This is the origin story of the largest anti-Trump organisation in America and how it built a mass based local movement to save affordable healthcare.
HOST: Election Night 2016. Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin had been campaigning for Hillary Clinton. They watched on in horror as the coverage unfolded on America’s ABC network.
REPORTER: I just want to show you the scene behind me, we just saw them pack up the confetti machines they were going to use and blow our there. This hall is completely empty. Complete radio silence, which tells you what they are thinking right now.
HOST: Over at the Trump Party, Fox News was describing a very different scene.
SOT: Their screaming again, “call it”, “call it”. The Trump Camp recognises that they are about to take over.
HOST: Progressives in America were in a state of shock. Isaac Bloom was a community organiser at the time.
ISAAC BLOOM: in those first couple of days that we all knew that…you know, that we were just done for …
Like maybe we could get a, an infrastructure bill passed that wouldn’t be totally miserable. But otherwise, we were just going to see constant and deliberate destruction of everything that we hold dear. And there was really nothing that we could do about it … [cut]
HOST: It was emotional too.
ISAAC: The other thing about the mood, certainly that night and then for days afterwards, was just a feeling of loneliness…or being alone.
HOST, LIVE READ: Today on ChangeMakers I’m in Washington D.C. where … the entire country was rocked after Donald Trump, an aging narcissist, became president despite getting 3 million fewer votes than his opponent. This is the story of how a small group of people channeled that despair into a Google Doc.
HOST: Yes. A google doc — and this is the story of how that little document has ended up being a genuine thorn in Trump’s side. Let’s go
HOST: I’m Amanda Tattersall, welcome to Changemakers, the podcast telling stories about people changing the world.
We are supported by the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney. They break down barriers between researchers, policy makers and community campaigners so we can build change together. Check them out at sydney.edu.au/policy-lab.
HOST: In the days and weeks after the election, people around the country were despondent. Particularly in Washington DC. Political insiders had been keeping close track of what Trump had said.
ISAAC: All of the promises that he made on the campaign trail, those were all going to come true. And they were all going to come true immediately, kind of like our Day 1
HOST: Leah Greenburg and Ezra Levin worked in DC. They’d been staffers for Democrat members of Congress, and had been there when Obama passed the Affordable Care Act – the healthcare bill that everyone knows as Obamacare.
ISAAC: And at that time what happened was that, they were doing this sort of public comment period and congress people were doing town halls and taking in comments from their constituents. And… what’s called the, the Tea Party was just beginning to come about.
HOST: The Tea Party was an anti-government, anti-Obama conservative social movement. It looked and felt like a grassroots insurgency into the Republican party, but in reality, it was funded by billionaires who wanted to pull the Republicans even further to the right.
Leah and Ezra had a front row seat to its rise.
ISAAC: And they were just getting beaten up at these town halls. Just yelled at. And…made to defend everything that they had said publicly and any idea that they might vote for the Affordable Care Act. They were getting booed. They were getting ridiculed. And it was the first time that that kind of stuff had ever really happened. In any, certainly, in any coordinated way. It was eye-opening for Leah and, and Ezra.
HOST: Leah and Ezra felt they had to do something. Anything. But the problem was — they didn’t know quite what. So they rang up some of their friends and said, “come over”. Let’s chat this through.
LEAH GREENBURG: We weren’t sure what we were gonna do but we we felt like we needed to do something and that was that was not a productive meeting there was a lot of crying and you know people nobody nobody came away with any answers.
HOST: That’s Leah Greenburg talking at the University of Chicago in November 2017. Leah soon realised that she and Ezra weren’t alone.
LEAH GREENBURG: But we had this realization over the next few weeks which was that those meetings were happening everywhere all around the country people people who were already politically active and people who had not previously considered themselves politically active we’re coming together on on Facebook in on social media in community centers in living rooms all over the place and they were saying I don’t know we’re gonna do but we got to do something.
HOST: Progressive people were getting together and talking amongst themselves spontaneously. That was exciting. But the conversations were pretty depressing. They needed a way to take all these conversations, that thousands of people were having everyday, and the energy behind them, and turn it into something productive. They needed a plan.
