Wow. There is so much interest in resisting Trump’s agenda that Google Docs is overloaded. We spent the weekend with a couple dozen volunteers putting together this new website and a pretty PDF version of the guide. See it at: www.IndivisibleGuide.com. And we’ve got a new Twitter handle, @IndivisibleTeam. Keep resisting.
PS: For posterity, the original version is below. But we promise the new one is nicer, and you can download a Word version there as well.
Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda
Former congressional staffers reveal best practices for making Congress listen
Donald Trump is the biggest popular vote loser in history to ever call himself President-Elect. In spite of the fact that he has no mandate, he will attempt to use his congressional majority to reshape America in his own racist, authoritarian, and corrupt image. If progressives are going to stop this, we must stand indivisibly opposed to Trump and the members of Congress who would do his bidding. Together, we have the power to resist - and we have the power to win.
We know this because we’ve seen it before. The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own members of Congress to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism - and they won.
Who is this document by and for?
We: Are former progressive congressional staffers who saw the Tea Party beat back President Obama’s agenda.
We: See the enthusiasm to fight the Trump agenda and want to share insider info on how best to influence Congress to do that.
You: Want to do your part to beat back the Trump agenda and understand that will require more than calls & petitions.
You: Should use this guide, share it, amend it, make it your own, and get to work.
To this end, the following chapters offer a step-by-step guide for individuals, groups, and organizations looking to replicate the Tea Party’s success in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal, dedicated group of constituents. The guide is intended to be equally useful for stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.
We believe that the next four years depend on citizens across the country standing indivisible against the Trump agenda. We believe that buying into false promises or accepting partial concessions will only further empower Trump to victimize our fellow citizens. We hope that this guide will provide those who share that belief useful tools to make Congress listen.
P.S. We’re doing this in our free time without coordination or support from our employers. We’re not starting an organization and we’re not selling anything. Feel free to ping some of us on Twitter with questions, edits, recommendations, stories about what is helpful here: @ezralevin, @angelrafpadilla, @texpat, @Leahgreenb. Or email IndivisibleAgainstTrump@gmail.com. And please please please spread the word! Only folks who know this exists will use it. Click here to share on Facebook and here to share to Twitter. Thank you! We will win.
Here’s the quick and dirty summary of this document. While this page summarizes top-level takeaways, the full document describes how to actually carry out these activities.
Ch. 1: How grassroots advocacy worked to stop Obama. We examine lessons from the Tea Party’s rise and recommend two key strategic components:
Ch. 2: How your MoC thinks, and how to use that to save democracy. Reelection, reelection, reelection. MoCs want their constituents to think well of them and they want good, local press. They hate surprises, wasted time, and most of all, bad press that makes them look weak, unlikable, and vulnerable. You will use these interests to make them listen and act.
Ch. 3: Identify or organize your local group. Is there an existing local group or network you can join? Or do you need to start your own? We suggest steps to help mobilize your fellow constituents locally and start organizing for action.
Ch. 4: Four local advocacy tactics that actually work. Most of you have 3 MoCs - two Senators and one Representative. Whether you like it or not, they are your voice in Washington. Your job is to make sure they are, in fact, speaking for you. We’ve identified four key opportunity areas to pressure MoCs that just a handful of local constituents can use to great effect. For each of these always record encounters on video, prepare questions ahead of time, coordinate with your group, and report back to local media:
“If they succeed, or even half succeed, the tea party's most important legacy may be organizational, not political.” -Jonathan Rausch
Like us, you probably deeply disagree with the principles and positions of the Tea Party. But we can all learn from their success in influencing the national debate and the behavior of national policymakers. To their credit, they thought thoroughly about advocacy tactics, as this leaked “best practices” guide demonstrates.
This chapter draws on both research and our own experiences as former congressional staffers to illustrate the strengths of the Tea Party movement and to provide lessons to leverage in the fight against Trump’s racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.
What the Tea Party Accomplished
The Tea Party organized to effectively end hope for progressive reform under Obama. Their members:
These were real, tangible results by a group that represented only a small portion of Americans.
Why We Are Not the Tea Party
The Tea Party’s ideas were wrong, and their behavior was often horrible. Their members:
We are better than this. We are the majority, and we don’t need petty scare tactics to show that our cause is just.
