FEBRUARY 13, 2018

Episode 8 – Grassroots Response to the Political Climate

Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin from Indivisible

Our guests, Kendall and John Antonelli, join us this week to talk about their business, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, and their long-standing commitment aWhat happens when two progressive former congressional staffers draft a google doc with instructions on how to incite local activism? In this episode, we sit down with Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levine to chat about the grassroots tactics citizens are taking in response to the current political climate.

Lisa Graham (00:00):
Okay. We are here on the Change the Rules podcast. I’m Lisa Graham, along with Dan Graham. We’re both founders of Notley and our guests today are Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin, they’re founders of Indivisible.org. And we’re really excited to talk to you guys about how this organization got started and what inspired you guys to start the organization. So the story that I’ve heard was it started out as a memo on how to get people involved with how do you communicate with your Congress people? And is that really just what it was going to be? Or what was y’all’s idea from the beginning? How did this start?

Leah Greenberg (00:35):
Absolutely. Well, you know, we did, you’re exactly right. We started with no intention of forming an organization. I’m a former congressional staffer as is Ezra. And immediately after the election of Donald Trump, like a lot of progressives around the country, we were just sort of stunned and going through the stages of grief and trying to figure out anything that we could do to resist the administration. And we saw that there was this wave of energy building around the country that other people were having the same reaction, were looking for ways to get active, including a lot of people who had never been politically active before. And we actually had this revelation when we were talking with a friend of ours here in Austin over Thanksgiving where she was managing a Facebook group for about 3000 people in the Austin area dedicated to resisting the Trump agenda.

Ezra Levin (01:21):
It was called Dumbledore’s Army.

Leah Greenberg (01:22):
It was called Dumbledore’s Army. [Laughter] And she said that people felt like they were hitting a wall. They were, you know, they were signing petitions and they were calling the electors and they were sending postcards to government agencies. And they didn’t really understand what the impact of anything that they were doing was having and they sort of just felt like they were screaming into the void. And we had, as former congressional staffers, seen how incredibly powerful local action could be because we’d seen it used against us. We had been on the Hill during the early Obama era. We had seen the rise of the tea party, which was this force of local determined activists who came together in their communities, focused on their own elected officials and advocated relentlessly for the policies that they supported and against the policies of the Obama administration. And we deeply disagreed with those with their beliefs and particularly with their, their racist and sometimes violent tactics, but they had some really core insights about how to do effective advocacy. And we thought our, our contribution to this movement, this wave of activists, could be taking those lessons that we had seen reverse engineering them to explain what made them so effective. And then just putting out a guide to everyone who was looking to get active on how they could best make their voice heard.

Lisa Graham (02:34):
Yeah. What do you think was most effective about what the tea party was doing? Why did it work?

Ezra Levin (02:40):
Yeah, I mean, so it wasn’t rocket science. It was really just Civics 101. The tea party understood that when you’re talking about federal policy, a lot of folks will focus in on the president. Like what is the president doing and how can we combat the president and what the tea party did really well was recognize that the president’s agenda doesn’t depend on the president. It depends on or not your individual members of Congress choose to go along with it or choose to resist. And so that actually gives you a fair amount of power as a constituent, as somebody with two senators and one representative. Now, you know, one of the great things about Congress, and there are a ton of great things about Congress. It has an approval rating on par with toenail fungus, or cockroaches for a reason; but one of the great things about it is that it’s responsive. Individual members of Congress are responsive to constituents! That thing that every single member of Congress wakes up every morning thinking is how am I going to get reelected? Even the good ones, the good ones they’ve got to get reelected to do good. And so that means as a constituent, they’re focused on you. They wake up thinking, how can I convince this constituent that I’m in, I’m in Congress, I’m in Washington working for them. And so they very carefully craft their local image. They care about what the Hays Free Press says more than what the New York Times says because the Hays Free Press is speaking to their constituents in, in Texas or whatever the local paper is wherever they represent. And so the tea party focused in like a laser on their two senators and their one representative wherever they happen to be. And that meant going to town halls and then making calls; that meant going to public events in district at back home. And that changed the political calculus for those members of Congress. They made them know that normally we are able to do stuff and nobody, nobody pays attention except, you know, the people with a lot of money that pay for lobbyists. Constituents don’t pay attention, but now people are paying attention. If I take this vote, I’m going to hear from it, from these constituents. Now that didn’t change every single vote, but it did change some votes and it changed what was politically possible at the national level. So that core insight that in a representative democracy, your voice in Washington or your elected officials was really key. And they, they leaned into that and that really changed what Obama was able to get done.

Lisa Graham (04:49):
[Inaudible] And you talk also in the document that you all wrote that there were tactics that you guys didn’t agree with. And so what were some of those and what are some ways that y’all are doing it differently than the tea party did?

