Indivisible was established by a group of five former Democratic congressional staffers in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 presidential election. One of the five founders, Indivisible board president Ezra Levin, had previously served as associate director of government affairs at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, and as an AmeriCorps VISTA employee in the Homeless Services Division of the San Jose Department of Housing. Another key founder, Indivisible board secretary Angel Padilla, had worked as an immigration policy consultant at the National Council of La Raza, and as an adviser to Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois) from 2009-11.
Upon its inception, Indivisible's first order of business was to launch a website devoted to providing leftists and liberals with strategies for countering the “radical, racist, and sexist” objectives of President Trump. This website features a tool kit for local Indivisible organizers, a daily calendar that lists national events and calls-to-action, and most importantly, the group's signature publication, Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda. During December 2016 and January 2017, this Guide was downloaded more than 1 million times.
Rejecting the very legitimacy of Donald Trump's presidency, the Indivisible Guide portrays him as “the biggest popular-vote loser in history to ever call himself President-Elect.” And because Trump “will attempt to use his congressional majority to reshape America in his own racist, authoritarian, and corrupt image” despite the fact that he “has no mandate” from the voters, Indivisible pledges to “stand indivisibly opposed to Trump and Members of Congress [MoC's] who would do his bidding.”
The tactics and strategies advanced in the Indivisible Guide are modeled on those of the conservative Tea Party movement that came to prominence during President Barack Obama's first term in office. Though the principles of the Tea Party are anathema to Indivisible, the Guide points out that “we saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress.” “If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama,” Indivisible reasons, “then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”
Specifically, the Indivisible Guide advises leftists to follow the Tea Party model of being “locally focused” rather than attempting to appeal to people across broad geographic areas, and “almost purely defensive” – meaning that they should expend their energies chiefly on opposing Trump rather than on “developing their own [alternative] policy agenda.” “Defining a proactive agenda,” said Indivisible in December 2016, “is time-intensive, divisive, and, quite frankly, a distraction, since there is zero chance that we as progressives will get to put our agenda into action at the federal level in the next four years.” The goal, therefore, should be to “stall the Trump agenda by forcing [Congressional Republicans] to redirect energy away from their priorities,” on the theory that “a day that they spend worrying about [rowdy Indivisible-affiliated protesters] is a day that they’re not ending Medicare, privatizing public schools, or preparing a Muslim registry.”
A related objective of Indivisible is to “sap Representatives’ will to support or drive reactionary change.” “Every time your MoC signs on to a bill, takes a position, or makes a statement,” says the Guide, “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?'”
The Indivisible Guide advises progressive activists to form local groups of people who reside in the same congressional district, to fight “the racism, authoritarianism, and corruption” of the Trump agenda which “explicitly targets immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ people, the poor and working class, and women.” “We strongly recommend making a conscious effort to diversify your group,” adds the Guide, “and particularly to center around and defer to communities of people who are most directly affected by the Trump administration’s racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and antipathy toward the poor.” As of January 27, 2017, Indivisible claimed that “more than 4,500 local groups” had already been formed “in nearly every congressional district in the country.”
In addition, the Indivisible Guide instructs progressives to attend local “town halls” or public listening sessions held by Republican MoC's, where they should each try to ask at least one prepared question designed to put the MoC on the defensive. The Guide recommends that the Indivisible members in attendance should: (a) sit separately in different sections of the room, so as to avoid the appearance of collaboration and to “reinforce the impression of broad consensus”; (b) applaud in response to one another's questions and/or comments; (c) collectively boo in response to things said by the MoC; and (d) “record everything” with a smart phone or video camera, and subsequently post those clips on social media or make them available to reporters.
The Indivisible Guide also encourages activists to attend other local public events where MoC's sometimes appear, such as parades, infrastructure groundbreakings, etc. To “optimize visibility,” says Indivisible, these confederates should “stick together as a group, wear relatively similar clothing / message shirts, and carry signs in order to be sure that [their] presence is noticeable.” Further, they should “be prepared to interrupt and insist on [their] right to be heard”; chant slogans about an issue of concern; try to speak with reporters who are present at the scene; and threaten to hold local sponsors of the event accountable with bad publicity if they support MoC's who back the Trump agenda.
