Last Tuesday morning, four members of the West Marin chapter of Indivisible met in the parking lot of the Dance Palace Community Center to carpool to Senator Kamala Harris’s office in San Francisco. It’s a trek that members make monthly—though sometimes to Congressman Jared Huffman’s or Senator Dianne Feinstein’s offices—and on the agenda this week were the movements calling for the President’s impeachment and Jeff Sessions’s resignation, Scott Pruitt’s destruction of the Environmental Protection Agency, Trumpcare, the skinny budget and “how can we help the Senator?”
The Indivisible movement launched nationally a few days after last fall’s election, when two former congressional staffers drafted a strategy outlining how local activism could stand a chance at making real change in Congress.
“If the Tea Party was able to take on a historically popular President Obama with a Democratic supermajority to slow and sometimes defeat his federal agenda, we can surely take on Donald Trump and the members of Congress who would do his bidding,” the website states.
Since then, more than 5,800 local chapters have registered—at least two in every congressional district in the nation. Point Reyes Station resident Mary Morgan, a member of the Mainstreet Moms, convened Indivisible West Marin’s first meeting in late January.
She said she was struck by the accessibility of the four-point approach: use the Tea Party-inspired strategy of locally focused, defensive congressional advocacy (“without the vitriol”); build constituent power through organized local groups; use politicians’ interest in reelection to leverage constituent power; and focus on your three members of Congress.
“After the election, people were depressed and thrashing around for something to do,” Ms. Morgan said. “This was simple. It was a local strategy, seemed very doable, and had been successfully used by the Tea Party to stop Obama dead in his tracks.”
The group, which numbers around 10, meets every Tuesday to coordinate an agenda for their visits. They usually meet with a staffer or intern—often the same one to build consistency—during the visits, to which they bring discussion items about the hot issues of the week. The staffer answers questions about the senator’s stance on particular issues, and both sides come away from the meeting with specific actions to take.
“The first thing we had to do was to learn to communicate with our members of Congress,” Ms. Morgan said. “We had to learn how the office is organized, who exactly we would be meeting with, whether email, phone or letters were best, whether to call D.C. or the local office and things like that.”
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Morgan said they were greeted at the elevator by the breaking news of a delay in the Senate vote on the health care bill. This was an opportunity for more action.
The staffer for Sen. Harris helped the group to identify what was most important: they would contact Republican senators who’ve expressed concern about the bill with the message “your vote is going to affect me” and reach out to family and friends in other states. They would ask local representatives to contact senators with the message that “our local budgets will be affected by this bill.”
And they would share personal stories to illustrate the messages.
Robin White, a Point Reyes Station resident who is part of the group, said she’s appreciated learning just how active her elected representatives already are on issues important to her.
“I was always a voter, but I was never very political, and so it’s really enlightening to see human beings doing the political work,” she said. “They are really knowledgeable and responsive and doing everything they can. This has brought politics to a very real level for me.”
Indivisible West Marin also puts out an email to over 200 people with specific actions. “We just keep simplifying and simplifying and simplifying, paring it down to the fewest number of actions possible,” Ms. White said of the newsletter. “We wanted to make them clear, not wordy, so it is really easy for people.”
Ms. Morgan emphasized how important it is to keep things simple. They are taking “bite-sized actions,” or activism that does not take up one’s whole life. Yet, she said, the impact of these actions amplifies.
“Our representatives are encouraged to hear from us,” she said. “We give them the cover, the encouragement, and the courage to do the right thing.”
Ms. Morgan described how Sen. Feinstein had “cover” to oppose the confirmation of Neil Gorsich as Supreme Court Justice because she’d heard from over 100,000 constituents on the issue, 85 percent of whom were opposed to his confirmation.
“There are so many personal attacks in Washington right now,” she went on. “Agendas and budgets are being torn apart, and if we don’t stand behind our representatives and tell them we really appreciate what they are doing, well, I can’t imagine how they would feel.”