Why you should care
Because Indivisible is forming the backbone of Trump opposition.
See Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin from Indivisble in person at OZY Fest, OZY’s festival of ideas, music, food, comedy, art and film, taking place on July 22 in NYC’s Central Park. Find out more.
On the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg woke up dazed and confused — like many other progressives they had been convinced they would witness the election of the first female president. Instead, Levin, a former congressional staffer and poverty solutions advocate, and Greenberg, an anti-human-trafficking policy pro, were faced with Donald Trump.
Their form of resistance resulted in a Google Docs manifesto, which they slapped online in December, typos and all. With lessons on how to influence members of Congress (hint: make them fear for their jobs) and mimicking the defensive crouch of the Tea Party (say “no” like a toddler learning its first words), the Indivisible Guide found an audience — to the tune of more than 2 million views and nearly 6,000 affiliate branches, at least two in every U.S. congressional district. Ahead of Levin and Greenberg’s appearance at OZY Fest 2017, we talk to them about their unexpected success and what’s next for the anti-Trump resistance.
What’s different about the Indivisible strategy?
Leah Greenberg: It’s the combination of online to offline organizing. Information can travel enormously fast, but a lot of times the actual, most effective things are getting people together in a room. There’s a lot of research on mobilization in the internet age — mass protests are much faster to organize, but in doing so, you short-circuit the relationships and planning and trust building that are often necessary to sustain movements.
How do you judge success when Trump and Republicans hold all the levers to federal government?
Ezra Levin: One, there are [Indivisible] groups leading and developing themselves. And below that success, we are seeing both legislative and electoral victories that are quite substantial. There are an average of 13 groups in every single congressional district in the country. That means not just East Coast or West, not just city centers — there is Indivisible East Tennessee and Auburn, Alabama. They are nurses, schoolteachers, IT technicians. And what they did was create Indivisible Roanoke, or Indivisible Phoenix. A lot of these groups started with 20 people in someone’s living room, and now they find themselves with 800 people at a community center.
On the legislative side, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, back in November and December, the word on the street was that conservatives had unified control of federal government, and they were going to push through enormous reforms as quickly as possible. We are now about six months into this Congress, and they have yet to pass a single significant piece of legislation, which is absolutely shocking. That is a direct result of the pressure being applied to the system by constituents across the country.
What’s the next step to winning elections, considering five special elections since November have seen Democratic losses?
Levin: These were all incredibly safe Republican seats. The closest race was Georgia 6th. It was Newt Gingrich’s former seat. And what we’ve seen in these elections is a massive swing away from Trump and the Republicans. That was an 8-point Republican seat that turned into a 2-point race. (Editor’s note: The New York Times final tally had Handel up 3.7 points). To put that into context, what does a 6-point swing do? If that were to happen next year nationally in congressional races, we wouldn’t just take the House of Representatives — more than 50 Republicans would lose their seats, including Paul Ryan. It would be an enormous wave.
Greenberg: Our main theory is that when you’re focusing on what is happening in Congress, you have the most leverage when you’re doing federal advocacy. To some extent, that involves being reactive to what is happening.
What are you emulating from the tea party movement?
Greenberg: Two key strategic insights: They understood their power was constituent power. And through advocating, being rooted in their community, demanding to be represented as constituents to members of Congress and senators, they took advantage of that to put forward a powerful message. Second, they were willing to be purely defensive on the federal level. Sometimes they didn’t focus on a specific policy preference. Instead, they focused on really intensive opposition to what’s been happening with Washington.
What makes your opposition more acceptable than the much-criticized Republican obstructionism under President Obama?
Levin: What they were saying no to was a historically popular president with a mandate to expand health care. When we say no today, the word is the same, but the purpose, we argue, is not obstruction; it’s the protection of the most vulnerable members of society, who would be harmed by policies that have astonishingly low public support.
Trump faced this choice back in January when he was taking office — he could have recognized he was elected with fewer votes and he could have pursued a policy agenda that was bipartisan or moderate. Instead, what the Republicans and Trump have done is pursue a real extremist agenda. Being against Trumpcare is not only a negative stand but also an affirmative endorsement of the ideal that health care is a human right and not a commodity.