Moreover, the Indivisible Guide exhorts progressives to visit their MoC's District Office, where they can either confront the MoC directly or meetwith staffers, and to subsequently publicize their visits via social and traditional media. Similarly, Indivisible advocates the use of mass telephone and email campaigns targeting the offices of MoC's.
Indivisible's modus operandi is rooted in the organizing tactics of Saul Alinsky, who wrote:
- “Wherever possible, go outside the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.”
- “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
- “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. If your organization is small in numbers,… conceal the members in the dark but raise a din and clamor that will make the listener believe that your organization numbers many more than it does.”
On January 2, 2017, Ezra Levin, Angel Padilla, and fellow Indivisible founder Leah Greenberg co-authored a New York Times op-ed introducing their fledgling organization to the American public. While characterizing the Tea Party's political success as “a disaster for President Obama’s agenda and for our country” because the movement's “ideas were wrong” and its “often racist rhetoric and physical threats were unacceptable,” the authors noted that the Tea Partiers “understood how to wield political power.” Specifically, said Levin et al, Tea Party activists had “rattled our elected officials” by: (a) waging “a relentless campaign to force Republicans away from compromise and [to] tank Democratic legislative priorities”; (b) “ensur[ing] that legislation that did pass, like the Affordable Care Act, was unpopular from the start”; and (c) “hijack[ing] the national narrative and creat[ing] the impression of broad discontent with President Obama.” Indivisible would seek to use these same tactics against President Trump and the Republicans.
On February 14, 2017, a group of Indivisible activists swarmed the office of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California). When Rohrabacher's 71-year-old office manager, Kathleen Staunton, attempted to leave through the front door to go to the bathroom, one of the protesters yanked the door and caused her to fall and injure her head. The door also hit a two-year-old child, who was uninjured. Paramedics rushed Staunton to a hospital.
Leaked audio from a February 24, 2017 protest at a town hall with Republican Senator Bill Cassidy in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, revealed a substantial number of Indivisible activists secretly plotting to manufacture a hostile environment and create the impression that Cassidy’s support for President Trump's agenda was unpopular with the residents of his district. The Daily Caller provided a detailed description of the Indivisible members' actions and private conversations that night:
The activists split up into an “inside team” — tasked with occupying “as many seats as we can” and an “outside team,” whose job was to “give [the media] the coverage they want” before joining the others inside. Activists were instructed to dress like conservatives and leave at home “any signifier that you’re a liberal” in order to blend in with constituents.
The leftist activists strategized how best to “dominate” the question-and-answer section of the town hall and keep anyone “sympathetic” to Cassidy from asking a question.... “Game plan number one is to fill as many seats as we can, right? If it’s all of us in there and the poor people of Breaux Bridge are sitting behind us, well then tough luck for them,” said one organizer, identified by KPEL [Radio] as James Proctor [leader of Indivisible Acadiana]. His “poor people” comment drew laughs from the other activists. “If we can arrange it so he doesn’t hear one sympathetic question–great. That only magnifies our impact,” Proctor said....
“The Indivisible Guide does say that when you start to lose the meeting, that’s when you boo and hiss,” one unidentified activist can be heard saying. “Right, I was going to say that,” another activist replied.
Local news outlet The Advertiser reported that members of the crowd “frequently interrupted, expressing disagreement with some of Cassidy’s positions and shouting out their own questions.”
“The outside team will join the inside team in the hall after media coverage,” Proctor states at one point. “So what we’ll do is we’ll try to dominate enough, because–remember, the camera people especially are looking for some ‘b-roll’ and some quotes.” …
Video from outside the event posted on YouTube shows protesters chanting, “Love not hate, that’s what makes America great.” One woman appears to be reading the chant from a script.
In early 2017, Indivisible allied itself with MoveOn.org, the Working Families Party, and the American Civil Liberties Union to organize two separate activist events.