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Don't Try To Co-opt Indivisible Movement, Fulfill It

[ Posted Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017 – 18:29 UTC ]

There are two things currently happening in the world of Democratic and progressive politics, which are happening independently of each other, for the most part. This weekend, the Democratic National Committee will meet to elect a new chair. Meanwhile, out in the hinterlands, the progressive wave of energy and resistance to Donald Trump and his agenda shows no signs of abating. But I would extend a word of caution to whomever becomes the next D.N.C. chair: Don't attempt to corral or co-opt the burgeoning Indivisible movement -- instead, just do your damnedest to fulfill their expectations.

Although the new movement is only one month old (like Trump's presidency, which is no coincidence), it's already had an impact on the national political debate. Establishment Democrats, so far, are caught between hoping the movement sustains its energy all the way to the midterm congressional elections and worrying about how to "harness" the movement for their own ends. This is the very same dilemma the Republican Party faced when the Tea Party began (although I'm not suggesting Indivisible is a complete parallel or mirror-image of the Tea Party, because it's so early that it's impossible to make such comparisons). But Democrats should be worrying more about living up to the movement's goals than somehow grabbing the reins of the movement in any way.

This is a true bottom-up movement. Social media has now made it possible for such movements to exist and flourish completely independently of any political party's direct control. That's the beauty of it -- leaders are not required. The Women's March on Washington which was organized by one woman posting on social media what she'd like to see happen. It snowballed from there. It wasn't a Democratic Party initiative, it just happened.

The Indivisible movement's name comes from a web page put together by congressional staffers -- the people who actually get most of the work done in Washington, in other words. They knew from personal experience what works to change the political landscape and what doesn't. They shared their experience online and urged people to use the tactics that had worked in the past. But they didn't try to "lead" their own movement in any way -- they just published a playbook and let the populace take it from there.

Liberal annoyance at the shortcomings and outright failures of Washington politicians to address the real needs of the people has always been with us in some form or another. Sometimes it is just more vocal and visible, really. Sometimes progressives mutter in their beer and sometimes they take to the streets. Sometimes it simmers on the back burner, sometimes it erupts.

The last such eruption was wildly successful at messaging, but ultimately wound up being no more than a footnote, politically. Occupy Wall Street was a bottom-up movement, and one that significantly changed the parameters of the national political debate. The idea of the "one percent versus the 99 percent" was their doing. We would likely not be talking so much about income equality if Occupy never happened, to put it another way.

But in terms of political results, it fell far short. There were never "Occupy candidates" or even "Occupy Democrats" or indeed anything of the like. The Occupy movement had a number of fatal flaws, really. The first was the timing -- you just don't begin an outdoor long-term protest movement right as winter is setting in. The weather will do more to defeat such a movement than its opponents. The second was its governing methodology. Occupiers may even dispute that there was any sort of governing methodology, but when defined as "self-governing" there was -- and it set its own bars way too high to ever get anything accomplished. Their "general assemblies" were run on the notion that an incredible 90 percent of them had to all agree on anything for it to be an official movement goal. That is a recipe for gridlock, to put it mildly (just look what the filibuster threshold of 60 percent does to the Senate, if you don't believe this). In the end, the movement couldn't ever agree on much of anything, except endless navel-gazing and constructing their castle-in-the-air of the perfect world they would (eventually) demand be built. The weather, the organizational dysfunction, and the cops and mayors (who finally got tired of it all) ended Occupy with a whimper.

I don't mean to belittle the effort. Their strategy was noble, but their tactics left a lot to be desired, that's all. But the Indivisible movement seems oriented towards much more practical avenues for change. After all, it was started by lower-level Washington insiders, who merely tossed a playbook for action out there to see what would happen.

