We are Indivisible: Book Talk with Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin

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.

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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.

October 2019 Visit with Sen. Feinstein staff

The day before Halloween, as fires and blackouts were plaguing the state, a small group from Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Feinstein’s field representative Abby Ellis (and, for part of the meeting, with state director Jim Lazarus, who had to leave early to deal with the ongoing crises).

We asked Sen. Feinstein to be sure to block any government spending bills that give money to – or allow the administration to steal money for – harmful immigration enforcement, including the stupid wall. The next day she and her colleagues blocked a military spending bill that did just that! Thanks to everyone who called and emailed. Now, please call again, and thank Sen. Feinstein. Our calls of thanks are very important, as our Members of Congress receive plenty of calls from the other side, and staff lets us know when they don’t hear from us supporting their positive actions.

We also talked about the Climate Emergency as it relates both to the California fires and to federal funding for NOAA and NASA, which the Senate is actually handling well so far. We followed up on one of the big asks from our September Q&A with Jim in Berkeley, for Sen. Feinstein to co-sponsor Sen. Sanders’ Climate Emergency Concurrent Resolution, S.Con.Res.22 – but apparently Sen. Feinstein is still hung up on the fact that Sen. Sanders hasn’t put significant effort into recruiting her for it.

In Abby’s opinion, there is nothing Sen. Feinstein can do to either help asylum-seeking families turned away at our border or investigate the government’s improper role in sending them back to danger. She did say that the senator is committed to working to fix the problem if she ever becomes chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Speaking of taking back the Senate: we asked whether, if the Democrats did retake the Senate and the Republicans abused the filibuster, Sen. Feinstein would vote to eliminate the filibuster in order to address vital issues like gun safety, the climate crisis, and democracy expansion. Abby’s answer of “we’ll see” was a slight improvement over the last time we asked a similar question, when we got a “but bipartisanship!” answer. 

We also mentioned that we are counting on Sen. Feinstein to hold Trump accountable when impeachment reaches the Senate. And we checked back in about oversight of treatment of migrant children in detention with special needs (Abby does not know if they’ve looked into it), the stalled Violence Against Women Act reauthorization (Abby blamed Sen. Ernst for the lack of progress), and the American Family Act (still no reason given for not co-sponsoring).

We the People

Two houses. Three days. Eight candidates. Sixteen Indivisible group leaders. 416,818 paths to a Democratic victory in 2020.

Our allies at Indivisible National in D.C. are part of a coalition including the Communication Workers of America, Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) Action, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Sierra Club, SEIU, and 32BJ SEIU. Together these groups aim to bring grassroots organizers and activists to the table to help choose our next Democratic presidential nominee. 

To that end, Indivisible National reached out to sixteen group leaders from Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, and, of course, California. We were invited to spend three days together in D.C., living in two multistory rental houses and attending workshops and candidate forums. The theme of the event was democracy expansion — free and fair elections and pro-democracy reforms of all three branches of government.

Day one was described as activist training, but was really a call to arms from Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, plus some group discussions at our tables with members of other coalition partners. Rev. Dr. Barber invited us to join the Poor People’s Campaign. Then he spoke about the history of democracy expansion, from the Declaration of Independence to the Reconstruction Amendments to the Voting Rights Act, and also about the Supreme Court’s continued history of reversing democracy expansion. He challenged us not just to fight for the presidency, but to strive for what Coretta Scott King, in her moving Solidarity Day Address, called “not right vs. left, but violence vs. non-violence” — and to fight even for our right to self-government.

Day two: Rev. Dr. Barber was a hard act for the eight presidential candidates to follow during the seven hour forum at the historic (and very gilded) Warner Theater. The candidates took the stage one at a time to give a short pitch and answer audience questions (including questions from several Indivisible representatives) about voting rights, the filibuster, judicial reform, campaign finance reform, etc.