The Tea Party’s success came down to two critical strategic elements:
1) They were locally focused. The Tea Party started as an organic movement built on small local groups of dedicated conservatives. Yes, they received some support/coordination from above, but fundamentally all the hubbub was caused by a relatively small number of conservatives working together. To summarize:
2) They were almost purely defensive. The Tea Party focused on saying NO to Members of Congress on their home turf. While the Tea Party activists were united by a core set of shared beliefs, they actively avoided developing their own policy agenda. Instead, they had an extraordinary clarity of purpose, united in opposition to President Obama. They didn’t accept concessions and treated weak Republicans as traitors. To summarize:
For the next two years, Donald Trump and congressional Republicans will control the federal government. But they will depend on just about every member of Congress to actually get laws passed. And those members of Congress care much more about getting reelected than they care about any specific issue. By adopting a defensive strategy that pressures MoCs, we can achieve the following goals:
Shouldn’t We Put Forward an Alternate, Positive Agenda?
A defensive strategy does not mean dropping your own policy priorities or staying silent on an alternate vision for our country over the next four years. What it means is that, when you’re trying to influence your MoC, you will have the most leverage when you are focused on whatever the current legislative priority is.
You may not like the idea of being purely defensive; we certainly don’t. As progressives, our natural inclination is to talk about the things we’re for - a clean climate, economic justice, health care for all, racial equality, gender and sexual equality, and peace and human rights. These are the things that move us. But the hard truth of the next four years is that we’re not going to set the agenda; Trump and congressional Republicans will, and we’ll have to respond. The best way to stand up for the progressive values and policies we cherish is to stand together, indivisible - to treat an attack on one as an attack on all.
“There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader” -Alexandre Ledru-Rollin
This chapter explains how congressional offices and the people within them work, and what that means for your advocacy strategy.
To influence your own Members of Congress (MoC), you have to understand one thing: every House member runs for office every two years and every Senator runs for election every six years. Functionally speaking, MoCs are always either running for office or getting ready for their next election, a fact that shapes everything they do.
To be clear, this does not mean that your MoC is cynical and unprincipled. The vast majority of people in Congress believe in their ideals and care deeply about representing their constituents and having a positive impact. But they also know that if they want to make change, they need to stay in office.
This constant reelection pressure means that MoCs are enormously sensitive to their image in the district or state, and will work very hard to avoid signs of public dissent or disapproval. What every MoC wants - regardless of party - is for his or her constituents to agree with the following narrative:
“My MoC cares about me, shares my values, and is working hard for me.”
-What every MoC wants their constituents to think.
If your actions threaten this narrative, then you will unnerve your MoC and change their decision-making process.
Help, My MoC is in a Safe District!
If your MoC is in a heavily Democratic or Republican district, you may assume that they have a safe seat and there’s nothing you can do to influence them. This is not true! The reality is that no MoC ever considers themselves to be safe from all threats. MoCs who have nothing to fear from a general election still worry about primary challenges.
More broadly, no one stays an MoC without being borderline compulsive about protecting their image. Even the safest MoC will be deeply alarmed by signs of organized opposition, because these actions create the impression that they’re not connected to their district and not listening to their constituents.
Help, my MoCs are actually pretty good!
Congratulations! Your Senators and Representative are doing what they should to fight racism, authoritarianism, and corruption. They’re making the right public statements, co-sponsoring the right bills, and voting the right way. So how does this change your strategy? Two key things to keep in mind:
A MoC’s office is composed of roughly 15-25 staff for House offices and 60-70 for Senate offices, spread across a D.C. and one or several district offices. MoC offices perform the following functions:
When it comes to constituent interactions, MoCs care about things that make them look good, responsive, and hardworking to the people of their district. In practice, that means that they care about some things very much, and other things very little:
MoC Cares a Lot About
MoC Doesn’t Care Much About
Verified constituents from the district
(or state for Senators)
People from outside the district
(or state for Senators)
Advocacy that requires effort - the more effort, the more they care. Calls, personal emails, and especially showing up in person in the district
Form letters, a Tweet, or Facebook comment (unless they generate widespread attention)
Local press and editorials, maybe national press
Wonky D.C.-based news (depends on the MoC)
An interest group’s endorsement
Your thoughtful analysis of the proposed bill
Groups of constituents, locally famous individuals, or big individual campaign contributors
A single constituent
A concrete ask that entails a verifiable action - vote for a bill, make a public statement, etc
General ideas about the world
One single ask in your communication (letter, email, phone call, office visit, etc.)
