On November 8, 2019, nearly 100 people crammed into San Francisco’s tiny Book Passage to hear Pod Save America co-host Dan Pfeiffer — who during his intro clarified that he used to work in the Obama White House — interview Indivisible founders Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin about the experiences and tactics that shaped their book We are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump. At least three quarters of the audience identified themselves as members of an Indivisible group, including eight or so Indivisible East Bay members.
Why write a book on top of running an organization? Leah said that after the big wins in the 2018 election, the team in DC and Indivisible members across the country looked up from the day-to-day work of resisting the Trump agenda and toward building a positive future for our country. The pair wrote the book to say that we need to ensure that future by strengthening democracy, making government truly accountable to the people. That means everything from securing citizens’ right to vote to demanding that our elected representatives go on the record with their positions by voting on crucial and controversial issues.
But of course we didn’t spend the whole evening talking about a utopian future. Ezra and Leah also discussed Indivisible’s engagement with the big news story of the moment: impeachment. Ezra talked about Indivisible’s plans to hold rallies the night before the House votes on impeachment, and described the hubdialer tool we’ve been using here at IEB and across the country to call constituents in swing states and connect them with their senators. As the Indivisible website says, “we’ve got to demand that Senators publicly support a fair and open impeachment trial.”
Ezra also made the connection between the kind of advocacy work we’ve been doing and the task ahead of us in 2020. The Get Out the Vote work that powered the Blue Wave Election of 2018 didn’t start in October when we canvassed and phonebanked with all our might, or even earlier that year when we registered voters and trained. It started way before, when we marched and fought against the Muslim ban, for the Affordable Care Act, for DACA, and against the tax scam. Our advocacy and demonstrations created the conditions and the energy that drove people to the polls in record numbers and, once there, led them to vote down an unpopular GOP agenda.
An audience member who identified himself as an organizer and a DACA recipient said that since Trump came into office he had found a much wider coalition willing to stand up and fight for immigrants’ rights than he had under Obama, and expressed a concern that members of that new coalition might turn a blind eye “if President Warren deports me in a carbon neutral plane.” Leah reaffirmed our commitment to hold Democratic leaders accountable — something we are already very familiar with here at IEB — and to work beside, and follow the lead of, directly impacted communities.
Leah and Ezra were asked how their vision encompasses the important pro-democracy work that activists are doing on a local level, and answered that their role is to give general support, but to leave that activity in the hands of the local groups who know our local communities and to let us make those decisions about where to focus our time and energy.
The last question of the event came from a six-year-old audience member who had clearly been listening carefully: what does “grassroots” mean? Leah said that to her it means “people who decided to take politics into their own hands … that an active democracy depends on them being involved.” Ezra asked us to raise our hands if we were connected to a local Indivisible group and said “this is the grassroots.”
After Leah and Ezra signed books, they gathered with a few group leaders from throughout the region, including IEB, Indivisible San Francisco, Indivisible Livermore, Indivisible Colusa, Indivisible Marin, Indivisible Sausalito, and Indivisible SF Peninsula, for a small reception in the largest hotel lobby in the world (no, Ezra and Leah were not staying there). We continued the conversation about the many issues we need to address to protect and expand democracy. We also chatted about some more internal matters like the organization’s budget and policies to help Indivisible National avoid stepping on toes when they work with local, independent, Indivisible groups like IEB. And we had an in-depth conversation about the tools Indivisible National provides for local groups, including our Act Blue distributed fundraising account and the voter files we use for canvassing and phonebanking, and new tools we want to use for organizing volunteers and research.
We also talked about the possibility that local groups and/or the national organization might make endorsements in the presidential primary. Many agree this is a bold action that could be really powerful for the movement; but it could also have very serious drawbacks. Some group members expressed concerns that getting involved in the primary would reopen divisions on the left that have still only partially healed since the 2016 primary, and Leah and Ezra shared that in 2016 one of them had voted for Bernie while the other voted for Hillary. Of course, their marriage has survived a lot of things that most partnerships wouldn’t, like working together and writing a book together!
We ended the evening by reflecting together on the forces that brought us together to that room and all the things we’ve accomplished together in our movement — things we never would have thought possible until they happened: We preserved the ACA under the unified control of a GOP that had been promising to repeal it since before it passed. We overcame rampant gerrymandering and voter suppression to flip the House. If those “miracles” were possible, we can believe in the utopian representative and responsive democracy seen in Leah and Ezra’s book, and in our collective vision for a future after Trump.