You can watch a recap and nearly the whole thing; here are a few highlights that stuck out to me:

  • Seeing our own Leah, representing this young but mighty organization we built together, take the stage with powerhouses like Planned Parenthood, NAACP, SEIU, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
  • Julian Castro’s story of how he quit his job as a lawyer and put his financial future at risk in order to avoid conflicts of interest on the San Antonio City Council.
  • Cory Booker saying we don’t need to eliminate the filibuster if we just elect a supermajority of Democrats instead, and almost inspiring us with his oratory to believe it.
  • Elizabeth Warren declaring that we must amend the Constitution to give everyone the right to vote, and the right to have their vote counted.
  • Beto O’Rourke introducing his plan to require each member of his cabinet to hold monthly town halls and hear directly from constituents like us.
  • Amy Klobuchar boasting about the fundraising record she holds: most money raised from ex-boyfriends.
  • Bernie Sanders getting BY FAR the loudest cheers — and no line for the restroom during his speech (nothing against Bernie, just being practical).
  • Jay Inslee living up to his reputation by bringing literally every question back to climate change.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand bringing up the rules change the Republicans were just then getting ready to go nuclear on to turn the Senate into a rubber stamp for judges. 
  • Hearing the inspiring personal stories of the questioners who are starting unions, teaching children, standing up to injustice, and protecting their communities all over the country.

Over dinner, Indivisible group leaders and staff discussed our impressions of the candidates. There was some general agreement: people were particularly impressed with Warren and surprised at how funny Klobuchar is in person. But it was most interesting to hear how experiences differed: some thought Booker was showboating while others were moved to tears, and some found Inslee charming while to others he came across as insincere.

Despite a lot of jokes about reality TV and “confessional videos” we didn’t really spend enough time at the shared houses to get in any drama or much bonding — we all went straight to bed (as far as I know!) and were up and out early for our final day at Indivisible Headquarters.

Day three: After loading up on some decadent breakfast tacos, we got started with a presentation from Indivisible National’s political data manager Olivia Robinson on Indivisible’s tactics for winning elections: expand and protect voting, build a coalition, and motivate core voters. She also talked about how various demographic groups sort into the categories of base voters, swayable voters, and opposed voters; and about the many (up to 416,818!) possible combinations of states we could use to win. You can find a lot more detail in her presentation, but the main takeaway was: don’t believe anyone who tries to tell us that there is only one path to victory or only one kind of “electable” candidate.

Next we heard from associate political director Lucy Solomon about Indivisible’s experience working with local groups to nationally endorse Congressional candidates, using as examples the campaigns of Ayanna Pressley in MA, Andrew Gillum in FL, and Harley Rouda here in CA. As it happened, several of the group leaders involved in those endorsements were in attendance. It was especially interesting to hear the story of how the Indivisible endorsement put Gillum on the map, as well as the division it caused within Indivisible groups throughout the state. Since for various reasons Indivisible East Bay never really considered getting involved in any statewide races, it was fascinating to hear the inside story of how our highest hopes and worst fears around endorsements both played out in the same race.

Then policy director Angel Padilla spoke about some of the legislative priorities Indivisible National is pushing in Congress right now. Though it is unlikely to be signed into law until 2021 at earliest, we talked about building support for H.R.1 – For the People Act of 2019 — and just how far Congressional Democrats, and we ourselves as activists, would be willing to go to force this democracy expansion bill through. Angel’s presentation is here if you scroll down to the bottom.

The final item on our agenda was a media training from consultants who shared tips about everything from how to craft and stay on message to what to wear. A webinar version of the training will be available soon.

In summary: We learned a lot. At this point all the candidates and their talking points have started to run together in my mind; but I expect that over the next 11 months, as I work with others at Indivisible East Bay to figure out how we want to engage in the primary in a way that makes both the candidates and our group better, I’ll benefit from having heard them answer the questions of that room full of grassroots leaders about the fundamentals of our democracy.

That said, I think the most lasting effect from this trip for me is the in-person connections I made with people from across the country whom I would never have met if not for this movement. It was delightful to meet the D.C. union organizer knocking on doors and working on a series of nursery rhymes about the evils of the GOP. It was inspirational to meet the Texan who got kicked out of a Ted Cruz event — and he followed her out to keep arguing! Heartening to meet the Floridian whose events our volunteers had texted to recruit volunteers for — when I told her I was from Indivisible East Bay she remembered that immediately and told me how much it meant to her that we had reached out. I tried to tell her that giving us concrete tasks we could do in swing states was as much a favor to us as our texting was to them, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

These are the moments that make me believe that we are building more than a winning coalition — another blue wave — more even than a movement. We are building an inclusive and expansive community of people who care for one another and work for one another — and that’s how we’ll build a better world.

