Anti-Trump activists have designated every Tuesday a “Trump Tuesday,” a time to demonstrate their disagreement with the new president’s agenda. This last Tuesday started off on a positive note, with a delegation from Indivisible Santa Barbara, a branch of the nationwide movement, showering newly elected Congressmember Salud Carbajal with handmade Valentine’s greetings. “We Love You Salud,” proclaimed one.
Carbajal, of course, was in Congress at the time — not in his new digs by the Plaza de Oro movie theater. As the 24th Congressional District’s representative in Washington, D.C., Carbajal has become the go-to man for the growing legion of Indivisible volunteers in Santa Barbara. A liberal-progressive organization, Indivisible intentionally seeks to mimic the take-no-prisoners, in-your-face tactics of the right-wing populist Tea Party. Carbajal, a liberal Democrat who has already spoken out against Trump’s policies on the floor of the House, has not yet experienced their ire.
No such luck for archconservative Republican Congressmember Tom McClintock, who represents the Sacramento metro region. (McClintock once represented Santa Barbara in the State Senate before moving north eight years ago.) Two hundred Indivisible activists from his district packed a town hall meeting McClintock scheduled in Roseville last week, leaving several hundred more protesters outside. Inside, they were boisterous and determined, challenging McClintock’s stated intention to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Roseville police insisted Indivisible protestors were peaceful and cooperative, but since the crowd was bigger than anything they’d encountered, they gave McClintock a police escort when he left. McClintock later spoke on the House floor bemoaning the loss of civility in public discourse, but only after he first characterized the protestors as “an anarchist element” and “the radical left.” No Indivisible Valentines for McClintock.
The national Indivisible organization began shortly after the presidential election as nothing more than a well-modulated civics primer on social media, written by former staffers of a former Democratic Congressmember from Texas. The 26-page how-to manual offered angry but politically inexperienced anti-Trump citizens ways to make elected officials feel their heat. It emphasized the success enjoyed by Tea Party agitators, who translated their rage against the bank bailout and the 2008 election of President Barack Obama into a highly effective campaign of uncompromising opposition. Certainly, Carbajal’s predecessor — Congressmember Lois Capps — felt their wrath when busloads of Tea Party activists assembled in front of her downtown offices to denounce Obamacare. After that, Capps hosted her town hall meetings in churches, hoping to encourage civil discourse.
Indivisible soon morphed from social media underground into a flesh-and-blood movement thanks to a three-hour special broadcast by MSNBC’s lefty commentator Rachel Maddow. In Santa Barbara, a couple of filmmakers — Jennie Reinish and Christina Eliason — decided Santa Barbara needed an Indivisible chapter of its own. They teamed up with Laura Smith — a techie, sculptor, Summer Solstice organizer, and paid field operative for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. On January 2, the Santa Barbara chapter had 14 members. Two weeks ago, 185 mostly middle-aged and white people showed up for an organizational meeting. The next day, they packed a scheduled Carbajal press conference, transforming it into a bona fide political pep rally. One of his field workers exclaimed: “We need people shouting into the hurricane.”
Indivisible is all about writing and calling one’s congressmember and senators, and showing up for office visits and town hall meetings. They ask yes or no questions. They leave short messages on one — and only one — subject. They share personal stories that are relevant to the issue at hand — the Affordable Care Act, for instance. In Santa Barbara, most Trump Tuesdays have been spent focusing on Senator Dianne Feinstein, lobbying her to oppose all of Trump’s Cabinet nominees. California’s newest senator, Kamala Harris, has publically announced her opposition to them. Feinstein — as a matter of policy — waits until the very last minute before announcing her position on cabinet appointees. Three weeks ago, Indivisible raised the alarm that Feinstein might actually support Jeff Sessions — the archconservative Alabama senator ultimately confirmed as Attorney General — with whom she allegedly enjoyed cordial relations.
When Eliason and Smith first called Feinstein’s office, they were told the senator had only received 5,000 calls — six times fewer than those her office had gotten supporting former president Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. Indivisibles all over the state turned up the heat. By the time Feinstein voted against Sessions, 114,000 people had called, 98 percent against the nominee. Three Tuesdays in a row, hundreds of Indivisibles rallied at Feinstein’s downtown Los Angeles offices. That has always included a Santa Barbara contingent. After each rally, the organizers met with Feinstein’s staff. When they learned Feinstein liked personal stories, they delivered. First Feinstein delayed the vote on Sessions; then she voted against him. At that time, she used some of the personal details shared by Indivisible activists to make her case.
With Trump in the White House, the old rules of engagement no longer apply, Indivisible activists argue. “The times are calling for someone to step in and be a true leader,” said Eliason. “Our kids need a hero. Our girls need a heroine. People need to feel they’re not alone.” In the meantime, she added, the National Republican Party has already targeted Carbajal’s seat in 2018. To keep Carbajal in office is one thing, she said; to keep Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch off the Supreme Court for two years quite another.
Today, there are about 6,200 Indivisible chapters throughout the United States; Santa Barbara’s boasts about 1,200 members, and that doesn’t include the 80 people who just formed one in Carpinteria. “But there’s a big difference between reacting and organizing,” Eliason believes. “If you’re just reacting, you’ll get burned out. We need to be better at organizing. This has been such an insane month.”