Forget the false starts: this is the month for democracy


At the risk of tempting fate, I’ve just got to say it: I can’t help but feel hopeful about 2022. And here’s why: we’re FINALLY getting the showdown for democracy that we’ve been building toward for so damn long! 

Before we get into that though, you know that Leah and I take turns writing these monthly newsletters to give you a sense of what we’re seeing, hearing, and thinking. For 2022 I’m trying something new: I’ve recorded a quick 1-minute video summarizing this newsletter here. I want to be sure we’re communicating in ways that work for everyone, so let me know what you think! And as always, I’m available if you want to reach out directly on Twitter: @ezralevin

Forget the false starts: this is the month for democracy

Exactly one year ago today - after soon-to-be Senators Warnock and Ossoff clinched the Democratic trifecta with their wins in Georgia -- Indivisible launched our campaign to reform the filibuster and pass democracy bills to prevent voter suppression, end gerrymandering, get money out of politics, and prevent election subversion. So far, Congress has done none of that… but that could be about to change. 

I know, I know, I sound like a broken record. We’ve blown through countless “deadlines” in the past year, so why am I so optimistic that Congress won’t simply punt again? Because we’ve got something different: not a vague commitment, but a clear, specific timeline. This past Monday, Senate Majority Leader Schumer sent this letter out to all Senate Democrats. In it, he throws down the gauntlet -- a vote on filibuster reform is coming this month. Boom.

What we know: A vote is coming and McConnell isn’t happy. We now know two important things. First, we know that there will be a vote on filibuster reform on or before MLK Day, January 17th. I’m not reading between the lines here -- the Senate Majority Leader was explicit in that letter: “The Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate [filibuster] rules on or before January 17th.” You can’t get clearer than that -- a vote is coming, and soon.

Second, we know McConnell is pissed about this. Just sit with that for a second. As I write this, I’m sitting in a big comfy chair next to a fire sipping my coffee and reflecting on Mitch McConnell’s hissy fit. Mmmm, feels good, doesn’t it? Specifically, McConnell went on a tirade on Tuesday lambasting Democratic efforts to reform the filibuster (here). Forget McConnell’s specific arguments here -- they’re bogus and hypocritical. The important thing is McConnell is worried Democrats might actually do something, and so he’s responding with force. I don’t know about you, but that puts a little spring in my step. :)

What we don’t know: What version of filibuster reform will pass.  A lot of folks ask me this, so I want to be clear: We don’t know what the specifics of filibuster reform will be. A carve-out for democracy? A one-time exemption? A talking filibuster requirement? Some other sort of permanent change? We don’t know -- a lot of options are being discussed. But you don’t need to sweat the specifics too much here. This is simple -- any worthwhile filibuster reform should allow the Senate majority (currently the Democrats) to bring a bill up for a vote. The minority (currently the Republicans) may be allowed to debate, amend, and stall for some limited period, but at the end of the day, the majority needs to be able to call for a vote. So our demand remains simple: reform the filibuster and pass the democracy bills. 

What could go wrong: We could lose the vote or get outmaneuvered. We are getting a showdown on the filibuster and democracy this month, but that doesn’t mean we’ll win the showdown. There are two main ways this could go off the rails:

  1. Senate Democrats lose the vote. We need all 50 Democrats to vote in favor of filibuster reform, otherwise, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis VRA die. And we know Manchin and Sinema have been playing hard to get for a year. Neither has issued a blanket rejection of filibuster reform, but both have pushed back on reform ideas raised in the past. We have no guarantee that we’ll ultimately win them over, but our allies on the inside tell us that negotiations are real. Manchin is actively negotiating, and Sinema is more aloof -- but regardless both are engaging. We are reaching the end stage of negotiations, which is why the vote is getting called. For close votes like this, the Senate Majority Leader will often have to use the vote itself to force holdouts to stop wobbling and land their final position. Calling the vote is a tool for winning the vote.  
  2. McConnell outmaneuvers Democrats. McConnell is working to outmaneuver Democrats. Specifically, conservative and right-wing outlets like Cato (here) are suddenly endorsing a very small bill that would reform the Electoral Count Act. This is a fine reform, but it would do nothing to reverse or prevent gerrymandering or voter suppression. So what’s their game here? Well, if McConnell can convince Manchin and Sinema to go down this path, that would successfully sideline efforts to pass the big, consequential democracy bills that combat voter suppression. Our message to Senate Dems is simple: Don’t get distracted! Pass the damn Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis VRA, and don’t fall for McConnell’s tricks. 