 

Meeting with Feinstein staff March 2019

Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Feinstein’s state director Jim Lazarus and returning field representative Caitlin Meyer on March 14 in the senator’s San Francisco office. You can see our detailed pre-meeting memo here.

Our smaller-than-average delegation covered a lot of topics:

Climate Change: We told Jim that beyond the in-person interaction the senator had with young students in her office, we are disappointed that Sen. Feinstein — who we used to see leading on protecting our environment and addressing climate change — was dismissing this exciting new movement of energized youth activists by calling their ideas unrealistic. We asked her to support the Green New Deal resolution. We suggested that she doesn’t need to agree with every detail of their approach in order to celebrate their contributions and build up momentum to see how far this movement can take us toward our shared goal of a sustainable future. Jim said that he thought this perceived conflict was really mostly a communication issue and would be resolved as we move toward actual climate legislation. For example, the senator is currently working on carbon pricing legislation, which is not part of the current Green New Deal proposal but could complement it as part of the final legislation.

Immigration: We followed up on our repeated request that Sen. Feinstein visit the southern border and immigration detention facilities throughout the state — she says she wants to, but still has not — and we asked her to prioritize getting more funding in place for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan allies. There is a current backlog of 16,700 SIV-eligible individuals, including family members, and 4,400 applications are currently pending. In FY 2018, only 1,649 visas were issued, down from 4,120 in FY 2017.

Public banking: We asked the Senator to support public banking in California. Jim said it was an area that he hadn’t had many discussions with her about, but that he knew she supported local, accessible banking options like credit unions. He also expressed skepticism that public banking was the solution to the cannabis industry’s banking problems.

Census: We were glad to hear that Sen. Feinstein and her office have been very much on top of getting ready to make sure her constituents are all counted in the census. Caitlin told us that the office has been in touch with the Alameda County Complete Count Committee. We have a lot of hard to count populations here in the East Bay, such as immigrants and unhoused people.

And more: We also asked the Senator to:

  • work to fund desperately needed food stamps in Puerto Rico — she finally did the right thing on this after pressure from Sen. Schumer
  • cosponsor the EACH Woman Act (reproductive rights)
  • cosponsor The American Family Act (child allowance)—she hasn’t yet
  • hold a Town Hall—she seems as unlikely as ever to do so.

 

December 2018 meeting with Feinstein staff

On December 10, 2018, Indivisible East Bay had our first meeting with Senator Feinstein’s new interim state director Peter Muller. We met field representative Abby Ellis in the senator’s San Francisco office and Peter, who is based in Los Angeles, joined us by phone.

While climate change is always a high priority for IEB and usually makes our meeting agendas in some form, it’s rarely at the very top of our memo — mainly because that space is generally filled by a reaction to the latest crisis coming out of the White House. So it was a promising sign of the power shift in DC that we started with a discussion of the Green New Deal (GND). Peter said that while Sen. Feinstein isn’t yet familiar with the details of the Green New Deal proposal, as far as he could tell she’s generally supportive of the program and would invest more time in learning about it once it’s a bit further advanced in the House.

We brought up the plan Feinstein supports to extend certain controversial provisions in the WIIN Act, a water bill which, among other things, diverts water south of the Delta. We shared our concerns that the extension of those provisions could result in harm the Delta ecosystem, but Peter said that Sen. Feinstein’s office has examined the matter carefully and doesn’t believe the provisions have been harmful so far or will become so if extended.

We also talked about asylum seekers at the California-Mexico border and those being detained (along with other immigrants) throughout the state. Sen. Feinstein still wants to visit the detention facilities herself, but doesn’t yet have plans to do so. Meanwhile, her staff has visited every facility in California in which immigrants are detained, as well as some in Texas. But it’s been hard to perform oversight, because the facilities know they are coming and are able to prepare. Sen. Feinstein continues to work on getting legislation ready to pass at the earliest opportunity. (First we need to elect more Democrats.) We asked her to prioritize addressing the seemingly unnecessary “metering” at ports of entry that is causing a humanitarian crisis in which asylum seekers are forced to choose between waiting in overflowing shelters in Mexico — with complete uncertainty about having their claims heard — or attempting dangerous, illegal crossings and turning themselves in at understaffed remote outposts. And meanwhile we asked her to look at ways she could collaborate with the House concerning funding for immigration enforcement, particularly with respect to making sure the executive branch spends the money in the way Congress intended.