What has so far been happening is encouraging. People are flocking to the streets to let their voices be heard in the era of Trump. People are showing up at town halls -- even in deep red districts and states -- to give their elected representatives an earful. Regular people are considering running for office who had never before entertained such an idea. Some Democratic politicians are already beginning to understand the fear of "getting primaried" (which, so far, has been almost exclusively a fear of Republican officeholders). People who have never engaged in politics before are even flooding in to local Democratic Party meetings, to see what can be done to accomplish change.

The Occupy movement strenuously insisted that it didn't have "leaders." Neither, really, does the Indivisible movement. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren certainly inspire the movement, but they're not truly leading it. But that didn't stop the Tea Party from becoming a force in Republican politics. Who, after all, could be said to be the "leader" of the Tea Party? It also has some favorites who inspire it (Ted Cruz, Dave Brat, etc.), but it still resembles more of an unruly mob than what would traditionally be referred to as a congressional "bloc" of votes.

Because of its leaderless nature, the temptation already exists for Democratic politicians who are salivating over the prospect of somehow "capturing" all those incredibly-energized voters out there in the streets. But the nature of such social media movements is that they will not be led around by the nose. How do you "capture" a herd of cats? Each individual is out there protesting for their own reasons -- not some position paper or slogan dreamed up by the Democratic National Committee, after all. They're going to be impossible to capture, co-opt, or even corral by any top-down organization, that's my best guess.

Which leaves only one effective tactical option for the incoming D.N.C. chair -- don't worry so much about controlling or directing the movement's energy, instead aim for fulfilling its goals on your own. At the best, you can hope to be elevated to the ranks of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- solid inspirations for the movement, who don't attempt to direct it from above.

What the protesters want is obvious -- all you have to do is listen to them. They want Obamacare defended and protected. They want women's health rights to likewise be defended and protected. They want politicians to stand up for people's rights, including minorities of all types. They want more attention paid to Main Street than Wall Street. They want economic justice. Most of what they stand for almost completely overlaps the Democratic agenda (at least, the one Bernie Sanders was able to write into the last party platform), so there really shouldn't be a lot of ideological angst for Democrat politicians to join the movement wholeheartedly.

But that verb is important. Democratic politicians -- from the local city councilman up to the D.N.C. chair (whomever that happens to be, next week) -- should seek to join the movement that is already underway. Democratic politicians facing a primary challenge from the movement should really examine their own votes and positions to see why so many constituents are so angry with them. Smart Democratic politicians will show up at the rallies and protests to make their own case directly to the people. In doing so, they should try to live up to the crowd's goals in order to get their support, with a message that speaks directly to each protester. This can either be a full-throated: "I'm one of you!" or perhaps just: "Here's where I agree with you, here's where I disagree" -- whatever level of support the politician is comfortable with. But that's really as far as any Democratic politician should go, because any attempt to redirect the movement into nothing more than a fundraising arm of the Democratic National Committee is very likely doomed to fail.

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


18 Comments on “Don't Try To Co-opt Indivisible Movement, Fulfill It”

  1. [1] 
    neilm wrote:

    Anybody watching the DNC debate tonight?

  2. [2] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey CW

    I am amazed that you seem to believe that all Democratic politicians and "whoever wins" the DNC election will be inclined to fulfill the goals of the "Indivisible" movement.

    Most Dems in Congress and those backing Perez for the DNC chair are in the "everything is fine, we just need better messaging" crowd. That is the opposite of admitting there is anything worthy of protest besides Trump... and contrary to what many protestors want.

    Your characterization of the economic issues as "They want more attention paid to Main Street than Wall Street. They want economic justice" is rather vague and weak, but even that is beyond what the establishment Dems and the Hillary/Obama types backing Perez believe.

    If Perez wins the election with their support, why do you think he will be willing or even capable of "primarying" the people he owes his job to?

    If anything, Perez will be using DNC resources and money to defend the Wall Street coddlers from progressive primary challengers the way DWS did with the full backing of Obama and Biden.

    Perez has a record of being a Wall Street coddler himself, so the idea that he would suddenly embrace the desires of activists AND bite the hands that feed him seems like wishful thinking.

