Will Going from Non-organization to Organization Kill Indivisible’s Real Influence?

February 10, 2017; Politico

In the week since the election, a progressive grassroots movement has spread across the country in opposition to President Trump’s policies and behavior. A group of former Democratic staffers put together a guide to help direct some of the immense opposition energy, and a non-organization, provisionally called Indivisible, was born.

Chapters don’t even have to call themselves Indivisible. Levin estimated that no more than 40 percent of the 6,200 local affiliates registered on the group’s website use the name.

The organizers of Indivisible Grand Rapids, for example, hadn’t spoken to any original drafters in Washington before they helped marshal a crowd of several hundred to a Thursday night town hall meeting held by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). Chapter leaders explained to Politico that they’d heard about the movement through friends, visited the website to register themselves, then found others registered in their area who wanted to start a group.

The guide draws explicitly on the Tea Party tactics used to stall President Obama’s agenda. “You probably deeply disagree with the principles and positions of the Tea Party,” it reads. “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 the leaked ‘Town Hall Action Memo’ demonstrates.”

The advice of the Indivisible movement differs slightly from the Tea Party’s memo; it advises polite but persistent questioning (very unlike the recent raucous crowd activity in town halls held by GOP lawmakers), while the Action Memo explicitly set a goal of “rattling” lawmakers and stopping the conversation. But the goal of the two documents is the same: to give citizens tips for how to make themselves heard in Washington.

The Indivisible guide also attempts to guide newly minted activists away from potentially satisfying but ultimately ineffective tactics by including a section called “What Your MoC [Member of Congress] Cares About.” On the “yes” list: Groups of constituents, locally famous individuals, or big individual campaign contributors. On the “no” list: Your thoughtful analysis of the proposed bill.

The founders of this movement didn’t intend to become a national powerhouse; the guide started out as a poorly formatted Google Doc. But the desire for information about how to organize and effect change was so strong, and the guide answered that desire so thoroughly, that it took off across the country. It got a little help from Robert Reich and George Takei, who retweeted it, but according to the founders, local groups are finding it online and self-organizing based on its recommendations. Founder Ezra Levin opined that “the last thing the progressive ecosystem really needed was yet another nonprofit,” but with 225,000 registered participants, the group ultimately decided to organize as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization.

Does that organizational incorporation matter? Is it a necessary rite of passage? Is it an encumbrance to a networked and self-directed movement? You tell us.—Erin Rubin and Ruth McCambridge