We discussed delays in funding transit projects — Sen. Feinstein does her best to advocate for projects in California but doesn’t have much influence otherwise; Attorney General nominee William Barr — she shares our concerns about his civil rights record and biases; judiciary appointments — Republicans are happy with how this is going. so we are likely to see more of the same; and homelessness — she has a bill ready and is looking for a Republican co-sponsor.

Finally, we asked what the senator’s hopes and dreams are for working with our new blue House. Peter listed:

  • Immigration
  • Gun Control – Peter said that Sen. Feinstein saw a strong opportunity for a bump stock ban (which the White House announced only days later)
  • Environment
  • Homelessness
  • Immigration enforcement oversight
  • Appropriations – put more constraints on the administration
  • Health care
  • 2016 election investigation – help her better leverage her position on the Judiciary Committee

 

IEB’s Last Meeting With Sean

On October 24, 2018 Indivisible East Bay had our last-ever meeting with Senator Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd. It was also our last office visit with the Senator’s staff before the 2018 midterm elections, so it could possibly also be our last-ever Feinstein meeting – but as of this writing, that’s unlikely given her lead in the polls. Feinstein has given no indication yet on who will replace Sean as state director.

Our first topic was immigration. We followed up on Sen. Feinstein’s recent commitment to visit the detention facilities in California where separated kids are being held; Sean said she plans to make that visit soon after the election. Feinstein has also said that a comprehensive immigration reform bill is one of her priorities for the next Congress, especially if the Democrats win. We gave a list of priorities for such a bill, including legal status for immigrants, protection for asylum seekers, and less leeway for the executive branch to make the system harsher and more restrictive. We also had in our group an advocate for help for a very specific population: adults who were adopted from foreign countries as children, but who never became citizens because something went wrong with their paperwork, meaning they are now technically unauthorized immigrants and could be subject to deportation. Our advocate was the wife of such a person, following up on a request she had made at a previous meeting for Sen. Feinstein to look into this issue. Sean assured us that she had, but that they had not been able to find a way to move legislation forward under this Congress. He confirmed that she will continue to try, and may include it in comprehensive reform.

We asked what we could do to help the senator fight the terrible judges that the president nominated for California seats on the 9th Circuit. Senator Chuck Grassley scheduled a so-called hearing for these nominees while the Senate is away on recess – a farce of an event attended by up to two Republican senators who asked approximately zero questions. Sean said that Sen. Feinstein is certain that the way this happened was intended as revenge for what Republicans perceive as her role in “ruining” the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. As for what we can do to help, Sean said that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are still strategizing, and that, of course, a lot depends on who wins the Senate in next week’s elections. He suggested raising awareness of the red flags in the judges’ records, writing letters to the editors of newspapers, and generally making it clear that California does not support these nominees.

We also discussed the United States’ shameful role in the war in Yemen and on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; we found, not surprisingly, that we are on the same page as Sen. Feinstein, who has called abandoning the treaty a “strategic mistake.” Even if the administration tries to withdraw from the formal treaty, Sen. Feinstein is committed to enforcing its terms by way of her role on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

And we talked about creating a fair economy and protecting our social services. A theme of that conversation was the GOP’s false promises about its economic policy, its lies about looking out for working people who are struggling to get ahead, and its double-talk about everything from Social Security to pre-existing conditions. We told Sean that sometimes Sen. Feinstein’s moderate tone and abiding belief that Republicans will be reasonable “when push comes to shove” make some of us worry that she is falling for their lies and will be fooled into making compromises in exchange for empty words.

We also asked that the senator take the administration’s recent attack on trans people as an opportunity for a renewed push to pass the Equality Act. This bill amends existing civil rights law and defines sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities.

And we asked that Sen. Feinstein look at the evidence that has come out on SESTA-FOSTA, an anti-sex trafficking bill she and Sen. Harris voted for. Although the bill was intended to prevent human trafficking and forced sex work, there are serious concerns that it has actually further endangered the populations that are vulnerable to those threats.

