By Robert Mann
During almost 20 years working in the U.S. Senate, I learned how simple acts — a phone call, a letter, a face-to-face conversation — can influence a member of Congress. When I worked in Sen. John Breaux’s Baton Rouge office, we sometimes took 100-plus phone calls a day on an issue. That was a tiny fraction of the state’s population, but we let the Washington office know we were being inundated. Those calls and letters turned heads and often made a difference.
Consider how public outrage this past week forced clueless House Republicans to drop plans to abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics. These Republicans surrendered quickly because they feared their constituents’ wrath.
For weeks, friends have asked me what they can do now that Donald Trump has won the White House. The answer I’ve arrived at: We should work to stop Congress from doing Trump’s bidding. That must be the priority of every committed progressive.
And now a new online publication describes how to do it. “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” published by several former congressional staffers, reminded me of the importance and efficacy of an organized resistance movement. These staffers have performed a public service in illustrating practical steps citizens can take to resist Trump’s racist, corrupt or self-dealing proposals.
The authors found inspiration in the methods of the Tea Party movement in 2009. “We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress,” the authors write. “We saw them organize locally and convince their own [members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda.”
While rejecting the Tea Party’s bigotry, “Indivisible” advocates “a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness.” In progressives’ favor is Trump’s unprecedented unpopularity. “He does not have a mandate,” they observe. “If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”
How? By pursuing a local strategy that targets members of Congress and a “defensive approach purely focused on stopping Trump from implementing an agenda built on racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.” These two tenets come straight from the Tea Party’s decentralized and locally focused movement.
“Tea Party groups could be fewer than 10 people, but they were highly localized and dedicated significant personal time and resources,” the authors found. “Members communicated with each other regularly, tracked developments in Washington, and coordinated advocacy efforts together.”
Just as important was the movement’s defensive character. “The Tea Party focused on saying NO to Members of Congress (MoCs) on their home turf,” they write. “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.”
The authors suggest replicating three Tea Party tactics: “Showing up to the MoC’s town hall meetings and demanding answers”; “Showing up to the MoC’s office and demanding a meeting”; and, “Coordinating blanket calling of congressional offices at key moments.”