understand that will require more than calls & petitions.
You: Should use this guide, share it, amend it, make it your own, and get to work.


To this end, the following chapters offer a step-by-step guide for individuals, groups, and organizations looking to replicate the Tea Party’s success in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal, dedicated group of constituents. The guide is intended to be equally useful for stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.

 

We believe that the next four years depend on citizens across the country standing indivisible against the Trump agenda. We believe that buying into false promises or accepting partial concessions will only further empower Trump to victimize our fellow citizens. We hope that this guide will provide those who share that belief useful tools to make Congress listen.

 

P.S. We’re doing this in our free time without coordination or support from our employers. We’re not starting an organization and we’re not selling anything. Feel free to ping some of us on Twitter with questions, edits, recommendations, stories about what is helpful here: @ezralevin, @angelrafpadilla, @texpat, @Leahgreenb. Or email IndivisibleAgainstTrump@gmail.com. And please please please spread the word! Only folks who know this exists will use it. Click here to share on Facebook and here to share to Twitter. Thank you! We will win.

Summary

Here’s the quick and dirty summary of this document. While this page summarizes top-level takeaways, the full document describes how to actually carry out these activities.

 

Ch. 1:  How grassroots advocacy worked to stop Obama. We examine lessons from the Tea Party’s rise and recommend two key strategic components:

 

  1. A local strategy targeting individual Members of Congress (MoCs).

 

  1. A defensive approach purely focused on stopping Trump from implementing an agenda built on racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.

 

Ch. 2: How your MoC thinks, and how to use that to save democracy. Reelection, reelection, reelection. MoCs want their constituents to think well of them and they want good, local press. They hate surprises, wasted time, and most of all, bad press that makes them look weak, unlikable, and vulnerable. You will use these interests to make them listen and act.

 

Ch. 3: Identify or organize your local group. Is there an existing local group or network you can join? Or do you need to start your own? We suggest steps to help mobilize your fellow constituents locally and start organizing for action.

 

Ch. 4: Four local advocacy tactics that actually work. Most of you have 3 MoCs – two Senators and one Representative. Whether you like it or not, they are your voice in Washington. Your job is to make sure they are, in fact, speaking for you. We’ve identified four key opportunity areas to pressure MoCs that just a handful of local constituents can use to great effect. For each of these always record encounters on video, prepare questions ahead of time, coordinate with your group, and report back to local media:

  1. Townhalls. MoCs regularly hold public in-district events to show that they are listening to constituents. Make them listen to you, and report out when they don’t.

 

  1. Non-townhall events. MoCs love cutting ribbons and kissing babies back home. Don’t let them get photo-ops without questions about racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.

 

  1. District office sit-ins/meetings. Every MoC has one or several district offices. Go there. Demand a meeting with the MoC. Report to the world if they refuse to listen.

 

  1. Coordinated calls. Calls are a light lift but can have impact. Organize your local group to barrage your MoCs at an opportune moment and on a specific issue.

Ch. 1. How grassroots advocacy worked to stop Obama

“If they succeed, or even half succeed, the tea party’s most important legacy may be organizational, not political.” -Jonathan Rausch

 

Like us, you probably deeply disagree with the principles and positions of the Tea Party. But we can all learn from their success in influencing the national debate and the behavior of national policymakers. To their credit, they thought thoroughly about advocacy tactics, as this leaked “best practices” guide demonstrates.

 

This chapter draws on both research and our own experiences as former congressional staffers to illustrate the strengths of the Tea Party movement and to provide lessons to leverage in the fight against Trump’s racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.

 

What the Tea Party Accomplished
The Tea Party organized to effectively end hope for progressive reform under Obama. Their members:

  • Changed votes and defeated legislation
  • Radically slowed federal policymaking
  • Forced Republicans to reject compromise
  • Shaped national debate over Obama’s agenda
  • Paved the way for the Republican takeover in 2010 and Donald Trump today

These were real, tangible results by a group that represented only a small portion of Americans.

Why We Are Not the Tea Party
The Tea Party’s ideas were wrong, and their behavior was often horrible. Their members:

  • Ignored reality and made up their own facts
  • Threatened anybody they considered an enemy
  • Physically assaulted and spat on staff
  • Shouted obscenities and burned people in effigy
  • Targeted their hate not just at Congress, but also fellow citizens (especially people of color)

We are better than this. We are the majority, and we don’t need petty scare tactics to show that our cause is just.


