Of the constellation of liberal groups that emerged after the 2016 election, few have been as prominent as Indivisible, an organization with more than five thousand chapters nationwide that began after its founders, a group of young former congressional staffers, shared a crowdsourced blueprint for grassroots resistance to the Trump Administration, in late 2016. Their model was the Tea Party, which put pressure from the right on lawmakers in the early years of the Obama Administration. “We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress,” they wrote, of Tea Party activists during the early years of the Obama Administration. “We saw them organize locally and convince their own [members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda.”
For the midterms, Indivisible pivoted from resistance to electoral politics. On Wednesday, I met two of Indivisible’s founders, a married couple named Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg, at their office in Washington. A whiteboard noted how major Democratic candidates they had been watching had fared: red “X”s for Beto O’Rourke, Amy McGrath, and Ben Jealous; green checks for Antonio Delgado and Jennifer Wexton.
Levin and Greenberg are upbeat about how Democrats performed, even when they lost in marquee races. “I think the fact of having extraordinary candidates with progressive, inspiring messages running in these places put them in play,” Greenberg told me. “The Georgia gubernatorial election is not inherently a competitive race. You had an amazing candidate in Texas. Up until, like, two or three months ago, people thought we were crazy to think that Texas could even potentially be in play.”
“We are sad because we reached for an incredibly high bar,” she added. “But that is not the same thing as falling short of what we needed to do, what was do-or-die, which was taking the House.
Indivisible endorsed sixty-four candidates for the general election, through a process that reflected the group’s grassroots organizational structure. Once local chapters nominated candidates for national endorsement, national leaders vetted the candidates and submitted them to a vote by the Indivisible membership in the candidate’s state or district. This approach put Indivisible’s stamp on a broad slate of campaigns, including several long shots.
“The logic there is, one, you might win because the political world is a chaotic system,” Levin told me. “Two, whether you win or not, you force the other side to fight, and that drains resources from other places. And, three, again, whether you win or not, you’re building up the infrastructure.”
He mentioned Tennessee, where Indivisible endorsed four House candidates who ultimately lost their races.
“They developed their groups by virtue of fighting for those candidates,” he said. “And we have to recognize that in, some places, especially in the South, especially in rural areas, there isn’t progressive infrastructure. If you were in a place that voted for Donald Trump by seventy or eighty per cent, there are still twenty or thirty per cent of people in your district who didn’t vote for him, but there’s no place for them to go. And we are systematically underinvesting in those places. So, even in places we didn’t win, this is a generational struggle.
Democrats did win big, of course. They flipped at least thirty seats, the largest gain for the Party since Watergate. Indivisible’s ideas for what Democrats should do with their new House majority begin with what Levin and Greenberg call a democracy agenda: a new voting-rights act in response to Republican voter suppression, along with larger reforms to the federal government, including statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
“A healthy democratic body would’ve rejected Trump the same way a healthy body rejects a virus,” Levin said. “That didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen because of a conscious effort by conservatives that is decades old to undermine democracy—disenfranchising young people and communities of color in order to entrench their power. And the way that we get all the nice things we want, whether it’s environment or taxes or immigration or reproductive rights, is by fixing the system so it actually responds to the will of the people.”
Of course, none of this will happen under Trump. But Levin and Greenberg say that Democrats should start building support for these ideas and crafting a long-term policy agenda now. “This is the time when you have those conversations within the Party,” Greenberg said. “So that, when you’re actually in power, you’re ready to go and you have a consensus solidified around the approach.”
She added, “You’re going to have to move beyond ‘We’re the party that cares about preëxisting conditions.’ ‘We’re the party that doesn’t want things to get worse’ is not an acceptable message for 2020.”
Levin and Greenberg were both skeptical of the Democratic Party’s emphasis on swing voters during the midterms, and they are sour, too, on signals from Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that Democrats might pursue bipartisan agreement in the new Congress. It was precisely this kind of messaging that inspired Indivisible’s creation in the first place, Levin told me. He recalled the week in mid-November, 2016, when a Trump surrogate cited Japanese-internment camps as a reasonable precedent for establishing a registry of Muslim immigrants. “That same week,” Levin said, “there was a quote from incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying, ‘Well, we lost. That’s how it goes in Washington, and we’ve got to cut deals. I think we can work on infrastructure together.’ ” He went on, “So it’s not a surprise to me that we hear from some people, Chuck Schumer especially, but others as well, that the ‘smart’ move in this moment is to figure out how to give in to Trump.” (In a press conference on Wednesday, Schumer said that he would “work with anyone I can to move the country forward.” “But,” he added, “we are not going to sacrifice our principles for that.”)
Levin and Greenberg plainly have a claim on that future, and they will spend the next Congress letting lawmakers in the leadership know it. On Thursday, thousands of liberals across the country protested Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s firing, as part of a coalition of groups called Nobody Is Above the Law, which includes Indivisible. Levin and Greenberg were at a rally of several hundred people outside the White House. “Welcome to the second mass mobilization of this week,” Levin told the crowd. “You may have heard about the first. It’s when we took back the House of Representatives.”
More Info: newyorker.com