A laundry list of all the issues you’re concerned about
To make this a bit more concrete and show where advocacy comes in, below are some examples of actions that a MoC might take, what they’re hoping to see happen as a result, and what they really don’t want to see happen. Some MoCs will go to great lengths to avoid bad outcomes - even as far as changing their positions or public statements.
Letter to Constituent
Constituent feels happy that their concerns were answered.
Constituent posts letter on social media saying it didn’t answer their questions or didn’t answer for weeks/months, calls Congressman Bob unresponsive and untrustworthy.
Local newspaper reports that Congresswoman Sara appeared at opening of new bridge, which she helped secure funding for.
Local newspaper reports that protestors barraged Congresswoman Sara with questions about corruption in the infrastructure bill.
Town Hall / Listening Session
Local newspaper reports that Congressman Bob hosted a town hall and discussed his work to balance the budget.
Local newspaper reports that angry constituents strongly objected to Congressman Bob’s support for privatizing Medicare.
Congresswoman Sara votes on a bill and releases a press statement hailing it as a step forward.
Congresswoman Sara’s phones are deluged with calls objecting to the bill. A group of constituents stage an event outside her district office and invite press to hear them talk about how the bill will personally hurt their families.
“We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers.” -Bayard Rustin
The Tea Party formed organically as conservatives upset after the 2008 election came together in local discussion groups. We believe the same thing is happening now across the country as progressives - in person, in already existing networks, and on Facebook - come together to move forward. The big question for these groups is: what’s next?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already part of a local network of people who want to stop the Trump agenda - even if it’s just your friends or a group on Facebook. This chapter is about how to take that energy to the next level, and start fighting locally to take the country back.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel - if an activist group or network is already attempting to do congressional advocacy along these lines, just join up with them. Depending on your Representative’s district, it may make sense to have more than one group. This congressional map tool shows the boundaries for that district.
If you look around and can’t find a group working specifically on local action focused on your MoCs in your area, just start doing it! It’s not rocket science. You really just need two things:
Diversity in Your Group & Reaching Out
Trump’s agenda explicitly targets immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ people, the poor and working class, and women. It is critical that our resistance reflect and center the voices of those who are most directly threatened by the Trump agenda. If you are forming a group, we urge you to make a conscious effort to pursue diversity and solidarity at every stage in the process. Being inclusive and diverse might include recruiting members who can bridge language gaps, and finding ways to accommodate participation when people can’t attend due to work schedules, health issues, or childcare needs.
In addition, where there are local groups already organizing around the rights of those most threatened by the Trump agenda, we urge you to reach out to partner with them, amplify their voices, and defer to their leadership.
If you do want to form a group, here are our recommendations on how to go about it:
How do I recruit people to take action?
Most people are moved to take action through individual conversations. Here are some tips for having successful conversations to inspire people to take action with your group.
Ask open-ended questions! People are more likely to take action when they articulate what they care about and can connect it to the action they are going to take. A good rule of thumb is to talk 30% of the time or less and listen at least 70% of the time.
As discussed in the second chapter, we strongly recommend focusing on defense against the Trump agenda rather than developing an entire alternative policy agenda. This is time-intensive, divisive, and, quite frankly, a distraction, since there is zero chance that we as progressives will get to put our agenda into action at the federal level in the next four years.
“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world” -Dolores Huerta
This chapter describes the nuts and bolts of implementing four advocacy tactics to put pressure on your three MoCs - your Representative and two Senators. Before we get there though, there’s one thing all local groups should do:
Begin with these five steps to gather intel. Before anything else, take the following five steps to arm yourself with information necessary for all future advocacy activities.