Ezra Levin (05:02):
I mean, spitting on staff and any kind of violent behavior…

Lisa Graham (05:05):
Did that happen to you guys ever? Like what, I mean, what did you guys encounter that really kind of…

Leah Greenberg (05:10):
People were, people were nasty. They were violent to to our staff. I personally was- I staffed a town hall where two members of the tea party just physically picked me up and dragged me across the room. And I, I experienced by far the least aggressive treatment of a lot of the other members of our team.

Ezra Levin (05:27):
Also calling and yelling and cursing and being threatening. So we, we both think, you know, you shouldn’t spit on people. You shouldn’t be mean to people. That’s just like a basic thing. But it’s also not effective. It’s counterproductive. The best thing you can do is call in, be super nice and be like, I’m a constituent, this is going to affect my vote. And I’m watching. Don’t so both for moral and strategic reasons, we think that those aren’t particularly good tactics.

Lisa Graham (05:53):
What I found interesting as well as you were a staffer for our representative here, who a lot of people here consider him to be very safe. He’s been in office for a very long time, but you guys were even seeing this behavior in your office, so where they even going after. So it sounds like they were going after everybody or was it…

Leah Greenberg (06:10):
Oh yeah, absolutely.

Ezra Levin (06:11):
Absolutely. Oh, sorry you go.

Leah Greenberg (06:13):
Oh, no. So yes, it’s absolutely key. And, and the idea isn’t that you’re going to turn you know, a, a tea party advocacy group is not going to make Lloyd Doggett suddenly become a conservative, but the aggregate effect of everyone pushing all around the country is that you create this broader sense of a wave that’s building. And so that’s what we’ve seen over the last year on the progressive side. You know, it’s not necessarily that any individual group is going to create… Is going to make Marco Rubio be, you know, turn into a liberal in, in Florida or make Ted Cruz here in Texas turned into a liberal, but they might, it might make them a little bit quieter, a little bit less likely to sort of push for the maximalist version of their position. And then with the people who are on the fence, it changes the way that they, the way that they interact as well.

Lisa Graham (06:57):
Yeah. That’s a conversation we’ve had a lot too, which is with the new administration and with what’s happened over the last few years, being on the right has changed. It’s gone so far, right that if you’re now a moderate, you’re actually not what used to be considered a moderate. You’re actually pretty right, because it’s moved so far to the right. And is this also an attempt to kind of push things back a little bit and it’s even going to push moderates back to what’s actually moderate maybe, or what used to be considered moderate.

Ezra Levin (07:24):
I mean, I think the battle is twofold. One is weakening the resolve of pro Trump Republicans, ensuring that they understand that their constituents are not going to be happy if they vote with this administration because it’s so far outside the bounds of what’s normal. That’s one piece. The other, the other part of it though, is actually pressuring Democrats to be good Democrats, to actually stand up for progressive values, which they don’t necessarily naturally do. Some do and some don’t. It just depends on the representative, what our messages generally to the groups on the ground, even if they’re in, in deep blue, California, or deep blue, New York or in some other deep blue district is you don’t want a B- member. Everybody should have an A+ representative in this environment. That’s what you should demand. And you should expect that they have the support of their constituents when they go to Congress. So they should actually act like it. So it is, it is both. It is both trying to weaken the resolve, make sure that if there are moderate Republicans out there that they’re voting like moderate Republicans, that they’re standing up for their constituents and not just voting in party line. But the other half, the battle is making sure that progressive to actually stand up for our values.

Lisa Graham (08:29):
So back to the memo you guys wrote, how did, and now we were talking before the podcast, actually, you now have an organization with over 40 staff, a large budget. How did you get in the last nine months from a document to this organization? And how has that journey been?

Ezra Levin (08:48):
Oh, it’s been really easy and calm. A lot of cat videos.

Lisa Graham (08:55):
You have to write a new momo with that… [laughter].

Ezra Levin (08:56):
It’s been a wild ride.

Leah Greenberg (08:57):
Yeah. Well, you know, we put the document online in December of last year and literally from the first night that we put it online, we realized that we had tapped into something much bigger than we could possibly have imagined. I remember the moment when we realized that in a Google doc, you can see how many people are in a document until you hit a hundred people when it stops tracking. And so I sort of thought we’d tapped out at, you know, a hundred people viewing the document and it turned out that was actually just because you could no longer track how many people were in. And then the feature started crashing. And then people started sending us these extraordinary emails from all around the country saying, “Oh hey, I read your document. And I was full of despair and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. And I knew I had to do something. And now I’m going to take the guidance that you put and form a group and put it into action. How do I find people in my community who want to do this with me?”