HOST: On holidays over Thanksgiving, they began discussing what had made the Republican side of politics so powerful under Obama. In particular, they thought about the Tea Party – the quote unquote “grass-roots” populist insurgency into the Republicans, funded by a number of billionaires, that preached a radical anti-government message. What had made them so effective?
ISAAC: And as they were having this conversation with their friend over drinks in this bar in Austin they were saying like look the thing that made that powerful was not those folks … who were wearing tri cornered hats and saying Don’t Tread on Me.
The thing that made it powerful was that they were showing up where members of Congress were and they were making their voices heard and they were doing it in a concentrated and ongoing way and they were doing it in a way that made these representatives have to double double back and really look at their positions on things. And in some cases really change their minds.
HOST: It was the tactics that the Tea Party used to intervene into politics that made them powerful.
And so Leah and Ezra thought, what if we broke down the Tea Party’s tactics, turned them on their head, and used them against Trump.
They said there’s no reason that that can’t work for the progressives. We don’t have to just take whatever we get from the Trump administration and there’s no reason to assume that whatever they want to do is to be is going to be what happens. We can reverse engineer what what the folks in the Tea Party did because it happened to us and we can put it put it into some kind of you know some kind of guide or something and whatever will publish it online and people can do with it whatever they want.
HOST: So Leah and Ezra did what many progressives around the world do every day. They started – a Google Doc.
ISAAC: They sort of got together with a group of other friends many of whom were former congressional folks or for former congressional aides. And they wrote this guide over the course of the next couple of weeks. HOST: The google doc called for a defensive strategy. It argued that people should build a national resistance to Trump’s agenda. At a time when winning things would be hard, it said people should focus on stopping bad things from happening. It called for a big no campaign – something that a lot of people could get behind.
Then they identified who should lead this resistance. They applied one key lesson from their experience from the Tea Party.
LEAH GREENBERG: But immediately after the election we realised there might be a lesson from that time, a small group of people organising locally could have large influence on their elected officials and therefore an impact on the Trump agenda.
HOST: Ultimately the Google Doc – 23 pages in length – had a simple message about power.
LEAH GREENBERG: Nothing that Donald Trump does in the next four years is ultimately determined by Donald Trump it’s determined by whether your elected officials go along with Donald Trump or whether they rein him in whether they advance his agenda or whether they work to stop it and you organizing locally advocating in public and demanding to be represented can actually have a really powerful impact on whether they think that’s in their political self-interest to do
HOST: The document was very practical about how to do this.
LEAH GREENBERG: We basically went over some simple principles of how you organize and how you put pressure on your elected officials we said you know go to public events go to their office get the local media involved talk about what they’re actually doing talk about whether you like that or whether it will hurt you get attention on them watch them like a hawk and don’t let up
HOST: They emphasised that people didn’t need a big group, or anyone with previous political experience or expertise. Anyone could do this.
ISAAC: If they could just get a few friends together and actually go in and interact with their representatives in a way that could be caught on camera or shared or or replicated. And that practical application is really one of the biggest things that attracted people to the guide.
HOST: The Google Doc was ready to be shared. Ezra tweeted it out early one evening in mid December.
LEAH: We put it online we got it out before Christmas because we wanted our friends to have read it and you know when they went home to see their families and somebody said hey what can I do they would be able to send him to this guide and we thought that you know in six months somebody would email us and they would say hey I used your guide and it worked and we would be like so excited that would have been success.
HOST: But that’s not quite what happened
LEAH: Within a couple of hours of putting the guide online we realized that something much bigger was happening
HOST: As Isaac tells it.
ISSAC: You know folks were sharing it kind of left and right with their friends and it went viral in D.C. very quickly. And a couple of famous people retweeted them. It was enough that on the first morning after they tweeted they had 300 e-mails in their inbox saying this is so exciting. This really gives me hope.
HOST: And the emails kept coming.
ISAAC: At first they try to answer all e-mails themselves and then they realize this is you know cause as they were answering e-mails more were coming in. And so they got they started doing e-mail parties and they got friends to come over and answer e-mails with them and then they started to very quickly sort of delegate specific roles and pieces to people.
HOST: By January people started forming into groups. A website was put up where people could register their group – so others could find them and join.