Note on Safety and Privilege
We do not yet know how Trump supporters will respond to organized shows of opposition, but we have seen enough to be very concerned that minorities will be targeted or singled out. Plan your actions to ensure that no one is asked to take on a role that they are not comfortable with - especially those roles that call for semi-confrontational behavior - and be mindful of the fact that not everyone is facing an equal level of threat. Members of your group who enjoy more privilege should think carefully about how they can ensure that they are using their privilege to support other members of the group. If you are concerned about potential law enforcement intimidation, consider downloading your state’s version of the ACLU Mobile Justice app in order to ensure that any intimidating behavior is captured on film.
Opportunity #1: Town Halls/Listening Sessions
MoCs regularly hold local “Town Halls” or public listening sessions throughout their district or state. Tea Partiers used these events to great effect - both to directly pressure their MoCs and to attract media to their cause.
1. Find out when your MoC’s next public town hall event is. Sometimes these are announced well in advance, and sometimes they are “public” but only sent to select constituents through mailings shortly before the event. If you can’t find announcements online, call your MoC directly to find out. When you call, be friendly and say to the staffer, “Hi, I’m a constituent, and I’d like to know when his/her next town hall forum will be.” If they don’t know, ask to be added to the email list so that you get notified when they do.
2. Send out notice of the town hall to your group and get commitments from members to attend. Distribute to all of them whatever information you have on your MoC’s voting record, as well as the prepared questions (next step).
3. Prepare several questions ahead of time for your group to ask. Your questions should be sharp and fact-based, ideally including information on the MoC’s record, votes they’ve taken, or statements they’ve made. Thematically, they should focus on a limited number of issues to maximize impact. Prepare 5-10 of these questions and hand them out to your group ahead of the meeting. Example question:
“I and many district families in Springfield rely on Medicare. I don’t think we should be rationing health care for seniors, and the plan to privatize Medicare will create serious financial hardship for seniors who can’t afford it. You haven’t gone on the record opposing this. Will you commit here and now to vote no on Bill X to cut Medicare?”
Should I bring a sign?
Signs can be useful for reinforcing the sense of broad agreement with your message. However, if you’re holding an oppositional sign, staffers will almost certainly not give you or the people with you the chance to get the mike or ask a question. If you have enough people to both ask questions and hold signs, though, then go for it!
At the Town Hall
1. Get there early, meet up, and get organized. Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar.
2. Get seated and spread out. Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do all not all together. Sit by yourself or in groups of 2, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus.
3. Make your voices heard by asking good questions. When the MoC opens the floor for questions, everyone in the group should put your hands up and keep them there. Look friendly or neutral so that staffers will call on you. When you’re asking a question, remember the following guidelines:
4. Support the group and reinforce the message. After one member of your group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience. Whenever someone from your group gets the mike, they should note that they’re building on the previous questions - amplifying the fact that you’re part of a broad group.
5. Record everything! Assign someone in the group to use their smart phone or video camera to record other advocates asking questions and the MoC’s response. While written transcripts are nice, unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for MoCs. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media.
After the Town Hall
6. Reach out to media, during and after the town hall. If there’s media at the town hall, the people who asked questions should approach them afterwards and offer to speak about their concerns. When the event is over, you should engage local reporters on Twitter or by email and offer to provide an in-person account of what happened, as well as the video footage you collected. Example Twitter outreach:
“.@reporter I was at Rep. Smith’s town hall in Springfield today. Large group asked about Medicare privatization. I have video & happy to chat.”
-Note: It’s important to make this a public tweet by including the period before the journalist’s Twitter handle. Making this public will make the journalist more likely to respond to ensure they get the intel first.
Ensure that the members of your group who are directly affected by specific threats are the ones whose voices are elevated when you reach out to media.
7. Share everything. Post pictures, video, your own thoughts about the event, etc, to social media afterwards. Tag the MoC’s office and encourage others to share widely.
Opportunity #2: Other Local Public Events
In addition to town halls, MoCs regularly attend public events for other purposes - parades, infrastructure groundbreakings, etc. Like town halls, these are opportunities to get face time with the MoC and make sure they’re hearing about your concerns, while simultaneously changing the news story that gets written.
Similar to Town Halls, but with some tweaks. To take advantage of this opportunity, you can follow most of the guidelines above for townhalls (filming, etc.). However, because these events are not designed for constituent input, you will need to think creatively about how to make sure your presence and message comes through loud and clear.
Tactics for these events may be similar to more traditional protests, where you’re trying to shift attention from the scheduled event to your own message.
