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Indivisible is fired up - San Diego City Beat

The left-leaning group protests Hunter and Issa locally, but will it last?

by Torrey Bailey

"Darrell Issa, you’ve got to oversee. You need to check and balance him, before it’s World War III,” sang more than 300 people to the tune of “Oh! Susanna” outside District 49 Rep. Darrell Issa’s Vista office on April 18. Passing cars honked in support, unfazed by the weekly Tuesday morning rallies that are now routine for hundreds of constituents. Similar protests have taken place in District 50 to put pressure on Rep. Duncan Hunter. At these rallies, men and women wave homemade picket signs that reflect disdain for their representatives and President Trump, as well as their concerns for issues such as climate change and health care. 

The Vista rallies are led by organizers of Indivisible 49, a local subgroup of the left-leaning, national nonprofit Indivisible Project. Ellen Montanari, the event coordinator for Indivisible 49, said she’s seen some progress in the interaction between constituents and Issa since the rallies began in December. 

“He’s never talked to his constituents unless they were Republicans. He went to Republican events, he would go to things like parades, but he wouldn’t sit down and talk to constituents, and that’s why we’re here. We started back at the inauguration trying to get him to come out, and today he did,” she said of the April 18 rally. 

The Indivisible Project fired up on Dec. 14, 2016 with a Google document outlining a plan to resist the Trump Agenda, specifically within the first 100 days. In the plan, founders called on the American people to organize locally and to contact their representatives to vocalize their opinions. The document aggrandized into a formal guide that has since been downloaded more than 2 million times, according to the Indivisible website. On April 29, the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency will be complete, marking a turning point for Indivisible groups nationally and locally. 

In San Diego County alone, there are between 120 and 125 individual Indivisible groups and more are always popping up, said Kathy Stadler, a member of Indivisible. She adds that anywhere from 9,000 to 10,000 people make up these groups in the county, with about a 50/50 split between members who were previously activists and members that were activated by the election.

“Some people have said, ‘I woke up on November 9 and realized my country wasn’t what I thought it was, and I needed to get more involved,’” Stadler said. 

While Indivisible is a moderately leftist organization, its guide borrows strategies from the Tea Party playbook. But where the Tea Party reacted to the Obama presidency by pushing uber-conservative agendas and congressmen, Indivisible wants to paint the House blue. Their common tactic is pushing obstructionist agendas locally to break ground nationally, said Brian Adams, a San Diego State University political science professor specializing in local democratic practices.

“In the American political system, it’s a lot easier to block things than it is to actually accomplish something constructive,” he said. “If your goals are simply to obstruct, you have a much higher level of success, especially thinking about what Indivisible is doing by engaging in activities, having large numbers show up to meetings and circulating petitions. If you think about Black Lives Matter, which isn’t really trying to obstruct anything, but is trying to actually have positive social change, it becomes a lot harder.”

Adams predicts Indivisible will be successful in flipping the seats of Republicans in moderate districts.

“You can plausibly imagine giving some of those Republicans second thoughts about finally going along with Trump’s agenda.” 

The pushback of similar organizing groups has made a national impact, such as the surprisingly strong showing of Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff for a historically red seat in Georgia’s sixth congressional district special election, according to The Atlantic

“National media outlets have framed the contest as a high-stakes trial and potential indicator of whether Democrats can channel anti-Trump fervor into the votes needed to win back Congress,” the article reported.

But in San Diego, Indivisible’s impact will be gauged by the 2018 special elections. Maintaining momentum until then will be one of the movement’s most profound obstacles, Adams said.

“By definition, momentum doesn’t last forever,” he said. “If they don’t have that, over time people will just stop participating because it does get tiring trying to block what the opposite party is doing, showing up and yelling and screaming at town hall meetings.”

Hillcrest Indivisible founder Riley Cormack said that, for most people, that long-term motivation is Donald Trump, so he expects Indivisible to stay afloat until the president is either impeached or out of office. But he also notes that Indivisible must tread lightly so as not to inundate its members with too many emails or tasks.

“The idea is that we want to bring them in and give them a piece so that they feel like they’re making a difference but not overwhelming them,” Cormack said.

The ability to strike this balance and achieve longevity is a defining quality of the Tea Party, unlike Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter whose brevity was blamed on a lack of a singular vision and leadership. 

Indivisible’s leadership is unique to each individual group, but some within the county are organizing at a county-wide level. Leaders from the Hillcrest, Downtown and Central Indivisible groups, among others, have met on a monthly basis to unify efforts and build a San Diego County Indivisible website. Montanari, who heads the Issa rallies in District 49, said she’s uninterested in being involved on that level.

“One of the dangers of any organization is that, the larger it gets, sometimes the less in touch with people it can be,” she said. “If you look at the Indivisible guide, it talks about being in small groups, and no matter what, we cannot forget that. It’s all about activating individuals who live around the county, and for me specifically, in our district to get out and vote.”

However, Cormack explained that the organization isn’t meant to be a formal, dictating structure. Rather, it’s unifying groups so that they aren’t doubling up on media efforts and can enhance communication to reach goals past the 100-day mark.

Stadler, who’s also involved in Hillcrest Indivisible, says the focus will remain on Trump, but will also focus on local issues after April 29.

“As bad as we considered Trump to be and as damaging we consider his policies to be, it has also presented us with a pretty amazing opportunity to establish a long-lasting, effective, progressive movement here in San Diego, especially in a way we certainly haven’t seen in my lifetime.”

Allison Stratton