And it kept growing.
For a while they thought they could handle it with a team of volunteers.
LEAH: We had the benefit that lots of people had at the beginning of the year we had a huge number of very talented people who were desperate to do something and so we were able to build pretty quickly a volunteer corps of about a hundred and fifty people who are working between you know 20 to 40 hours each some of them pulling suspiciously long like lunch breaks and ducking out early and you know staying up very late to do that and and build out sort of a decentralized structure that allowed a large number of volunteers to engage.
HOST: But everytime they thought they had it under control, a new opportunity would come up and the network would grow again.
ISAAC: And at some point in I think it’s January Ezra got an op ed published in The New York Times and you know it had already gone to a lot of people and it had already gained a lot of traction. But that was the first thing that it went from like hundreds of groups to thousands of groups like they gained a couple of thousand groups. Right. Right around the time that was published.
HOST:It wasn’t sustainable. Success was taking its toll on Leah and Ezran.
ISAAC: They basically weren’t sleeping at all anymore and were barely doing their real jobs. They were just kind of doing this full time at night.
HOST: In early-January, Leah and Ezra bit the bullet and decided to create an organisation.
ISAAC: They explicitly said in the guide we’re not going to create an organization. The important thing is that you create a local group. But in in January is when Ezra actually quit his job and started doing this full time because it just it just had become clear that it was just impossible to support all of these groups without having some real full time staff who are dedicated to doing that.
HOST: And it was lucky he did, because the growth they’d experienced so far was just the start.
HOST: By now, it was mid January. Trump was about to be inaugurated.
If Trump is the reality television President, it’s perhaps only appropriate that the crystalising moment for his opposition would be thanks to television.
ISAAC: When Ezra was on Rachel Maddow for the first time and again that really just kind of exploded.
HOST: Rachel Maddow hosts a popular national television show on one of America’s largest television networks.
Tanya Luken, who lives in Phoenix Arizona, watches that show.
TANYA LUKEN: So I was raised in the Midwest in between Minnesota and Nebraska and I’ve never been involved in politics before or or any kind of social change.
HOST: The election had taken its toll on Tanya. She is a do-er – she trained as accountant and works as an entrepreneur and the lack of power she was feeling was stifling.
TANYA: In January by then I was really frustrated at not being able to do anything because professionally being really efficient is very important to me and not having a way to be efficient to enact change. Was it it’s almost debilitating for my personality. I can’t stand it at all. So it’s very it was very frustrating.
HOST: Then in January one night she was relaxing on the couch and switched over to MSNBC.
RACHEL MADDOW: This is indivisible. It is kind of the secret sauce, I think, that explains what is bubbling up that what may be the start of the anti-Trump movement. … it’s called Indivisible.
TANYA: I was watching Rachel Maddow. She has a show on MSNBC and she was interviewing Ezra Levin and he was talking about the guide and how he described it basically as a way to get the attention of members of Congress. It was the week before the women’s march was on Saturday. And that same evening I went onto their Web site and I read the guide. And I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet but it’s a checklist. And as an accountant a checklist is it’s like a drug to me. Like I just want to go down the list and mark everything off.
HOST: The timing was perfect. The women’s march was in a couple of days.
TANYA: The day before so inauguration day I set up a Facebook page and they set up an e-mail address and they printed out a hundred fliers that said I’m going to follow the indivisible guide if you want to join me. Contact me here. And I passed out my hundred fliers at the women’s march here in Phoenix.
HOST: It was big.
“Tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like”
TANYA: There was about 30000 people there.
HOST: And now comes the test – would anyone get in touch?
TANYA: And then I watched it grow
HOST: But building a group wasn’t just about finding people. The Guide was really clear about this. If your group is going to work it needs leaders.
And when I say leaders, I don’t mean the kind that show up in a Hollywood movie and give great speeches. I mean real community leaders – the kind of people who are good at working with other people and who are prepared to do the work to make the ideas in the Guide come to life where they live.
TANYA: After the women’s march so the very next day I had six friends over and we had cake and coffee and divided up tasks kind of in within the guide because it talks about basically if you’re going to start a group to cover these things and assign roles and tasks and things.