The Tea Party’s two key strategic choices

The Tea Party’s success came down to two critical strategic elements:

 

1)  They were locally focused.The Tea Party started as an organic movement built on small local groups of dedicated conservatives. Yes, they received some support/coordination from above, but fundamentally all the hubbub was caused by a relatively small number of conservatives working together. To summarize:

 

  • Groups started as disaffected conservatives talking to each other online. In response to the 2008 bank bailouts and Obama’s election, groups began forming to discuss their anger and what could be done. They eventually realized that the locally-based discussion groups themselves could be a powerful tool.

 

  • Groups were small, local, and dedicated. Local Tea Party groups could be fewer than 10 people, but they were highly localized and dedicated significant personal time and resources. Members communicated with each other regularly, tracked developments in Washington, and coordinated advocacy efforts together.

 

  • Groups were relatively small in number. The Tea Party was not hundreds of thousands of people spending every waking hour focused on advocacy. Rather, the efforts were somewhat modest. Only 1 in 5 self-identified Tea Partiers contributed money or attended events. On any given day in 2009 or 2010, only twenty local events – meetings, trainings, townhalls, etc. – were scheduled nationwide. In short, a relatively small number of groups were having a big impact on the national debate.

 

2) They were almost purely defensive.The Tea Party focused on saying NO to Members of Congress on their home turf. While the Tea Party activists were united by a core set of shared beliefs, they actively avoided developing their own policy agenda. Instead, they had an extraordinary clarity of purpose, united in opposition to President Obama. They didn’t accept concessions and treated weak Republicans as traitors. To summarize:

 

  • Groups focused on defense, not policy development. The Tea Party took root in 2009, focused on fighting against every proposal coming out of the new Democratic Administration and Congress. This focus on defense rather than policy development allowed the movement to avoid fracturing. Tea Party members may not have agreed on the policy reforms, but they could agree that Obama, Democrats, and moderate Republicans had to be stopped.

 

  • Groups rejected concessions to Democrats and targeted weak Republicans. Tea Partiers viewed concessions to Democrats as betrayal. This limited their ability to negotiate, but they didn’t care. Instead they focused on scaring congressional Democrats and keeping Republicans honest. As a result, few Republicans spoke against the Tea Party for fear of attracting blowback.

 

    • Groups focused on local congressional representation. Tea Partiers primarily applied this defensive strategy by pressuring their own local Members of Congress (MoCs). This meant demanding that that their own personal Representatives and Senators be their voice of opposition on Capitol Hill. At a tactical level, the Tea Party had several replicable practices, including:
  • Showing up to the MoC’s town hall meetings and demanding answers
  • Showing up to the MoC’s office and demanding a meeting
    • Coordinating blanket calling of congressional offices at key moments

 

Using these lessons to fight the Trump agenda

For the next two years, Donald Trump and congressional Republicans will control the federal government. But they will depend on just about every member of Congress to actually get laws passed. And those members of Congress care much more about getting reelected than they care about any specific issue. By adopting a defensive strategy that pressures MoCs, we can achieve the following goals:

 

  • Stall the Trump agenda by forcing them to redirect energy away from their priorities. Congressional offices have limited time and limited people. A day that they spend worrying about you is a day that they’re not spending on ending Medicare, privatizing public schools, or preparing a Muslim registry.

  • Sap Representatives’ will to support or drive reactionary change. If you do this right, you will have an outsized impact. Every time your member of Congress signs on to a bill, takes a position, or makes a statement, a little part of his or her mind will be thinking, “How am I going to explain this to the angry constituents who keep showing up at my events and demanding answers?”

  • Reaffirm the illegitimacy of the Trump agenda. The hard truth is that Trump, McConnell, and Ryan will have the votes to cause some damage. But by objecting as loudly and powerfully as possible, and by centering the voices of those who are most affected by their agenda, you can ensure that people understand exactly how bad these laws are from the very start – priming the ground for the 2018 midterms and their repeal when Democrats retake power.

 

Shouldn’t We Put Forward an Alternate, Positive Agenda?
A defensive strategy does not mean dropping your own policy priorities or staying silent on an alternate vision for our country over the next four years. What it means is that, when you’re trying to influence your MoC, you will have the most leverage when you are focused on whatever the current legislative priority is.
You may not like the idea of being purely defensive; we certainly don’t. As progressives, our natural inclination is to talk about the things we’re for – a clean climate, economic justice, health care for all, racial equality, gender and sexual equality, and peace and human rights. These are the things that move us. But the hard truth of the next four years is that we’re not going to set the agenda; Trump and congressional Republicans will, and we’ll have to respond.  The best way to stand up for the progressive values and policies we cherish is to stand together, indivisible – to treat an attack on one as an attack on all.

 

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