Ezra Levin (09:45):
Oh yeah. So that happened a lot. We were just totally overwhelmed. I remember we, we sent an email out, so that was on a, I think a Thursday, we were eating soup at the kitchen table and tweeted out the guide. And then it just started crashing. The whole world felt like it was coming in on us. And so we just reached out to a couple dozen of our friends and said, “Oh, we need help. Can we try to figure out how to deal with this?” And so to begin what Indivisible was, was just a whole bunch of friends and friends of friends coming around our living room to figure out, feel out, okay, I guess we need a Twitter account. Who has a Twitter account? Who can run that. Or okay, we have 500 emails. How can we start getting back to these folks? So just doing all of that,

Leah Greenberg (10:23):
The requests coming in, we needed to build a website. We needed legal support. All of these questions immediately started coming at us.

Lisa Graham (10:29):
And y’all were doing that while you had jobs?

Leah Greenberg (10:31):

Ezra Levin (10:31):
Yeah. So that is worth noting. So everybody had a job. And in fact, until March, we didn’t have any staff until late March, I believe. And we didn’t really start staffing up until late spring or summer, but so on the very bottom page of that, that, that Google doc, which is still up, we say pretty explicitly, look, we’re not professional advocates. We’re not doing this as part of our jobs, in fact, we, our bosses don’t really know about this.

Dan Graham (10:55):
They do now, they do now.

Ezra Levin (10:56):
Well, we no longer work for them. They were actually pretty cool about it.

Leah Greenberg (11:00):
They were very supportive.

Ezra Levin (11:00):
But we explicitly said we are not starting an organization. Cause the last thing that progressive space needs is yet another nonprofit asking you for money. And then we started an organization in January. And the reason why we did is because exactly what Leah just said, there are all these folks coming out of the woodwork. There was suddenly Syracuse Indivisible and Roanoke Indivisible and Auburn Indivisible asking, “Hey, I had 20 people in my living room and now there are a thousand people coming to the community center. What do I do now? Or what’s up in Congress right now that we should be responding to? Or should, should we be signing this petition? Is that the most effective thing? So we started out just doing this through volunteer effort. It was just people, again, coming around our living room, trying to figure out how best to respond. We started the organization, not because we have progressive policy goals or electoral goals that we do. We started the organization explicitly to support the groups on the ground. That’s why we exist. So we, we tend to distinguish between the movement, which are these independent Indivisible groups now in every single congressional district in the country and the organization, which exists to support those groups.

Lisa Graham (12:05):
And what type of support do you all provide? What do you guys do to help all those organizations or the local organizations? Yeah, well, we, we see ourselves as a general service provider. So we provide assistance on policy information. We try to demystify Congress and help people understand what’s going on right now. There are lots of complicated things about Congress. And so just cutting through all of that and saying, here’s how your activism can be most targeted and strategic at any given moment. We provide coordination support. We have field organizers who now represent all of the different states. And so they’re available to talk to and build relationships with all of the folks who are building local groups on the ground to help connect them, help coordinate them when they want to do things together provide training and support. We’ve started doing regional convenings around the country where group leaders can come and build their active organizing skills. And then we do communication support. So helping people get their message out on a local level and then on a national level, because one of the really important things for us is helping people all around the country understand that this really is a nationwide movement.

Dan Graham (13:06):
And how do you, how do you kind of measure success? I, I, I would guess that there’s, you know, there’s ways to be successful from a national perspective, ways be successful from a spreading of the movement perspective, and then in a specific grassroots community, what does that group look like if it’s successful and then how do you sort of measure and promote all of that?

Ezra Levin (13:24):
So we, so we measure success while each of… So we… It might make sense to go through how the organization is actually structured because each department measures success in different ways. So we have four main programmatic teams the field team, the organizing team, which is really the heart and soul of the organization. That’s, that’s why we exist is to support the groups on the ground. So they have regional organizers spread across the country who are responsible for between two and five States between four and 500 groups. But that’s, that’s their turf. That’s what they’re responsible for. So they do direct outreach to the groups. They’re doing coordination between the groups, they are doing trainings and webinars and other things for the groups on the ground. So they have their own set of KPIs, key performance indicators, for this year and for next year. And there are a handful of them. They involve, how strong are these groups on the ground? Are they developing local leadership and power? Are they actually thriving? Are they real? Because you know, to become a group, you just have to register as a group. And there’s a difference between registering and actually doing real stuff in the world. That’s what we want to see. So the organizing team is responsible for ensuring that these are indeed thriving groups that are that are really doing things. The communications team, as Leah mentioned, is focused both on our national profiles, a national organization, but also key to how we’re able to exercise power is through local media pressure. So it is important that the local groups on the ground are getting these local press hits letters to the editor, getting coverage in the nightly news. And so we’ve had actually over a billion dollars in earned media in 2017. This is both at the national level and the local Indivisible groups who get coverage. You not, not a day goes, we have, you can set it up. You can do this at home yourself, listeners. You can set up a Indivisible Google alert and just see what comes in. And I tell ya all across the country, you will see inspiring stories of somebody holding a protest on the tax bill, or somebody doing a diet on Trump care, or somebody showing up for the Dreamers. There are groups all across the country who are earning this media, which is having the effect of pressuring members of Congress. If they’re not getting media, they’re probably not pressuring very well. So that’s yeah.