IEB Feinstein office visit. Photo credit: Catya de Neergaard

If Sean was sorry to be seeing the last of what he has called the “most demanding Indivisible group in California,” he didn’t show it. As for us, while we may not have shed tears at parting either, we do think he has set a high for bar his replacement as a responsive and informative representative for Senator Feinstein.

Photographs by Catya de Neergaard

Feinstein and de León Miss Opportunity for Meaningful Political Dialogue

They had one public conversation. And it was … not much.

The joint appearance of U.S. Senate candidates Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de León at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) on October 17, 2018 – their only joint appearance answering questions before the midterm elections – was nothing so much as a stack of missed opportunities. De León missed an opportunity to make news and bring some much-needed excitement and attention to his candidacy. Feinstein missed an opportunity to create a powerful call to action around flipping Congress and giving the Democrats back some real power in Washington. The PPIC missed an opportunity to expose new information about these candidates. The moderator missed an opportunity to ask creative, detailed, or, frankly, interesting questions. The audience was denied an opportunity to engage with their future senator. And everyone missed out on what could have been a productive and informative exchange of ideas.

The event was particularly disappointing compared to Feinstein’s most recent appearance at the PPIC in February 2017, when a lively audience called out questions and held up green/red agree/disagree signs — and Feinstein encouraged us. She responded to questions and engaged in back and forth with what she called the “red card geniuses.” It was a rare opportunity to make a real connection between constituents and representative and all were happy to stay late for additional discussion. This time, when de León half-heartedly declared that he would like to keep going, you could almost hear those in the room scream “please no!” in their heads.

The lack of interest was perhaps baked in to the event. It was not, everyone stressed, a debate. The public didn’t get to interact with the candidates: The main room with the speakers was only open to special invited guests and the media, with the general public seated in an annex area, watching the talk on a large screen. The audience was asked not to speak up or even clap. Index cards were provided upon request, but the organizers made no effort to collect audience questions and the moderator didn’t ask for them.

The candidates didn’t seem very energized, and the lack of enthusiasm was catching. People’s eyes glazed over, or they checked their phones as the candidates repeated bland talking points. De León complained about Washington’s inaction, but didn’t offer a real plan to change it. Feinstein explained that the reason for inaction was that the Democrats lack the votes to pass anything, but failed to use that effectively as a call for Californians to do the work to elect Democrats in three weeks.

Each candidate in their own way showed an all too familiar lack of respect or appreciation for the contributions grassroots activists like us have made to the huge political fights of the past few years. Feinstein remarked that “you can march, you can filibuster, you can talk all night — it doesn’t change anything,” while de León spoke of how he made a decision to help lead the resistance — not how he was chosen. Why should we, who are working so hard, vote for them?

Good question. Neither candidate so much as asked for our votes. They didn’t explicitly use those words; it didn’t even feel like they were trying to convince us. Rather, it seemed like they both felt entitled to our support: Feinstein due to her status and years of service, de León due to his palpable presence. And that dynamic added to the overall feeling that this “conversation” was a pointless charade and a missed opportunity for all involved. Indeed, it all felt, as Feinstein said in another context, rather like “hitting your head against a concrete wall.”

Still, It wasn’t a complete waste of an hour; there were a couple of tidbits of new information that came out of the conversation that will be of interest to Indivisible East Bay members:

  • Feinstein committed to visit the California facilities where separated migrant children are being detained, something we have been asking her to do ever since Senator Merkley made his first visit in June.
  • De León alluded vaguely to the need to cut military spending by ending so many of the US’s eternal undeclared wars, another IEB priority.
  • Feinstein said clearly that she supports further investigation of Brett Kavanaugh even now that he has been confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Watch the video here.

 

 

Tracking down Senator Feinstein

On the morning of August 11, 2018, IEB members tracked down Senator Dianne Feinstein at a campaign office-warming for San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani. It was a very cozy event of the kind Sen. Feinstein clearly (and understandably) prefers to open town halls — though during her remarks she did say something about envying Supervisor Stefani’s ability to get out and meet her constituents in her small district, compared to a whole state. That was a little galling from someone whom we’ve barely seen try to meet with the general public.