HOST: That’s how Indivisible Groups got started.
They mixed a little bit of digital organising using platforms like Facebook. They added a touch of outreach in the streets to connect with protesters and friendly community organisations. Then to finish it off there was a lot of planning amongst a smaller group of actively committed people.
The experience in Phoenix was repeated all across the country.
Within about a month of the Inauguration there were over 6000 – yes I said 6000 – indivisible groups across the country.
HOST: So now Indivisible is an organisation. Its raising money and hiring staff. But now they face another problem.
How do you create a sense of coordination and connection across 6000 groups where everyone is a volunteer?
Their first plan was to email everyone.
ISAAC: They had started sending out weekly e-mails to folks just sort of saying here’s the stuff to focus on for this week. Here is the you know here’s kind of what’s happening in Congress. Here’s what you need to know. Here’s how you know. Here are the top you know top tactics this week to really fight back and those e-mails were being opened at a rate that no e-mail professional that I know of has ever seen. You know 30 40 percent open rate huge click through that were also like four or five times the industry standards. It was really really astounding … it was like people who really actively cared a ton about about it.
HOST: The emails were useful, but really they were just scratching the surface.
Indivisible needed some people with organising experience – the kind of people who had worked with lots of leaders and groups before. That’s how Leah and Ezra met Isaac.
Isaac liked tough challenges. His last job was to take on gun nuts at the NRA. We did a story about them last series. Isaac was a professional organiser.
So when Isaac saw Indivisible he understood they were taking the idea of local groups to a whole new level.
ISAAC: To me that the opportunity to work with an organization whose stated mission is to support citizens and building their own power. That’s kind of like my dream come true job.
HOST: He was meeting Leah and Ezra to talk about gun control, but the conversation quickly shifted to Indivisible. How was it connecting and supporting all these groups?
ISAAC: Tell me about your organizing model and he was like well us are working that out. I was like I have a lot of ideas. And so you know at some point during that conversation I kind of wrote them this like a page thing of like when you hire an organizing director here’s what they think they should do. And at some point it hit like very quickly after that I was like really I think what I mean is I want you to hire me. I think that’s what you should do.
HOST: So now building the capacity of 6000 groups was Isaac’s problem.
And it would require some out of the box thinking because many of the usual answers that a typical organisation would offer to this challenge weren’t going to work.
The first response would normally be – hire staff to help the local groups.
ISAAC: No regular organizing team is going to be able to work with this many people. You’re not going to hire enough organizers to work with 6000 groups even if you had tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars you just that would just be dumb. It’s not a good way to go about doing it.
HOST: So hiring staff was out.
Another approach would normally be to work slowly and build a network of hundreds or thousands of leaders who can manage with very little staff support.
That’s been the traditional community organising approach.
But Isaac didn’t have time. He needed support in place right now.
So instead, his plan was to encourage them to connect with other groups and create a decentralised network.
ISAAC: And so the best way that you can make sure that these folks have the support that they need that they have somebody to talk to that they are able to get trained and have some mentorship is by actually connecting them to each other and doing peer to peer work to make sure that they are able to learn from each other that you are surfacing the best practices that you’re supporting their innovation and that you’re connecting them to each other in a way that will allow them to build up their skills and build up their leadership and bring in new leaders and that they’re doing that with each other rather than with some sort of you know organizer telling them what to do.
HOST: They built the world’s biggest buddy system. And to smooth it all out, they developed a bunch of peer to peer digital tools to help people connect.
The model met people where they were at. People were tired with politicians telling them what to do. An approach where some staffer in DC was barking orders was not going to work.
The approach made it the responsibility of Indivisible leaders themselves to make things happen. If people wanted change, they needed to step up. Like Tanya in Phoenix.
TANYA: So I started looking out because by then indivisible had updated their website and there’s a place that you could register your groups. And I was able to see all the other groups. So we started reaching out to other group leaders and they invited them all over to my house. And so. At that first initial meeting that we had kind of progressive liberal group leaders in Arizona there was probably we represented maybe like 40000 people in Arizona. I was freaking out that day. I was like I couldn’t believe the people that were coming. One of the organizers from the women’s march was there that is on the Democratic Party was there stronger together Arizona was there.