    Your advice makes perfect sense if you are offering it to some of the other DNC chair candidates and Dem politicians, but pretending that they are all on board is just not supported by the facts. If you were right, there wouldn't be any need for "primarying" Dems after all.


  3. [3] 
    altohone wrote:

    BTW CW

    "We would likely not be talking so much about income equality if Occupy never happened, to put it another way."
    "But in terms of political results, it fell far short"

    Nice contradiction.
    Getting people and candidates to talk about income inequality (and Wall Street crime, their purchased politicians, lobbyists, campaign finance, etc.) is most certainly a political result.

    "There were never "Occupy candidates""

    Well, it's hard to imagine any candidate ONLY talking about the economic issues Occupy was all about since other issues are always in play, but based on the economic policies they embraced, Bernie and quite a few other progressive candidates were actually Occupy candidates.

    "I don't mean to belittle the effort"

    And yet you seem to do it accidentally all the time.

    "The weather, the organizational dysfunction, and the cops and mayors (who finally got tired of it all) ended Occupy with a whimper."

    No, it was just forced dismantling by the cops under orders from the politicians... including Democrats.
    Not one Occupy camp broke up because of dysfunction or the weather.


  4. [4] 
    neilm wrote:

    A flurry of new "approval" polls today. Quinnipiac 38-55 (-17) was the most brutal.

    Even Rasmussen has dropped from +6 (last three) to +2.

    Gallup is good news for Trump, while also being bad news - going from -13 to only -10. I'm sure some WH staffer is spinning this as a +3 move to the Old Man.

    If the Rasmussen poll keeps dropping, the one outlier that 45 fanboys can point to is going to drag the average down.

    I downloaded all the data into a spreadsheet then calculated the running score of the last 10 unique polls (fiddly bit of spreadsheeting) - the average has been roughly 44-46 for the last few weeks - basically no trend.

  5. [5] 
    neilm wrote:

    I checked my Facebook feed for a local "Indivisible" group and found one. It was created on Feb 20th and already has over 1,100 members. This is a closed group, so I asked to join but they haven't processed my request yet. Thus there may be even more. This is a group that covers a geographical area with about 250,000 people, so this is a pretty good number of members.

    I downloaded the guide from the Indivisible website. The section analyzing the Tea Party was interesting - especially as they said that only 5-10 core members in a Congressional district could make enough noise to influence MoC (Members of Congress - i.e. Congresspeople and Senators). The 5-10 vocal core acted as a point of crystallization for a much larger group of sympathizers who amplified the local message.

    If this is the case, the numbers for Indivisible in my area are likely to be very influential. It remains to be seen if this movement maintains momentum and relevance, but if my friends are anything to go by the anger with 45 is palpable and deep.

    I'm going to my Congressman's Town Hall tomorrow night - I'm getting there early. The last one I went to was 1/3 full - I'm expecting there may be fire limitations at this one.

  6. [6] 
    neilm wrote:

    It was created on Feb 20th

    Sorry - It was created on Feb 9th

  7. [7] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Thanks to this installment of I've signed up at Indivisible. Their web page is very good. I have one problem with Indivisible. They seem VERY dependent on Smart Phones and Social Media. I don't use either. I know how to use them, I just don't like them. I find them invasive, shallow and addictive. Social media seems good at mobilization, but not so good at anything else. There is probably a work around for communication Luddites like myself.

    I continue to call Congressional representatives, most of whom don't directly represent me, although they damn sure can affect me. The majority of my calls are to Republicans offering some resistance to Trump - I go a bit over the top with praise.

    The staff I talk to seem a bit dazed....I think the phone traffic is pretty high. Staff remain uniformly polite.

  8. [8] 
    altohone wrote:

    follow up to BTW CW

    I woke up thinking about it, so here I am adding some more thoughts on Occupy.

    "But in terms of political results, it fell far short"

    Like I said before, getting people to talk about the issues and getting candidates to embrace some of the policies is a notable political result.

