My first monthly newsletter of 2023! Given the new year, I’ll remind you of some ground rules for these newsletters, which Leah and I trade off writing every month:
- We share our thoughts on the state of politics and the Indivisible movement.
- We invite your feedback and engagement. Find me on TikTok, Mastodon, Twitter, or click the links below to send me a message about this newsletter.
- We don’t ask for money. You get enough of that elsewhere.
- We include a cute picture of our now 2+-year-old son Zeke at the end.
That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it. So let’s get to it.
Our strategy was a big success! Time to change it.
I usually have a non-fiction book going, and right now it’s Walter Isaacson’s old-ish biography of Albert Einstein. Zeke is now interested in the moon and stars, and I don’t know anything about astrophysics -- gotta start somewhere! I’ll be honest, the physics is largely over my head, but the guy was also a fascinating political leader -- a vocal opponent of authoritarianism, militarism, and bigotry, and a proponent of individual freedom and democracy. He was a quick wit too, which is why it’s believable (but not confirmed) that he said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
I’ve been thinking about this because Indivisible is facing new political realities this year. And rather than just keep on doing what we’ve been doing for the last couple years, it’s up to us to adapt our strategy to these new realities -- just as we have adapted to each new post-election political reality since Indivisible began.
So on the way to discussing our new strategic thinking for 2023-2024, I thought I’d take us through those adaptations we’ve made along our way here.
Indivisible started with a guide for how to engage in politics in 2017. MAGA was ascendant. Democrats were scrambling and disorganized. The conventional wisdom was that MAGA would kill top Obama accomplishments like the Affordable Care Act.
Indivisible launched with a strategy to resist -- a practical guide for building and applying grassroots power in this political reality. For 2017, our strategic focus was four parts holding Republicans accountable to one-part pushing Dems to fight back with everything they had.
Then we won the House in 2018. We had saved the Affordable Care Act and built an historic blue wave…and now we had to change from the strategy that got us there because the political reality had changed (hell, we’d changed it!). The threat of massively damaging legislation was gone -- the Dem House could now block it. The opportunity to use this new Dem majority was real. The main danger politically was that Democrats would decline to hold Trump accountable or that they may fail to present a clear alternative to MAGA extremism.
So for 2019, we continued to hold MAGA Republicans accountable, but we amped up the pressure on Democrats to impeach Trump for his crimes and to put forward a bold, pro-democracy agenda in contrast with these MAGA neanderthals. The theory was simple: Go on offense -- fight back and demonstrate to voters that Dems were a respectable alternative to the chaos and extremism of the other side. As a movement we persisted beyond the initial threat of Trump, and evolved into a proactive, pro-democracy operation.
Then we defeated Trump and won a Democratic trifecta, and with it our political reality changed again. That meant we had to update the successful strategy we had used for the previous two years that had led to this trifecta. We now had a rare opportunity to actually enact legislation with Democratic votes! MAGAs were consigned to the minority and Trump was banished to off-brand social media. While January 6th proved that MAGAs were a continuing, violent, dangerous force, the main political danger in this moment was that Dems might fail to unify to use their new trifecta power (see Sinema, Manchin, Gottheimer).
So for 2021 our strategy focused on the political opportunity of this new moment. We pushed Dems to come together and pass legislation protecting democracy and providing for the people. We encouraged Biden to go bold on administrative actions, and we helped push, cajole, convince, and unify the party to pass historic legislation. Heading into them midterms, we advocated for a strategy of contrasting the Democrats’ accomplishments with the extreme MAGAs. In short, we insisted that Dems use the power we had worked for years to give them.
This strategy exceeded most expectations! We oversaw a historic period of national legislation, and then we held back a red wave with massive political upsets up and down the ballot across the country last year. The country largely rejected MAGA and its attacks on abortion rights and democracy. Still, we failed to get Sinema and Manchin onboard with ending gerrymandering and passing democracy reform, and so the Republicans did eke out a slim majority in the House.
That brings us to now -- a new year, a new congress, and a new political reality. So, yet again, we need a new strategy for how to engage effectively. We’ve resisted, we’ve persisted, and we’ve insisted these past six years. So now what do we do?
Well, I’ve run out of good descriptive words that rhyme with “resistance,” “persistence,” and “insistence,” but that didn’t stop us from publishing a new strategic guide this week: A Practical Guide to Defeating MAGA (PDF). Democracy reform and any good, substantive legislation is off the table for this period -- the MAGAs in the House will veto it. But we have the presidency. We have the senate. And we have a historically weak opposition. We’ve got opportunities, and we have a pathway to more.
Our end goals are simple:
- Minimize the damage done by the GOP House
- Ensure GOP senators and representatives pay a political price for their MAGA politics
- Rebuild a pro-democracy federal trifecta in 2024
- Pass democracy reform and codify Roe the following year
None of this is easy, but it‘s all achievable, and we all have a role to play in achieving it. Your own opportunities for effective action will be different based on your own political realities. For those with Democratic representation, you want your representatives fighting back, refusing to cut deals that give the MAGA House cover. You want your Dem senators introducing and supporting good, popular legislation that shines a light on how out of touch the House is. For those with Republicans, you may be able to push them depending on how politically vulnerable they are. For instance, there are 18 Republicans representing Biden-won districts who will have to face voters again next year -- we can make them squirm. For those with extremely bad representation (ahem, I’m writing this from Texas), you can make them look ridiculous while engaging in the longer term organizing work to build power on your own turf.
The new guide (PDF) goes into greater depth on a lot of this, and we’ll be rolling out trainings, explainers, and other resources, to go deeper all throughout the year.
What we shouldn’t do is simply regurgitate the exact same strategies we used in 2017-2018, 2019-2020, or 2020-2021. Those strategies were wildly effective for their time -- but the times have changed. We’ve had success after success after success these past six years precisely because we’ve repeatedly adapted to the times.
So in service of that adaptation, I am going to ask for one little favor. Could you give me some feedback on how relevant and helpful this newsletter and new guide is to you? You are welcome to send in more feedback if you’d like -- when you click any option it’ll take you to a form (and I’ll personally read all the replies!). But even just giving me a quick click on one of the options will tell me a bit about how this is landing -- no need to go through the rigamarole of providing more personal information or feedback if you’d rather not.
Thank you. This newsletter has been all about change and newness, so let me end on a constant over the last six years. The common denominator for every single national Indivisible strategy has been a vibrant, locally led movement of Indivisible groups organizing and building power around the country. You built these strategies and made them real with your work in your home turf alongside your engagement, advice, and support. Yes, the chaos in the House is embarrassing, but MAGA and Trump are weaker than they’ve been since we started. They are in decline, and the pro-democracy forces in this country are ascendant. That’s you. That’s us. That’s this movement.
PS: Zeke got a lot of presents over the holidays. Far and away his favorite was from his aunt -- stickers of his own face. I am currently wearing several at his insistence.