Opportunity #3: In-Office Visits / Sit-ins
Every MoC has at least one district office, and many MoCs have several spread through their district or state. These are public offices, open for anybody to visit - you don’t need an appointment. You can take advantage of this to stage a sort of impromptu town hall meeting by showing up with a small group. It is much harder for district or DC staff to turn away a group than a single constituent, even without an appointment.
Note that office sit-ins can backfire, so be very thoughtful about the optics of your visit. This tactic works best when you are protesting an issue that directly affects you and/or members of your group (e.g. seniors and caregivers on Medicare cuts, or Muslims and allies protesting a Muslim registry). Being polite and respectful throughout is critical.
Opportunity #4: Mass Calls
Mass office calling is a light lift, but it can actually have impact. Tea Partiers regularly flooded congressional offices with calls at opportune moments, and MoCs noticed.
Congressional emails are standardized, so even if the MoC’s office won’t divulge that information, you can probably guess it if you have the staffer’s first and last name.
Sample Call Dialogue
Staffer: Congresswoman Sara’s office, how can I help you?
Caller: Hi there, I’m a constituent of Congresswoman Sara’s. Can I please speak with the staffer who handles presidential appointments issues?
Staffer: I’m happy to take down any comments you may have. Can I ask for your name and address to verify you’re in the Congresswoman’s district?
Caller: Sure thing. [Gives name/address]. Can I ask who I’m speaking with?
Staffer: Yes, this is Jeremy Smith.
Caller: Thanks, Jeremy! I’m calling to ask what the Congresswoman is doing about the appointment of Steve Bannon to serve in the White House. Bannon is reported as saying he didn’t want his children to go to a school with Jews. And he ran a website that promoted white nationalist views. I’m honestly scared that a known racist and anti-Semite will be working feet from the Oval Office. Can you tell me what Congresswoman Sara is going to do about it?
Staffer: Well I really appreciate you calling and sharing your thoughts! I of course can’t speak for the Congresswoman because I’m just a Staff Assistant, but I can tell you that I’ll pass your concerns on to her.
Caller: I appreciate that Jeremy, but I don’t want you to just pass my concerns on. I would like to know what the Congresswoman is doing to stop this.
[If they stick with the “I’m just a staffer” line, ask them when a more senior staffer will get back to you with an answer to your question.]
Staffer: I’m afraid we don’t take positions on personnel appointments.
Caller: Why not?
Staffer: Personnel appointments are the President’s responsibility. We have no control over them.
Caller: But Congresswoman Sara has the ability to speak out and say that this is unacceptable. Other members of Congress have done so. Why isn’t Congresswoman Sara doing that?
Staffer: As I said, this is the President’s responsibility. It’s not our business to have a position on who he chooses for his staff.
Caller: It is everyone’s business if a man who promoted white supremacy is serving as an advisor to the President. The Congresswoman is my elected representative, and I expect her to speak out on this.
Staffer: I’ll pass that on.
Caller: I find it unacceptable that the Congresswoman refuses to take a position. I’ll be notifying my friends, family, and local newspaper that our Congresswoman doesn’t think it’s her job to represent us or actually respond to her constituents’ concerns.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” -President Barack Obama
We wrote this guide because we believe that the coming years will see an unprecedented movement of Americans rising up across the country to protect our values and our neighbors. Our goal is to provide practical understanding of how your MoCs think, and how you can demonstrate to them the depth and power of the opposition to Donald Trump and Republican congressional overreach. This is not a panacea, nor is it intended to stand alone. We strongly urge you to marry the strategy in this guide with a broader commitment to creating a more just society, building local power, and addressing systemic injustice and racism.
Finally, this guide is intended as a work in progress, one that we hope to continue updating as the resistance to the Trump agenda takes shape. We are happy to offer support to anybody interested in building on the tactics outlined in this guide, and we hope that if you find it useful or put any of the tactics described above into action, that you will let us know how it goes. Feel free to ping some of us on Twitter with questions, edits, recommendations, feedback/stories about what is helpful here, etc: @ezralevin, @angelrafpadilla, @texpat, @Leahgreenb (a partial list of Twitter-active folks). Or email IndivisibleAgainstTrump@gmail.com.
Good luck - we will win.