HOST: Remember Tanya had never been involved in politics before.
But thanks to the Google Doc and Indivisible’s commitment to being lead from the ground up, she was at the centre of Arizonian politics.
HOST: But what were they going to do with all that people power?
What issue should they pick?
For Indivisible leaders like Chris Prezold in Seattle, it was the obvious pick.
CHRIS P:What all of the Republicans have campaigned on is that they were going to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that was enacted back in Obama’s time. And that is just their mission.
HOST: The Tea Party’s flagship goal had been to stop better health care. They had lost and it had become law.
For Indivisible, protecting health care from Trump was going to be their first big test.
But this campaign had a completely different feel to it.
Indivisible groups weren’t waiting for someone in Washington DC to tell them ‘it’s time to get started.’
They had the guide. They were already taking action. Across the country people were confronting congress people – organising protests, doing media stunts and imagining their first town hall meetings.
Chris’s group jumped out of the gates fast.
CHRIS: We had our first rally at our congressman’s office the Wednesday before inauguration happened. So before Trump even took office we were already fighting and there were 40 people at that rally on a rainy Seattle day.
HOST: It was a long shot, but Leah Greenburg realised if they were going to have any chance of saving Affordable Healthcare at a national level, local action was key.
LEAH GREENBURG: There are sort of two pieces of the strategy right one is about mobilizing locally and affecting the individual decisions of your elected officials the other is about the broader political narrative and generating the kind of heat and opposition that turns this from you know a partisan thing to a wildly unpopular thing that’s you know universally reviled and that creates the space for a lot a broader coalition of people to oppose a bill like this.
HOST: So the first step was to create a general feeling in the public arena that healthcare should be protected. And the second step was then to zero in on specific Senators and congresspeople who might be persuaded to vote to protect healthcare .
LEAH GREENBURG: The idea was you know make make the entire thing so unpopular that there’s a quiet constituency of people who concluded it’s not worth their time to pass it.
HOST: Isaac supported this two track approach by dividing his staff into two different teams.
ISAAC: For instance on health care it’s good to have a set of people who have relationships with some of the key folks in those states who are working with them to kind of make sure that we’re able to make targeted actions happen all over those states so that we can really influence legislation in the best possible way. And so the thing that I brought in was a sense that we need to do both distributed organizing but we needed to overlay that with a sort of traditional relational organizing team as well that was able to do more targeted work with some set of folks.
HOST: Ok that was a little complicated. But it’s important so let me try and explain.
When Isaac says distributed organising, he is referring to the kind of support you would provide to the 6000 groups in general. He’d provide some staff who could help with buddying groups up, and providing a little advice.
But for the groups in places where there is a political representative who might vote to save healthcare – he would provide greater support. He called it relational organising. In those places organisers might travel to meet, plan and provide training to the groups.
So what did all that mean on the ground?
Chris was from a non-targeted area in Seattle. So accompanied by a strong group of volunteers and some light support from the Indivisible mothership they used the Guide as their main support and her team planned a Town Hall meeting for July 2017.
CHRIS: So our vision for that event was for it to be a positive and uplifting event just to provide information to our members and to people of the community about what the heck is going on in Washington D.C. And at the time the healthcare legislation was up in the air.
HOST: That’s right. Even with the Republicans controlling both houses of congress, there was a feeling that health care could be saved. This is because for some people, saving health care was literally a battle between life and death.
At the meeting people talk about why this issue is so important to them.
CHRIS: One woman who says that if the Affordable Care Act here is is repealed that she will stop all of her lifesaving cancer treatment that she’s undergoing right now. So she came up and spoke and it was so poignant. When she got off the stage I gave her a hug and she was absolutely shaking. I was in tears and I think everyone in the room was in tears.
HOST: After they had set the stage, a politician was invited to speak.
CHRIS: Finally we had the Congresswoman come up and speak about you know just what she is doing in Washington D.C. to fight back.
HOST: What else could she say?
When people are well organised and in relationship with their political representative – the representative has little option but to listen.
It was a lesson straight out of the Indivisible Guide.
And it showed that this kind of local action could have spectacular effects on Democrats as well as Republicans. People power could really push people to be better representatives.