But the event was also kind of sweet in its way. Along with Sen. Feinstein, several SF women politicians came out to support Supervisor Stefani, including Mayor London Breed and State Treasurer Candidate Fiona Ma. Senator Feinstein led the crowd in a chorus of “Happy Birthday Your Honor the Mayor” and all of the younger women appeared genuinely starstruck to be there with one of their role models, whom a couple of them jokingly compared to Taylor Swift. Certainly, it was heartwarming to see this group of women come together to support each other and marvel at how much has changed — and how much has stayed the same — since Sen. Feinstein was the second woman (first elected) on the SF Board of Supervisors.

But the real reason we were there was to talk to Sen. Feinstein about Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. We politely cornered her near the exit, shook her hand, and thanked her for everything she was doing, all her letters and tweets. We told her we were also working hard to fight the Kavanaugh nomination. As she edged away up the stairs, we told her we wanted to see action from the Democrats. She stopped, turned back to us and said that they would take action, but that we couldn’t win. As we looked at her, dismayed, she reframed the statement: Democrats in the Senate need Republicans to vote with them, and that to get that, we probably need some new information to come out. We agreed and told her we were working on both of those things too.

It’s clear that she hasn’t given up, and that she will keep up the fight to the best of her ability no matter what, but it’s also clear that she needs our calls and encouragement to build her strength and resolve. Because if we don’t win this fight, it won’t be because it was impossible; it will be because it was very hard and too many of us gave up. We need to make her believe that we can win, and we need to believe it ourselves because that’s the only way we have a chance.

Please contact both senators today and say:

My name is ______, my zip code is _________ and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for everything you’ve done to protect the Supreme Court. Please keep fighting the Kavanaugh nomination and rallying your constituents. We are winning the battle for public opinion. Most Americans support reproductive rights, workers’ rights, and the ACA. We need to keep showing more of them that Kavanaugh threatens those things, and keep showing vulnerable Republicans how much they have to lose.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

 

Canvassing with Indivisible Northern Nevada

At the Indivisible East Bay July All Member Meeting, two of our colleagues from Indivisible Northern Nevada gave a presentation about their efforts identifying issues that matter to voters in the Reno area as part of the campaign to get out the vote to unseat Senator Dean Heller, identified as one of the most vulnerable Republican Senators. They were so inspiring that in early August, 2018, a group of IEB members traveled to Reno to attend the 2018 Lake Tahoe Summit and to canvass and register voters in northern Nevada with our Indivisible colleagues. 

Our Indivisible Northern Nevada hosts, all women, greeted us at the picnic tables at Reno’s Idlewild Park with coffee, orange juice, and three kinds of pastries all laid out on a floral tablecloth. After an enthusiastic welcome, some wrangling of the MiniVan app, and a little roleplaying, we were ready to talk to some voters. The goal was to identify issues the voters cared about and decide what, if any, further contact to plan with them. We split into pairs; my partner Ruth happened to live nearby so we decided to start in her neighborhood, which made it very easy to find the addresses that popped up on my phone. 

The first person we talked to was a stocky man with a sunburn who came out around the side of his house smoking a cigar. As planned, we asked him what issues he was thinking about in the upcoming election. He said he was pretty happy with how things were going for him, and would stay happy as long as his taxes were low. We probably could have said “thank you for your time” right then and there and taken him off the list. But he was polite and reasonably friendly, if a little smug, so we pressed a little further, asking what he thought of the state of Reno’s infrastructure and about recent changes to the federal tax code. He said he got a $10K tax cut and that if Reno outgrew its infrastructure he’d just move somewhere else. Then his wife came out to tell him his mom was on the phone and we were able to make a graceful exit.

Our next experience was happier. We talked to a young woman just out of nursing school who came to the door in a bathrobe with a towel on her head, yet was happy to chat with the strangers at the door about her top issues: student debt and cost of living. With her busy life, she didn’t know anything about the candidates for Senate or other upcoming elections, but she promised to educate herself by November, and to vote. After consulting in the car, we decided that we didn’t need to send anyone back to talk to her more about the issues and we marked her “GOTV” so that someone would call or visit to remind her to vote.