Dan Graham (15:32):
Yeah. So I’m curious, you know, granted, it’s just been, it sounds like about six months since these groups started popping up all over the country and, and from, and where you’ve been probably measuring these KPIs and putting these staff support in place. And so, but from a poster child perspective, if there’s like a community that you could describe, you know, what does it look like? What have they accomplished? You know, what makes them successful?

Ezra Levin (15:54):
Yeah. So I think it might make sense. I’m going to get, I’ll get around to this by talking about the difference between mobilizing and organizing, if that makes sense. So do y’all have y’all run into Marshall Ganz at all? He, he was Cesar Chavez’s organizing director for a couple of decades. He’s now a professor of social change at Harvard. He’s brilliant. We he’s actually, I don’t know how he got connected to us, but back in January, I think we started talking to him. He helped develop Obama’s 2008 field campaign. And he talks about this distinction between organizing and mobilizing. Now traditional campaign work is what we would call mobilizing. You try to get a group of people to do a thing. Usually it’s vote for the ballot initiative or vote for the candidate. After you get that group of people to do that thing, the energy dissipates. But if you’re a candidate, that’s fine. You’re- you don’t, you don’t need those people after you get elected, then you’re going to go off and do your job. What Indivisible is trying to engage in is slightly different. It’s organizing, which is actually really about developing a local community level infrastructure that is progressive. And that is about developing power and local leadership. So the groups on the ground, yes, they were fighting against Trump care. Yes, they are fighting against any specific piece of legislation or getting involved in electoral work. But fundamentally what they need to do in order to be powerful is develop their own leadership so that if one Indivisible group leader drops off, they get a new job, they move, they have kids, whatever- somebody else is there to take their spot. And so, you know, when

Leah Greenberg (17:26):
And if I could just add, I think that one of the things that- one of the reasons why we think that’s tremendously important is that we consistently see this cycle of boom bust investments on the progressive side, particularly when it comes to elections where enormous amounts of money is pumped into the final stages of an election, usually through big investments in campaigns, big investments in TV ads- lots of stuff that’s just not designed to last. And so, you know, the day after the election, all that’s gone and you don’t really have anything that’s left there, that’s left over for the, the tremendous amount of work that you’ve done. Whereas if you’re actually investing year round in the kinds of communities that are capable of doing advocacy action one day, electoral action the next day, then you have something left over, you have lasting progressive power for the next cycle. And when I was looking at even groups, just in Austin, I clicked on a couple and they had boards, they had groups, it was like president, president elect. They had a secretary, they had communications director and it was really interesting that they they’re like developing their own line of leadership.

Ezra Levin (18:27):
Okay. So I mean, back to the original question that there, there is actually a huge, there’s a, there’s a lot of variants in the group. Some groups were book clubs that now make calls to Congress on a monthly basis. Some- Indivisible Austin is incredibly strong. And like you said, has a board; has different subcommittees. They, they had a spinoff that is now focusing on the Texas legislature and not just federal they’re getting involved in elections too. So they are they’re meeting on a regular basis. They’re holding rallies, they’re doing protests that are going outside, Ted Cruz’s office or John Cornyn’s office. They’re getting involved in Beto O’Rourke’s campaign. All of these volunteers are, are doing active stuff in the real world. So the, the coin of the realm is, is not just talking about stuff, not just posting things on Facebook, not just having a Twitter account. It’s are you actually getting civically engaged? Are you coming together in person to affect change?

Leah Greenberg (19:18):
Yeah, and I think for us also the, the variation that, as Ezra mentioned, is part of the, is part of the design, like our goal was never to say, there’s one uniform franchise model of an Indivisible group; you work on these specific issues and that’s all you do. And this is how you’re structured. Our goal was to say come together in the kind of community that works for you, develop the kind of leadership and decision-making structures that work for you. There will be a wide variation between, you know, groups of friends who got together and wanted to become politically active and civic engagement organizations at this point that are really building local power and becoming formal entities in their own communities. And we think that’s great.