But, not every politician in the Seattle area was so engaged. One Republican congressman indicated he wouldn’t be turning up to any Town Hall meetings. So the Seattle group had to use a different lesson from the Guide to engage him.
CHRIS: So we call his office every day and we call about you know whatever the topic is that’s before the House of Representatives here in the U.S. and we ask him to vote this way or that way. We also are very active on social media holding him accountable to different votes he’s taken. We write letters to the editor. We wrote so many that he ended up writing one response.
HOST: He has an excuse for avoiding Town Hall meetings.
CHRIS: So he he suggests that the reason why he doesn’t have town halls is because he’s you know more than willing to meet with people one on one in his office. And it’s always in a very controlled environment. You have to make an appointment. … however long in advance. So we’ve also done that quite a few people have met with him in his office including myself.
HOST: At one meeting they got an insight into what he thought of them.
CHRIS: He said that when the Tea Party was around he was under some pressure he said. But it was nothing like this. So I thought that was really great.
HOST: It was a lot of pressure.
CHRIS: He you know has come out in the media and talked about how he took his office took 700 phone calls in one day.
HOST: It led to a result.
CHRIS: I guess after all of the pressure we’ve been putting on him he decided not to run. If you if you’re not going to do what we’re asking you to do to fight back against Donald Trump’s agenda then we’ll actually find someone else who will.
HOST: Amazing. Think about it. Like Tanya, Chris had never been involved in politics before the November 2016 election and now she was leading a group that was turfing out inattentive representatives.
HOST: There were places in America that had political representatives who could determine the fate of affordable healthcare. Such as Arizona.
High-profile representatives like former Senator John McCain, and another important Republican Senator Jeffry Flake were both from Arizona.
Tanya Luken had previously voted for Senator Flake. Her decision had been based on what she had seen in the news.
But now, because she was part of Indivisible, she got to see him up close.
It started when her friend sent a letter.
TANYA: She sent me an e-mail because she had sent a letter to Senator Flake’s office and got an email back that was this canned kind of rhetoric response about how like he you know health care should be affordable for everyone and I don’t know. Planned Parenthood kills babies and kittens or something that is with me. Whatever it was it was really it was rhetoric and it wasn’t an answer to what she was asking. And so she said to me if that man had to walk a mile in my panties he would not vote for this health care repeal.
HOST: That thought led to a crazy idea. They decided to string up hundreds of panties outside Senator Flake’s office. You know, as a media stunt.
TANYA: So like logistically we all figured it out and a bunch of the committee members that you know they died a bunch of very large women’s panties pink and we figured out how to string them up on the light poles and we we flew for probably the entire time they were trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
HOST: In most campaigns I know, if people were going off script and improvising like this – in a battleground state – someone would have reigned them in.
But not here.
These folks had total ownership over the movement they were building. They could hang as many panties as they want. And they would continue to call the shots.
HOST: The Indivisible Guide said that direct contact with Senators was really important. So a bunch of them went to one of Flake’s Town Hall meetings.
TANYA: People kind of tried to hold him to task and make him actually answer questions which he would never do. And then they would just turn off the mike and go to the next person.
HOST: This wasn’t going to be easy.
So back to the Guide. It had another idea – to be on the lookout for chances where you could confront a representative in public.
TANYA: He flies in every evening every Thursday evening on an American Airlines flight and someone was on the flight with him recognized him and texted one of the group leaders here in town or messaged her and said he’s on our flight. We land at this time at this terminal. And so he was greeted coming out from security by a bunch of people that wanted to talk about healthcare.
HOST: Senator Flicks was hard to access. As a Republican, he was reflexively suspicious of Indivisible in the same way that Democrats were about the Tea Party.
And he proved hard to shift. Even with the support of organiser staff – the local group only moved him slightly.
While he began to use the rhetoric of affordable healthcare when responding to Indivisible’s – he didn’t change his vote.
But someone else in the state did look more open to change.
Former Senator John McCain.
Towards the end of his life Senator McCain lived in the political stratosphere. He was highly revered and hard to access.
But he was frustrated by the politics of the time.