    In any case, the camps may have been broken up, but the goals remain, and efforts to achieve them continue in different ways... like the Fight for $15 and now Indivisible.

    Occupy wasn't about forming a new political party, or wing of a party, though there was talk about the first, so judging them on that basis doesn't really make sense.

    Instead, it makes more sense to compare them to other efforts.

    The first Gallup poll asking about marijuana legalization in 1969 showed 12% support. The first smoke-in in DC was in 1970. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize pot in 1973. California was the first to legalize medical pot in 1996. Colorado and Washington were the first to legalize recreational pot in 2012.
    And we may well go backwards for years again before a national effort is truly successful.

    Louis X abolished slavery in the Kingdom of France in 1315. The abolition movement in England had its first success in 1772. Thomas Jefferson tried to include abolition of slavery in the Declaration of Independence. Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery in 1777. Pennsylvania in 1780. All the northern states by 1804. The Emancipation Proclamation 1863. 13th Amendment 1865. Native American and Alaskan tribes 1867.
    We then went backwards for decades until efforts in a different form using different tactics became the Civil Rights movement, which despite major successes, continues to this day.

    Occupy wasn't so much a movement as a tactic within previously existing efforts, a movement within a larger diffuse movement... or more accurately, a rebirth of efforts that had been won legislatively (anti-trust laws, New Deal, regulation, progressive taxation, etc.) and then lost again (deregulation, tax cuts, coopted regulators, lack of enforcement, etc.).

    None of the ideas and policies Occupy embraced originated with them, and they didn't die with them either.

    Before mostly abandoning the policies and betraying his supporters, Obama campaigned on many of the ideas in 2008, and Occupy started in 2011, I would say largely in response to that betrayal and inaction.

    And Occupy had the support of 59% of Americans before they were crushed. No small feat. Numbers achieved with support from Dems, Indies and Republicans.

    The establishment wants to portray Occupy as a failed movement... ignoring or downplaying the actions of the police, FBI, DHS and the support for the crackdown by financial corporations... so I find it odd when a political pundit who has expressed support for the goals of Occupy and for candidates who embraced those goals to repeatedly serve the establishment narrative.

    (and, BTW, they are also desperately trying to downplay and ignore the economic issues being raised by Indivisible)

    I would suggest an alternative to the quote at the beginning of this comment-

    "But in terms of political results, there has been some success, but the main goals have not been achieved YET".

    Yet, obviously, being the key word.


  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I initially thought naming a progressive movement "Indivisible" was unfortunate for two reasons:

    1) As far as I can tell, the most common usage of indivisible is in The Pledge of Allegiance. I am not a big fan of vague loyalty oaths administered before a sporting pressure, right?


    2) United States Politics is predictably divisible along regional, ethnic and income lines. Trump won (narrowly) by exploiting division, which works very well in a highly non-representative Federal system with only two parties holding significant power (offices). If you are going to use indivisible in a strictly objective manner, it should be followed by "- my ass."

    The above said, co-opting the language of your political opposition is a smart tactical move. It amounts to stealing an asset. The Tea Party (an invention of smart, if not necessarily disinterested political pros) applied this principle very effectively. Learn from your opposition but don't try to re-fight the last war.

    Indivisible the Media Movement seems to me an excellent political primer from professionals who actually live and breath the exercise of political power. The title is just ironic.

  10. [10] 
    TheStig wrote:

    "There are probably more like The Stig that don't comment or don't comment here."

    I stopped commenting at immediately after the election. I didn't stop reading the articles, but the comments had gotten clunky, and the bulk of the comments were a circular argument with a Troll. This was a waste of time. In my case, it was an addictive behavior. I like to argue too much. It's probably genetic. With the election over, the only thing to do was wait and see what Trump actually did. Waited, saw, don't like what I saw. Time to comment again, but much less reflexively.