Lisa Graham (19:55):
And how- do you guys, as an overall organization, like the central organization, do you guys partner with other organizations, or how do you encourage your local chapters to partner with local organizations that are also working on a progressive agenda?

Leah Greenberg (20:08):
So we sort of think of our partnerships in two big buckets for ourselves. One is policy partnerships and the other is mobilizing partnerships. On the policy side, a big part of what we do is help people understand what’s going on on the Hill. And when we’re doing that, we want to be working very closely with the organizations and the stakeholders that are really leading the charge on any given issue. So we’re not building a think tank. We’re not building a, an advocacy organization for any one particular issue. When we’re talking about women’s rights, we want to be talking with Planned Parenthood and Narrow. When we’re talking about immigration, we want to be making sure our our message and our work is synced up with leaders like United We Dream and National Immigration Law Center. And so So we form partnerships with those organizations, in order to make sure our messaging, our asks, our work is really knitted- tied into the broader progressive infrastructure. And then on the mobilizing side, those are organizaitons really trying to do grass roots organizaing, grassroots mobilizing all around the country, all coordinated in ways that really maximize our energy and our collective impact. So that’s um… And there’s some overlap, so for example Planned Parenthood would be an example of a group that is both policy and mobilizing.

Dan Graham (21:20):
Originally, you said in the document, it said that you weren’t fundraising or asking for money, but 46 full-time employees sounds like that may cost something and I’m guessing that’s changed, as well.

Ezra Levin (21:30):
Well, it has, yeah, we were really reluctant to do anything to raise money early on, actually. So we were worried one that it would distract people from the ultimate goal that you would have people giving money instead of actually going out and creating Austin Indivisible. And two, we were worried it might look like we’re in some way, monetizing this good will- this like this great Google doc that we put out and now we’re trying to make money off of it. And so we really, we wrestled with the idea of whether we would even ask for money and we ended up putting a donate button on the website. And saying this, it’s really funny to read it now; it’s like this really apologetic-

Leah Greenberg (22:03):
Very apologetic-

Ezra Levin (22:03):
Very regretful. I know it’s like, I’m sure this is distasteful for you all; it is for us as well. [inaudible].

Leah Greenberg (22:16):
I’m disgusted with myself…

Leah Greenberg (22:16):
We actually didn’t in any way ask. I think we, I think our exact words were like, there will now be a donate button on the site.

Ezra Levin (22:23):
And then- I think that email raised a hundred thousand dollars.

Lisa Graham (22:25):
Oh wow.

Ezra Levin (22:25):
Without, without asking. And we

Lisa Graham (22:27):
Every non-profit in the country now is like, how do we do that? I’m so jealous.

Dan Graham (22:33):
Add donate button.

Ezra Levin (22:35):
Add donate button.

Ezra Levin (22:35):
Right, exactly. Right.

Lisa Graham (22:36):
And just say it’s there

Ezra Levin (22:37):
Basic stuff, but what we’ve, what we’ve tried to keep as part of our ethos is we are, we are fundraising second. So in general, the emails that you seen from us will be a thousand words of content about here’s what Congress is doing, and here’s the new toolkit we put out. Here’s another organizing opportunity for you. And for awhile, we, it was literally the section was called and here’s the part where we asked you for money. And so, you know, our single largest source of contributions have been small dollar donations. Our average contribution is less than 50 bucks. We’ve had tens of thousands of those contributions from literally every single state. And you know, as long as we are offering something that is of value to these folks across the country organizing, I think they will continue to support us. And that’s key. If we’re not offering something of value, they really shouldn’t support us. And so we, we view it as being extremely important to Indivisible, the organization, that we are fundamentally fueled by small dollar donations. We don’t take money from corporations. We don’t take money from political figures and we don’t take more than, I guess right now, 10% of our budget from any individual source. The goal of that is to be as responsive as possible to the field so that we don’t have any donor coming to us saying, “Hey, you need to be doing X,” because we can tell any donor that, “Why no, we’re responsive to the field. And they actually write the checks for all our employees too.” So it allows us to remain strategically independent.