After a few unanswered knocks, we came to a house that seemed to have no door. The front of the house was a row of garages and at closer inspection there was a door at the back of one of them. We ventured inside to knock, and retreated back to the driveway. Just when we were giving up and turning to leave, a white-haired woman who looked to be in her seventies opened the door. She said she hadn’t really thought about the issues or which ones were most important to her. When we suggested some common answers like health care, jobs and the economy, or the environment, she said that “all those things must be important to anyone who’s alive” but didn’t really offer anything further.  She talked about a need for balance and cooperation in government and seemed mildly enthusiastic about the fact that so many women are getting involved and running for office right now. Back in the car, we decided that she probably could use another conversation to make her feel that her vote mattered and to be sure she knew which candidates agreed with her on the issues and would bring balance to Washington: we marked her “MAYBE.”

Even our Trumpiest door knock was calm and cordial, probably in part because we identified ourselves as non-partisan and asked for information rather than giving it. A middle-aged woman on crutches told us that she thought things were “finally on the right track” now that Trump was in office. We felt sad for her, suspecting that she is one of those supporters who is actually hurt by the president’s policies, but got a certain amount of satisfaction out of emphatically taking her off our list for future visits.

At our next stop, we met a man whose top issue was immigration. He said straight off that we definitely need “some” immigration to get people to do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do. He also said that people who enter the country without permission are “breaking the law” and should face consequences, and should need to prove that they haven’t come to do harm. But he was kind of wavering on whether it was okay to lock them all up in detention for fleeing violence or seeking a better life for their families. We marked him down as a strong MAYBE, almost envying the interesting conversation in store for the volunteer who comes back to engage him further about the facts around immigration and how to vote in alignment with his beliefs.

Our last conversation of the day was with a young father whose front yard was full of children’s toys, and who was the only non-white person we came across in that neighborhood. It was a short visit both because he was obviously busy and because it was pretty clear right away that he was a strong progressive informed on the issues and in favor of Medicare for all. We marked him “GOTV” and both sort of regretted that we didn’t at least ask if he wanted to volunteer; but it hadn’t occurred to us until after the moment had passed.

The group reconvened back at the park to discuss our experiences and talk about what we want to do better next time. The canvassers were energized, feeling good about people’s responses to getting questions about their opinions and priorities rather than being asked to support a candidate or fed a party line. Some also expressed a sense that out of all these voters who had registered as non-partisan, more were leaning leftward than rightward on the issues.

As for our goals to do better next time, we all thought we needed some more strategies to draw out relatively uninformed people in naming their top issues. And we noted our inclination to spend perhaps too many of our valuable canvasing minutes having long conversations with enthusiastic progressives, but decided there was value in that too both for our own morale and theirs.

Certainly my own morale was lifted by the trip, especially meeting the Indivisible Nevadans who fed us, opened their guestrooms to us, and taught us how to make connections with their neighbors and community.

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IEB Delivers Message to Sen. Murkowski from Alaska’s Indivisibles: Vote No on Kavanaugh

When we heard that the difficult to pin down Senator Lisa Murkowski was slated to be the guest speaker at the August 2018 Tahoe Summit, which several Indivisible East Bay members planned to attend, we reached out to Indivisibles in Alaska to see if there was a message we could bring to the senator on their behalf.

Sen. Murkowski is one of the most likely swing votes on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. She regularly breaks with Republicans to vote to fund Planned Parenthood (though she has yet to break with them in support of a judicial nominee) and she has demonstrated willingness to stand up to Republican pressure on ACA repeal.

Twenty-nine of her constituents gave us a letter asking her to vote NO on Kavanaugh, saying,

Here in Alaska, we are terrified that under a Kavanaugh Supreme Court, hundreds of thousands of us would lose access to safe, effective health care and autonomy over our bodies. We fear that the brave men and women who take on tough and dangerous work to bring prosperity to their families and our state will lose their protections. And we worry that if the federal government, under this president, or a future president, takes action that harms Alaska and we take it to court, this Supreme Court will automatically decide against working Alaskans.

After almost being denied access to the event by some Nevada State troopers, we successfully delivered the letter to Sen. Murkowski as she was entering the event, and told her that Alaskans are counting on her. She was very polite and friendly and thanked us for giving it to her, though her staff was kind of rushing her past us. She said she was headed to Alaska tonight to have some meetings about Kavanaugh, but she did not say who those meetings were with – we hope they are with her constituents, a majority of whom believe the Senate should not confirm a Supreme Court Justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Alaska Grassroots Alliance is collecting additional signatories to the letter we delivered here. Please share their petition with anyone you know in Alaska!

Photograph by Linh Nguyen