TANYA: I do think he does not like hyper partisanism which is happening here in the United States. And it’s it’s terrible because we’re so divided politically that nothing gets done and the only thing you know the entire country is suffering because of it.
HOST: That partisanism was epitomized by the debate about affordable healthcare.
McCain was definitely engaged.
And he was completely aware that there was a growing constituency of people who were worried too, thanks to Indivisible.
And by the way, Senator McCain passed away in August 2018 and I did these interviews while he was still alive.
TANYA: He definitely knows that we’re there because I’m sure like we we call his office we show up at his office. You know I go there every Tuesday and ask the same four questions. So you know I. So I know he knows we exist. I’m not sure if we factored into his decision making process.
HOST: We will never know.
In the lead up to the Senate vote there was so much going on for Senator McCain at that time. He had just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
And there was so much going on with Indivisible at this time.
ISAAC: So because of our geographic spread and the fact that we have at least two groups in every congressional district were able to put pressure on every single senator at once. Because of that we were also able to put pressure on every single Republican senator and at every opportunity every time they went home every time they went everywhere every time they answered the phone they were constantly just being hammered by constituents and it was the first time for a lot of them they’d ever experienced that missed most of these senators come from Ruby Red states where they don’t they don’t ever get pressure from progressives. And now all of a sudden they were just constantly getting pressure. You don’t know where the crack is going to show up. But if you put pressure on the entire wall it might just break.
HOST: This dual strategy of local action and building a national narrative was escalating into the defining national issue.
It was an escalation that just might reach the political stratosphere.
In July 2017, the repeal bill was on the floor of the Senate. Senator McCain’s vote would be crucial. CNN reported it at the time.
REPORTER: Senator John McCain Days removed from his cancer diagnosis, stunning the chamber, turning the thumbs down on the repeal bill.
HOST: He voted no. The repeal bill was lost. Health care was saved.
It was unbelievable.
ISAAC: What we did was put enough pressure on the Republican Party that you know a couple of moderates who did have to answer to folks in their state went first so Murkowski and Collins were were of the first folks to go on the first health care bill. And we created a perfect hero opportunity for John McCain who is thinking about U.S. and thinking about you know what is he going to do in these last votes that are available to him. And that hero opportunity was too good for him to pass up.
HOST: It would be wrong to say that the victory was only the work of indivisible – so many groups and movements made it happen.
And it would equally be wrong to not recognise the two mighty Republican women – Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Susan Collins – who also voted against the bill and never seemed to get quite the same level of credit.
But it is certainly fair to say that Indivisible – a movement that had been born learning from the Tea Party, made its first mark keeping affordable healthcare in place.
HOST: The healthcare repeal battle was just the first chapter in a movement that continues to grow.
Indivisible is still working through some pretty big political conundrums – things like how do you relate to political parties and when should resistance shift into solutions.
But the biggest challenge of all is how do you sustain this network – how do you maintain momentum over the months and years ahead?
HOST: Leah Greenburg has thought a lot about this one.
LEAH: So I think there are three ways I think about that question one is agency a second is community third is training so the first thing I think burns people out is having a sense that this is happening in they’re powerless so a key part of this is you know understanding and recognizing the wins along the way understanding and recognizing that over the course of this time people have actually genuinely made made an impact. it hasn’t it can’t stop all the damage that’s happening. But that said you know there have been there have been major successes if we had told you know someone in November of 2016 that this is where we would be on the legislative front that would be that would be a shock to them so I think a big part of it is helping people recognize that that their action has an impact the second piece is community I think that it’s easy to feel burned out when you’re not part of something when you don’t feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself and having places that are in person where you’re building relationships and you’re working together is like a really critical part of how you actually keep that feeling and keep that momentum going and the third is training so I think a lot of folks got active who you know it’s like a meeting that you went to that the agenda dragged on and like one guy was dominating it the entire time and like nobody really knew you know and then you didn’t go back right so it’s the things that it’s things that nuts and bolts organizing training can actually help a lot with when you’re thinking about how do you how do you make new people come in and feel engaged how do you make people feel valued how do you move people up the ladder of leadership development all of that work is actually really core to keeping people engaged because it goes to their sense of agency and it goes to the communities they create.
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