Lisa Graham (24:05):
Yeah. How do you then in terms of the resources you all provide you have suggestions for, Hey, this is what it’s like. I thought it was great. This is what’s going to happen when everyone comes back in the new year with the new tax bill, or this is some information on some other legislation that’s coming up, how do you guys decide on what to focus on to provide a resource to all these organizations?
Leah Greenberg (24:26):
So this is a really core part of our original theory that we outlined in the guide, which is that you, as a constituent have the most leverage when you’re focusing on the things that are happening in Congress right now. And that’s for a really simple reason, which is that elected officials do not have a long attention spans. They are mostly focused on, you know, the incentives that they face at the, at the exact moment that they’re trying to decide whether to take a position on any individual bill. And it’s verifiable. When you go to them, you say, “Hey, I want to know how you’re going to vote on this bill that’s happening on Friday.” They know that you’re going to actually know how they voted on that bill. Whereas if you go to them and you say, “Hey, do you support this, this cause that you actually aren’t going to have to take a vote on anytime soon,” they can say, “Oh, of course I support paid family leave.” Or, “Of course I support X and Y.” And so what we try to do is focus as much energy as possible on the things that are moving through Congress at this moment. And so for a lot of this year, we were extremely focused on healthcare because that was the central- that was the central legislative piece of the Trump agenda. And it was moving through Congress when that helped, when the bill effort to pass healthcare or to pass Trumpcare went down, we then switched over to tax reform as we called it the tax scam. And and then in the end of the year, we were focusing on the Dream Act, which was trying to move through Congress. And so that’s really our focusing mechanism is making sure that we’re trying to focus the majority of our firepower on what’s currently happening. And then also providing resources on things that are on the horizon that might be moving in the future so that people have the tools at their disposal to know what might be coming.

Ezra Levin (26:00):
Can I just add, so what, what you said there is that we view that there’s a strategic responsibility to focus in on what, what is happening in Congress right now, but there is also a moral responsibility to do that. And, you know, we call this Indivisible to begin with the idea behind, and Leah gets credit for coming up with that. And I think we were walking Austin Link or something, and you came up, “Hey, what do you think about Indivisible?” No, it was at dad’s kitchen table? That’s what it was. Okay. In any case we, we saw back in November and December that it wasn’t just any individual person or group that was under threat by this administration in Congress, that it really every single facet of the progressive ecosystem and really just the fundamental tenants of American democracy were under threat and remain under threat. And that if you are a reproductive rights advocate and you stand up only when reproductive rights is under threat or if you are an immigrant rights advocate and you stand up only when immigrants are under threat, or if you are a progressive tax code advocate and you stand up only when the tax code is under threat, you will wait your turn to lose. The only opportunity we have to actually win is if we stand together, indivisible. So the reproductive rights advocates stand up when the immigrants are under attack and the immigrant rights advocate stand up for the progressive tax code and the healthcare advocate stand up for the environment when it’s under attack; we’re not going to win every battle, but that is the way that we are going to be effectively able to push back. Now, what, what we’ve seen over the course of the year is that that is how we’ve had wins so far. The healthcare bill did not go down because a lot of healthcare advocates stood up and killed it. The healthcare bill went down in March and then in the summer, and then September, because everybody was coming out to oppose the bill. When we’ve seen losses this year, we’ve seen losses because some members of Congress or some parts of the progressive ecosystem haven’t come out and treated every issue as indivisible. And I think the biggest example this year is immigrants that they have been under threat by this administration from the very beginning, the Dream Act which is a bill to protect dreamers who were directly attacked by the Trump administration is, and it should be a bipartisan bill that is able to get through, but because of a lack of political will, it has not been. And Democrats chose not to fight for it this year. And as a result of not fighting for it, they cleared the calendar and provided extra space in order to get this tax bill through which the Republicans did. And ultimately the dreamers. Now it is December 31st as we record this, have still, still remain under threat. They have not been protected by this Congress and are being deported.

Leah Greenberg (28:43):
Yeah, I would just add as well that when we talk about treating issues as indivisible, there’s a strategic logic behind that, which is that this administration has a limited number of legislative days on the calendar. It has a limited amount of political capital. And so a loss on one issue often translates into having a harder time on the next issue. So we were in a stronger position for much of this year because of the repeated failures to pass Trumpcare. That meant that they spent nine months not getting something done. And that’s nine months they could have spent doing something else had they been able to move Trumpcare earlier- quickly- faster, early and everthing. Every time we make an issue, every time we make an issue contested whenever we, you know, drag out a cabinet nomination or drag out a Supreme Court nomination, or drag out the fight on healthcare, we are weakening them systematically in a way that is gonna make it harder for them in the midterms. And it’s going to make it harder for them to get anything done before that.

Lisa Graham (29:37):
I think it’s also interesting and it’s a great reminder when you start thinking, looking outside of what your specific issue is and your focus, and it’s a good reminder that these issues really do affect all of us. And it, I mean, it goes back to, I think, when people were fighting for women to get the right to vote, the suffragettes finally had to partner with the women who wanted alcohol to be illegal, because, hey, if you can vote, you can have an effect on that issue rather than just, you know, going to a protest. So how do you partner with people who have a similar interest to push your agenda forward? And I think you have to get really creative sometimes with it, but it helps people to also just look out for what else is going on in the world.