What we can do to affect the outcome: make some noise. Senate Democrats are using this week, including tomorrow’s anniversary of the attack on the Capitol, to build the case for democracy reform. In the lead-up to MLK Day, we will then see plans to bring a filibuster reform proposal to the floor for a vote. So this is the time for all of us to amp up public pressure, make some noise, and get attention however makes sense in your own community. The goal is to make sure the media and political ecosystems understand there is public demand for filibuster reform.

Why does public pressure -- op-eds, events, calls, congressional visits, videos, spectacle -- matter at all? The logic of this kind of public pressure is that it makes it easier for our allies in the Senate to reach a deal with Sinema and Manchin. If every senator is hearing from the constituents that this is a priority, then those senators also feel the need to lean into the fight and help get Sinema/Manchin onboard. This push for public pressure is not just coming from me -- this is coming from our allies in the Senate who are asking us to build toward a crescendo in public demand for filibuster and democracy reform. They’re asking for our help, so I want Indivisible to do its damndest to provide it.

With that in mind, here are two opportunities to engage coming up:

  1. January 6th Vigils: Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the bloody assault on the Capitol by pro-Trump forces who embraced the “Big Lie” that Trump won the 2020 election. Leah and I will be at a local vigil for January 6th here in Texas. These events don’t have to be heavy lifts -- just show up, light a candle, say a prayer for our democracy. By all means, tweet out pictures and video, and write an op-ed describing what you’ve done and why you’re supporting the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis VRA. Remember, the goal is to get attention -- if a pro-democracy advocate shows up for reform and nobody hears about it, it didn’t really happen. Flag your actions for me (@ezralevin) and @indivisibleteam and we’ll help to elevate. 
  2. MLK Day Events: Normally, the Senate would be in recess over MLK weekend, but that looks likely to be canceled. You may have seen that MLK’s family is campaigning this MLK Day for filibuster reform and voting rights (here). If there is a democracy event already planned in your area, great -- join up. If not, that’s fine -- pull some friends together and make it happen. This is possibly the last opportunity to affect the outcome of this legislative fight -- so make it count!

Will we win? Nobody knows for sure, but that uncertainty goes both ways. I’ve heard defeatism in some corners of the pro-democracy world, but let me tell you: defeatism is no more rooted in reality than blind optimism. The truth is that this is a tough fight and the outcome is uncertain. And the other truth is that one way or another, this thing is coming to an end soon. So the only question is whether we do what we can in the time we have left. 

Indivisibles have been fighting for American democracy for more than five years now. In that time we’ve saved the Affordable Care Act, built a midterm blue wave, defeated an autocratic president, and won a Democratic trifecta. We didn’t know we’d win any of those fights, but each of us acted in our own small way in our own community, and together that made for a national movement that moved mountains. Now’s the time to move a couple more mountains.

In solidarity,

Ezra Levin

Co-Founder, Indivisible

PS: You know I like to end these newsletters with a pic of our nearly-15-month-old Zeke. He had about two weeks of walking and is now full-on running, climbing, and posing like a superhero. We’re loving watching this little guy discover the world.

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Indivisible Project is a locally-led, people-powered movement of thousands of local groups in red, blue, and purple states, and in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Our mission is to power and lift up a grassroots movement of local groups to defeat the Trump agenda, elect progressive leaders, and realize bold progressive policies.

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