Last group reading we talked about the most effective ways to deal with Members of Congress. We learned that to be effective, we need to engage with our own members of Congress who represent us, even if they already are doing what we want. We learned what things Members of Congress do and don’t care about so we can be effective in the ways we approach them.
This time we’re going to talk about organizing and working within a group:
Ch. 3: Organize a local group to fight for your congressional district
“We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers.” -Bayard Rustin
The Tea Party formed organically as conservatives upset after the 2008 election came together in local discussion groups. We believe the same thing is happening now across the country as progressives – in person, in already existing networks, and on Facebook – come together to move forward. The big question for these groups is: what’s next?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already part of a local network of people who want to stop the Trump agenda – even if it’s just your friends or a group on Facebook. This chapter is about how to take that energy to the next level, and start fighting locally to take the country back.
Should I Form a Group?
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel – if an activist group or network is already attempting to do congressional advocacy along these lines, just join up with them. Depending on your Representative’s district, it may make sense to have more than one group. This congressional map tool shows the boundaries for that district.
If you look around and can’t find a group working specifically on local action focused on your MoCs in your area, just start doing it! It’s not rocket science. You really just need two things:
- Ten or so people (but even fewer is a fine start!) who are geographically nearby – ideally in the same congressional district
- A commitment from those people to devote a couple hours per month to fighting the racism, authoritarianism, and corruption pushed by Trump
|Diversity in Your Group & Reaching Out
Trump’s agenda explicitly targets immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ people, the poor and working class, and women. It is critical that our resistance reflect and center the voices of those who are most directly threatened by the Trump agenda. If you are forming a group, we urge you to make a conscious effort to pursue diversity and solidarity at every stage in the process. Being inclusive and diverse might include recruiting members who can bridge language gaps, and finding ways to accommodate participation when people can’t attend due to work schedules, health issues, or childcare needs.
In addition, where there are local groups already organizing around the rights of those most threatened by the Trump agenda, we urge you to reach out to partner with them, amplify their voices, and defer to their leadership.
How to Form a Group
If you do want to form a group, here are our recommendations on how to go about it:
- Decide you’re going to start a local group dedicated to making your MoCs aware of their constituents’ opposition to the Trump agenda. This might be a subgroup of an already existing activist group, or it might be a new effort – it really depends on your circumstances. Start where people are: if you’re in a group with a lot of people who want to do this kind of thing, then start there; if you’re not, you’ll need to find them somewhere else. The most important thing is that this is a LOCAL group. Your band of heroes is focused on applying local pressure, which means you all need to be local.
- Identify a few additional co-founders who are interested in participating and recruiting others. Ideally, these are people who have different social networks from you so that you can maximize your reach. Make an effort to ensure that leadership of the group reflects the diversity of opposition to Trump.
- Email your contacts and post a message on your Facebook, on any local Facebook groups that you’re a member of, and/or other social media channels you use regularly. Say that you’re starting a group for constituents of Congresswoman Sara, dedicated to stopping the Trump agenda, and ask people to email you to sign up.
|How do I recruit people to take action?
Most people are moved to take action through individual conversations. Here are some tips for having successful conversations to inspire people to take action with your group.
Ask open-ended questions! People are more likely to take action when they articulate what they care about and can connect it to the action they are going to take. A good rule of thumb is to talk 30% of the time or less and listen at least 70% of the time.
- Invite everyone who has expressed interest to an in-person kickoff meeting. Use this meeting to agree on a name, principles for your group, roles for leadership, a way of communicating, and a strategy for your Representatives. Rule of thumb: 50% of the people who have said they are definitely coming will show up to your meeting. Aim high! Get people to commit to come – they’ll want to because saving democracy is fun.
- Manage the meeting: Keep people focused on the ultimate core strategy: applying pressure to your MoC to stop Trump. Other attendees may have other ideas – or may be coming to share their concerns about Trump – and it’s important to affirm their concerns and feelings. But it’s also important to redirect that energy and make sure that the conversation stays focused on developing a group and a plan of action dedicated to this strategy.
- Decide on a name: Good names include the geographic area of your group, so that it’s clear that you’re rooted in the community – e.g., “Springfield Indivisible Against Hate.” You are also 100% welcome to pick up and run with the Indivisible name if you want, but we won’t be hurt if you don’t.
- Agree on principles: This is your chance to say what your group stands for. We recommend two guiding principles:
- Donald Trump’s agenda will take America backwards and must be stopped.
- In order to work together to achieve this goal, we must model the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness.
As discussed in the second chapter, we strongly recommend focusing on defense against the Trump agenda rather than developing an entire alternative policy agenda. This is time-intensive, divisive, and, quite frankly, a distraction, since there is zero chance that we as progressives will get to put our agenda into action at the federal level in the next four years.
- Volunteer for roles: Figure out how to divide roles and responsibilities among your group. This can look very different depending on who’s in the room, but at a minimum, you probably want 1-2 people in charge of overall group coordination, a designated media/social media contact, and 1-2 people in charge of tracking the Congressional office’s schedule and events. In addition to these administrative roles, ask attendees how they want to contribute to advocacy efforts: attend events, record events, ask questions, make calls, host meetings, engage on social media, write op-eds for local papers, etc.
- Adopt means of communication: You need a way of reaching everyone in your group in order to coordinate actions. This can be a Facebook group, a Google group, a Slack team – whatever people are most comfortable with. It may be wise to consider secure or encrypted platforms such as Signal and WhatsApp.
- Expand! Enlist your members to recruit across their networks. Ask every member to send out the same outreach emails/posts that you did.
- Recruit people for your email list – 100 or 200 isn’t unreasonable.
- We strongly recommend making a conscious effort to diversify your group and particularly to center around and defer to communities of people who are most directly affected by the racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and antipathy towards the poor of the Trump administration. This could include both reaching out through your own networks and forming relationships with community groups that are already working on protecting the rights of marginalized groups.
Something that this doesn’t address is the interest and need many people have right now to gather as a group in their communities, but maybe aren’t ready yet for collective action. Forming this kind of group will be addressed in a separate post.