The Tea Party movement, which rose up in the early years of the Obama presidency to oppose pretty much everything he stood for, was a reactionary, often-embarrassing political spectacle.
But as reactionary, often-embarrassing political spectacles go, it was a pretty effective one. Tea Partiers may have had trouble spelling their slogans correctly, but they managed to block a lot of Obama’s progressive agenda.
Now a group of former congressional staffers with years of experience fighting against the Tea Party are urging fellow progressives to adopt some of that group’s most effective tactics to thwart the incoming Trump regime. In an already much-discussed document called Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda, these activists urge Trump opponents to
stand indivisibly opposed to Trump and the members of Congress (MoCs) 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 MoCs to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism— and they won.
We believe that protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda — but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness. Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.
One of the great strengths of the Tea Party, the Indivisible authors note, is that it offered unified opposition to virtually everything Obama and his allies stood for — and punished those Republicans who wavered in the anti-Obama crusade.
The Tea Party focused on saying NO to Members of Congress (MoCs) 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.
Local Tea Party groups focused their attention on their local representatives in Congress, and made life uncomfortable for those Republicans who weren’t willing to be “their voice of opposition on Capitol Hill.” In doing so, they garnered political influence out of proportion to their relatively small numbers.
By adopting a similar strategy, Indivisible argues, the anti-Trump movement could
Stall the Trump agenda by forcing [MoCs] to redirect energy away from their priorities. Congressional offices have limited time and limited people. A day that they spend worrying about you is a day that they’re not ending Medicare, privatizing public schools, or preparing a Muslim registry.
Sap Representatives’ will to support or drive reactionary change. If you do this right, you will have an outsized impact. Every time your MoC signs on to a bill, takes a position, or makes a statement, a little part of his or her mind will be thinking: “How am I going to explain this to the angry constituents who keep showing up at my events and demanding answers?”
Reaffirm the illegitimacy of the Trump agenda. The hard truth is that Trump, McConnell, and Ryan will have the votes to cause some damage. But by objecting as loudly and powerfully as possible, and by centering the voices of those who are most affected by their agenda, you can ensure that people understand exactly how bad these laws are from the very start – priming the ground for the 2018 midterms and their repeal when Democrats retake power.
Indivisible runs through these lessons from the Tea Party fairly quickly, and follows them up with a good deal of very practical advice on how to best get the attention of local MoC’s — from organized phone calling to office sit-ins.
The guide is free. I think it will prove invaluable to anti-Trump activists over the next several years.