Dan Graham (30:15):
What I think too. And it seems like in this particular administration, we’re actually removing people from the democratic system potentially, which brings a whole another level to, you know that was it- It’s like a poem- it talks about, you know, when theey, and then when they came for me, there was no one left.

Lisa Graham (30:30):

Leah Greenberg (30:30):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. When you look at the attacks on voting rights, for example, or, or the attacks on the Dreamers, when Trump presented DACA, that’s 800,000 people who could potentially be- who could potentially be forced to leave this country to be deported from this country. And those are the- that’s the next generation of American leaders that we’re talking about.

Lisa Graham (30:50):

Ezra Levin (30:51):
No, I’m just saying I get, so I get, so I think that the worst thing that the Democrats did this year was failed to stand up for the Dreamers and they had multiple chances to do it and did not. And it is a it’s morally reprehensible because there are 800,000 people who could be deported. There are 12,000 who have already lost their status, and many have been deported, but repeatedly given the chance to stand up for these progressive values; repeatedly urged on by the grassroots and by their by their base to do something the Democratic leadership chose not to. And as a result of that we had other defeats in addition to the, the terrible damage that has been done to this specific population. And I think, you know, we see a ton of energy out there right now. We see no decline in the level of enthusiasm in the grassroots, and they’re jazzed up for the 2018 elections. And a lot of times we just get asked questions about whether, whether this will actually continue, can, like, what do we see happening next year? And maybe what we’re going there. So I don’t want to get ahead, but that I am not worried about the grassroots in general being engaged in the elections. What I’m worried about is that they’re going to get to the voting booth and they’re going to look and say, well, who am I voting for when I vote for Democrats? Because if they’re not willing to stand up for our values, why on earth am I going to go and knock on doors and register voters and actually get out there? I think the Democrats, in addition to making a terrible moral choice here, and it’s not all of them, but some of them are really shooting themselves in the foot politically. If Chuck Schumer wants to become Senate majority leader in 2019, he’s actually got to fight for us.

Lisa Graham (32:27):
You’re nudging me cause we’re out of time.

Ezra Levin (32:28):
Oh, wow.

Lisa Graham (32:29):
No, I did have a question. So just to follow up on that, cause you just mentioned it. What is, I mean, what do you guys anticipate in the next few months are going to be the big focuses for that y’all are going be informing Indivisible groups about. What are the big challenges coming up.

Leah Greenberg (32:44):
That’s a great question. Well- so because we are fundamentally going to choose our advocacy areas based on what’s happening in Congress, we can’t tell you yet, but what we know, what we know, what we hear talk about is infrastructure entitlements reform. So an attack on attack on Medicaid, Medicare, social security, potentially. Those are sort of the two big things that we hear talk of. And then, you know, the other big thing for us is getting ready for the biggest possible 2018. So for all of these folks who got together to do congressional advocacy, they didn’t stay at congressional advocacy. They’re also working hard on electoral engagement. And so they’re trying to figure out how they register voters, how they hook into local campaigns, how they actually, how they do ballot initiatives, all the work that they can figure out how to do in order to support the biggest possible 2018 elections.

Ezra Levin (33:33):
Also so it’s worth noting on that, so we’ve had two kind of blockbuster successes and by we, I mean the broader resistance movement electorally this year and that’s Virginia and Alabama. Virginia, which not just the gubernatorial election there, but the, the state House and Senate elections were just phenomenal. We won in places where we really just didn’t expect to win. And in Alabama, in Alabama, we won a Senate race, which yes, the opponent was a child molester. [Laughter].

Lisa Graham (33:58):
Not that that’s funny. It’s just insane that he was even a candidate.

Ezra Levin (34:04):
it is bonkers, but, but still a Democrat has been elected in Alabama. Now, the way those victories came about was not because there was just this massive get out the vote effort in November. The way those victories came about was starting in January groups on the ground were getting organized. So when we talk about preparing for a big blue wave in November, 2018, that blue wave is happening now. And if it doesn’t happen now, then when it gets to November, you’re not going to have that kind of support you need to actually drive through to victory. So that in addition to the advocacy pieces, Leah mentioned, we are simultaneously ramping up right now.

Leah Greenberg (34:40):
And I’ll just add one point on that, which is, you know, one of the things that we get asked all the time is like, oh, well, they’ll go to town halls, but will they vote? And you know, for me, that’s just exactly the opposite question, because the question shouldn’t be, how do you get people to vote? The question is how do you build a progressive movement that actually feels like part of people’s lives all year round, such that it’s natural to go vote. And I think what you saw with both of the elections this year was you had organizations, you had institutions, you had communities, not just communities that started in January, but for example, in Alabama, local black led or community institutions that had been organizing for a really long time that because they had that strength were actually able to turn out the vote in a meaningful way. Not because we had a campaign that we, that we started, you know, two months before it actually before the election, but because they had been building that power over the longterm.