  11. [11] 
    altohone wrote:

    delayed response to comment 25 from "Rocky start"

    "People claim that she isn't truly a "liberal" or that she is more "Republican-lite" than Democrat, but the fact is that she and Bernie voted the same way 93% of the time"

    Yes, and humans and chimps share 99% of their DNA.

    Small differences in percentages can result in MAJOR differences in policy.

    Hillary's policies and voting record showed her to be a right wing Wall Street coddling corporatist with a right wing interventionist foreign policy just like Obama and Republicans.
    Support for progressive social policies does not alone a liberal make.

    If you investigated it and didn't discover that reality, maybe you should dig a little more instead of denying reality.
    The evidence has been presented again and again and again.

    The economic issues under discussion are mostly about legalized corruption (including campaign finance, tax policy, trade policy, wages, etc.) and inaction on enforcement. The first may not be criminal but it's still wrong and a massive problem, and the nature of the second allows for the avoidance of accountability and deniability.
    (See the article on Perez I linked to in that column for a good example).

    CW has pointed out the fallacy of the "policies are fine, we just need better messaging" crowd of Democrats, John M and Don and occasionally others have been writing about these issues, so even if you haven't been reading my relevant comments, you really should have been exposed to these ideas by now... so I'm not going to repeat myself beyond saying-
    Hillary was a Big Money candidate serving the corrupt status quo, and it's impossible to serve both them and the people.


  12. [12] 
    altohone wrote:


    The generic me and me specifically both support small donor campaigns... but not financially.


  13. [13] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Not to worry DH, I am active. At this stage my mission is to help marginalize Trump, both with voters AND more importantly, with the spineless/venal Republican office holders who saw Trump as an ends to a means and were willing to overlook the race baiting, the xenophobia, the:

    Conflicts of interest,
    Lack of talent
    Just plain word salad craziness.

    Trump has been extremely helpful by shooting himself in the foot at regular intervals. His lack of discipline an self awareness is startling.

    The courts are showing a lot more guts than I thought they would. This very helpful.

    I think Michael Moore has articulated a very effective strategy for gutting Trump. So,I make phone calls to politicians every day, Republican and Democrat. On issues that Trump so helpfully illuminates. Rule of law. Competence vs cronyism. People DO care about Trump's taxes. Virulent antisemitism by Trump's alt. rt allies. Too much golf, not enough attention to being President. I could go on and on. I just read the paper, and let Trump and his news cycle write my scripts.

    I encourage my friends get on the phone to and vent about dysfunctional government. I really don't know how successful that has been. I live in a very Republican district, most of my friends lean Republican. I'm eagerly awaiting local town hall meetings. I think I'll wander on down to Republican HQ and have a friendly chat.

  14. [14] 
    TheStig wrote:

    While I was writing post 16, Obergruppenführer Bannon just wrote my next script for me. If antisemitism is so gol' darn awful, and must stop NOW, why hasn't Trump fired Bannon for running a mouthpiece for neo Nazis? How long before a fellow traveler with an 80 IQ and an arsenal shows up at a synagogue?

  15. [15] 
    neilm wrote:

    So there is an "Empty Seat Town Hall" for Diane Feinstein in Oakland, CA on Sunday.

    They already are oversubscribed, even without the key speaker. They will be recording questions to submit to her office.

    This is the pressure a Democratic Senator is feeling. I can only imagine what is going on in purple states.

    Below is a list of the sponsors (CW - there is a local Indivisible group):

    Groups supporting this event:

    Indivisible East Bay
    Indivisible San Francisco
    Indivisible 510
    Indivisible Berkeley
    Indivisible Yuba-Sutter
    Indivisible South Bay
    Indivisible YOLO
    Indivisible Euclid
    Indivisible Sonoma
    Silicon Valley Indivisible
    Indivisible Petaluma
    Indivisible Healdsburg
    Indivisible Sonoma County
    Indivisible: South Berkeley
    Indivisible Danville/Walnut Creek
    Dumbledore’s Indivisible Army
    Marin 2020
    Moms On The Left
    Ready For Action
    Orinda Progressive Action Alliance
    Building Community, Fighting Hate
    Lace up your Boots
    See Jane Resist
    Bay Area Rebellious Nurses
    13 PAGES
    North Oakland Resistance
    First Wednesdays
    Progressive Sonoma
    Tassajara Daily Action Team
    Actions for Democracy
    MoveOn Resist Trump
    Contra Costa MoveOn
    MoneyOut! PeopleIn! Coalition
    North Berkeley MoveOn
    TriValley STAND
    Stand Up San Francisco
    TWW CA-17
    TWW Palo Alto/Mountain View
    Indivisible Milpitas
    SuitUp! Mid Peninsula SF Bay
    Indivisible Marin
    Indivisible Stanford
    Indivisible Central Contra Costa County
    Indivisible El Sobrante
    United for Action
    Santa Cruz Indivisible
    Redwood Heights Indivisible Collective
    Indivisible West CA 11
    Indivisible Lake Merritt
    San Francisco Women's Group
    Center for Biological Diversity
    Marin County Resistance: Indivisible
    Silicon Valley Courageous Resistance
    South Bay Rapid Response Indivisible
    Indivisible CA20

  16. [16] 
    Paula wrote:
  17. [17] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Don Harris,

    I used to run a non-profit youth ministry that was entirely funded by donations we received. I start with that so you might understand where my thinking comes from: someone who was constantly focused on raising support from donors in order to pay the bills and be able to put food on the table. The organization I worked for did a pretty good job of showing appreciation to all of our donors -- whether they gave $10 or $10,000.

    I think that forcing a candidate to accept only small contributions to gain your support sounds great on the surface, but is an incredibly foolish way to run an organization that relies on contributions in order to survive. You are choosing to assign blame on a numerical value, which is NOT the problem! Plus, you are silencing those who can afford to give more from providing the support they wish to give. It is the corruption that is the problem.

    Another way to look at this: Who do you think expects more from their investment: the person who gives 5% of their income or the person who gives .0001% of their income to a candidate. There are plenty of people and groups that can write a $5,000 check and give it away like you or I might give away spare change to a homeless person -- with no expectation of anything in return!

    By demanding a candidate only accept small donations, you are requiring them to focus far more time and energy trying to raise money. The average freshman in Congress already spends over 60% of their workweek focused on fundraising. Limiting the size of the donations they could accept would only result in more time being spent fundraising! If we want to take the power money has over our politicians out of the picture, this plan will only force politicians to be more focused on raising money...not less!

    On the surface, it sounds like a great idea, but the truth is that it is incorrectly placing the blame for political corruption on a monetary value -- vastly oversimplifying a complex issue.

  18. [18] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Yes, and humans and chimps share 99% of their DNA.

    Small differences in percentages can result in MAJOR differences in policy.

    Hillary's policies and voting record showed her to be a right wing Wall Street coddling corporatist with a right wing interventionist foreign policy just like Obama and Republicans.

    No, they share 96%, but that is not the point. I was stating what Clinton's actions (voting) showed us. Your opinion of Clinton is your own and I have no chance of changing that opinion, I realize. If you see Clinton to be no different than Republicans, despite Clinton's voting record showing her to be 80% more progressive than her fellow members of Congress, then it seems odd that we even bother with having a Democratic Party.

    If you try to dismantle the fund raising arm of the DNC, you will completely cripple any hope of getting progressives elected. Direct contributions to a candidate's campaign aren't the problem. It's PACS and SuperPACS that can take in as much money as they like. As long as campaign finance laws remain the same, it will require massive amounts of money to successfully run campaigns.

    And before anyone responds that Bernie did it, I would simply remind you that I said "to SUCCESSFULLY run campaigns"! Because even though everyone praises Bernie's campaign as being so wonderful, the fact is he lost the primaries by a fairly large margin. Yes, you can run a political campaign on $35 donations, you just won't be running a successful political campaign.

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