Dan Graham (35:29):
Yeah. It does feel a little bit caught like common sense to think that if you spend your year advocating and being engaged politically, that you’re probably not going to skip Voting Day.

Leah Greenberg (35:37):

Ezra Levin (35:38):
There’s a great- I know we’re at a time- there is a great… Leah already kind of mentioned this, the connection between advocacy and electoral, but we see it just, it is so clear to us. There’s a great example, Dave Rashard, he’s a representative from Tacoma area in Washington, he’s TrumpCare supporter. He is perceived to be a moderate, but in reality has been voting for most of Trump’s agenda, but he was also refusing to hold town halls. He was refusing to go out in public. And so the Indivisible groups in his area kept on holding a “missing member town halls” or [laughter] “empty chair town halls”, which is great. We have a toolkit on it. It has been happening at- like there’s an example of people bringing a live chicken on stage to represent the members of Congress, but any case, in Richard’s district, they had held just a ton of these and somebody got into the race to beat him; a new, a pediatrician who hasn’t run before is now challenging him and her first campaign ad was a lot of pictures of these “empty chair town halls” and then her standing behind an empty chair saying, Dave rusher won’t sit in this chair, but I will. And Dave Rushford announced he’s not running for reelection anymore. There is a direct connection between the advocacy work, which is specific to legislation, but is also defining the candidates of next year. And so a connection between that advocacy work and the electoral work. So yeah, you’re absolutely right. They are certainly not going to sit out next year if they’d been advocating all the 12 months before.

Lisa Graham (36:52):
Did, do you guys anticipate- I mean, one of the big things too, that the tea party has done is they’ve started going after Republican candidates. And I mean, Bannon, the president of [inaudible] clearly even named people that they’re going to go after. Do you anticipate the left doing that as well, starting to go after currently elected Democratic candidates who people feel aren’t supporting what they think they need to be doing. And do you think that’s gonna happen in 2018?

Leah Greenberg (37:16):
I don’t think you’re seeing anything like the, sort of the organized, concerted effort on the right that you’re seeing with abandoned figure to go after candidates on the democratic side. I think you’re seeing a series of really healthy conversations within primaries though, between, you know, about like, how progressive are we, what, what issues are we going to embrace as core to the party? And, and you are seeing some inter party primary fights that I think are really part of a healthy dialogue and, and our groups in some cases are getting actively engaged in primaries. In some cases they aren’t. We actually had a set of groups in California that just made their first endorsement of a candidate in the race to challenge Dana Rohrabacher who’s a particularly awful Republican. So we’re seeing a whole range of different ways that people are engaging with primaries. But I think that the key thing for us is that it really has to be locally led and driven.

Ezra Levin (38:02):
And the, the other piece is we’re thinking- so we put out a primary endorsement guides to say here’s how you should think about getting engaged. And the point we made for the groups is, you know, there are costs and benefits to getting involved in primaries, and there are costs and benefits to staying out. If you stay out of primaries, you lose the opportunity to try to determine the direction of the Democratic party. And that, that is a shame to lose that opportunity. It is also possible that if you get involved in primaries, you could tear your group apart if they don’t view that it’s a legitimate decision. And so our, our message to them was this can be a healthy process, if you make it a healthy and process for your group. And at the end of the day, you need to commit ahead of time to getting around whoever wins that primary. And because it matters whether or not we have 220 votes in the House of Representatives or 210 votes in the House of Representatives. 220 votes means we actually get Donald Trump’s tax returns. It means we actually get some kind of real investigation and a check on his power. And if you lose the primary and then take your ball and go home, we’re not going to win that. And that has real consequences. I think the the Virginia gubernatorial race was a great example of this working out well. There was a vigorous debate in the Democratic primary between the two candidates. The Indivisible groups were on either side, but afterwards they all got behind the guy who won. We think that’s how it should be. There should be a debate about the issues in the primary, and then after it, we all get together and elect the person who’s actually going to act as a check on the administration.

Lisa Graham (39:26):
Yeah. Well, thank you guys so much for coming. We’re officially now out of time, [inaudible] curious about man building an organization that quickly, maybe that’ll be your next memo we’ll talk about that. See how that goes, but thank you all for being here. This has been really fascinating. Thank you so much. And check out the links in the description for more information and resources about our guests’ organization. We have links online that y’all can check out and the Notley podcast is sponsored by Chez Boom audio and the talented Shayna Brown. Shayna has a pretty cool story that we’ll link to in our notes section. And you can check out the studio@chexboomaudio.com. That’s C H E Z boom, audio.com. And you can learn more about Notley and our social innovation projects at notleyventures.com.