Indivisible is a lot like #Occupy but instead of being in tents, we are intense in other ways.
I have been at a few Indivisible meetings over the last few weeks. One of the questions I have about the movement is this: How many people in Indivisible now had voted for Trump, or in my case, our local Republican house representative, Erik Paulsen, or the like, elsewhere? Also, how many people in Indivisible had not voted at all in the last election, or at least, were not reliable voters? And, how many people in Indivisible had voted, and generally voted Democratic/Progressive/Whatever but had not worked for any campaigns (issue campaigns or candidates)? How many people in Indivisible had not given money to candidates or politically relevant causes (like ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Democrats, etc.) before? And, how many people in Indivisible didn’t know a lot of important stuff before but are now learning it, and want to learn more, about how our system works?
There are many reasons I want to know these things, but one pragmatic reason stands out: If we re-did the election of November 2016 right now, what would happen? How many people would vote differently, vote at all, or, prior to the election, work for a candidate that had not done so before, send off $50 to a campaign, etc.? And, how much better informed would that electorate be?
In other words, how different would the outcome of a Mulligan be, and how is that difference reflected in the apparently transformative rise of the Indivisible movement?
And, even more pragmatically, should I simply be depressed because all the people who show up at Indivisible meetings were already voting, mainly voting for Democrats, already worked for campaigns, donated some money, and were well informed about how the system all works?
The answer is: No, I should not be depressed. As represented, at least, by Indivisible people in my area, there are big changes.
I’m combining impressions of our very local group (20+ people) and our congressional district group (hundreds of people active, maybe thousands ready to do something). This comes in part from personal introductions at the beginning of meetings, a practice our local group leader has followed, and that has been very valuable to getting the group bonded and fired up. This also comes from conversations during, before, and after meetings, and at various protests or other events.
Here are my impressions.
Most Indivisibles have generally voted, but a small number have not done so reliably, and a few did not in the last election.
A small number of Indivisibles voted for the “wrong” candidate last election, locally (including at the Federal level) but perhaps almost none voted for Trump.
Combining these two numbers, if the election were held again in my district, one or two of my local state-level positions would have been Democratic rather than Republican, because it was a very close election this year (dozens of votes for our state Senator), and the state would be Democratically controlled in the legislature. I think, and some knowledgeable DFL operatives agree with me, that if we keep up this momentum, the state will turn full on blue (at the state level) in the next election. Thank you Donald and Erik.
However, that number of votes may not be sufficient to have turned the vote in our congressional race. Having said that, across the state, a couple of the races were close. If we held the election today, Minnesota would probably send one more Democrat to the House than it did, but not necessarily for my district.
What about sending money to candidates and working on elections? If a new campaign was started today, the number of individuals working for DFL (Democratic Party) candidates would be much higher, maybe 25% or even 50% higher, and the number of hours per candidate even greater. There would not be a corresponding increase in funds or work effort for the Republican candidates. Maybe a decrease. That would translate into a few percent of the vote, most likely. I believe (and I can never be proven wrong so I’m quite confident in this statement!) that if the campaign and election were redone today, because of this additional work on the campaigns, that my member of Congress would have been replaced, and more. It would be a good election. A very good one.
I’ll add this: One of the most interesting characteristics of the Indivisible movement, at least where I’ve been working in it, is the recognition that the Democratic Party is all about the election, and not about the politics, policy, and governing. Indivisible, locally, and I think this is true across the country, is doing a lot, has done a lot, and will do a lot. We will have a lot of stuff done before the Democratic Party finishes its morning coffee. We had done a big hug pile of stuff before the DNC elected its chair, just a few weeks ago.
It was Indivisible and similar movements that crashed the Republican effort to kill Obamacare. On the surface, it was the hard right Libertarians, but they mattered in this process because the more moderate Republicans were scared off by us. At the very root of the party discord that killed the Republican repeal and replace bill was the Indivisible movement showing up at the town halls, crashing the phone system, and filling inboxes with notes. The Democratic Party in Washington was able to make the moves it made because we gave them the room to do so.
When the Democratic Party finally gets its candidates for the next round of elections, Indivisible will be there to vote them in. But the Democratic Party needs to recognize that Indivisible is not an arm of the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party needs to be asking Indivisible what it wants, now, and it needs to be helping, becoming a partner. And, by “asking indivisible” I mean asking the people who are in the movement on a local and regional basis.
I have seen that happening to a large degree, but it is not coming from the party itself. It is coming from individuals who are DFL officers who are also involved in Indivisible. It is an informal link that can’t be trusted to have much value unless it is backed by the party core, the party faithful. If that does not happen over the next few weeks, the Democratic Party is taking a very serious risk of losing relevance. Whigging out, as it were. They don’t want to do that.
What about being informed about how our system works? This is the area where the largest changes are being made. There are two entirely different areas of consideration here, and rapid change is happening in both areas. One is the system of government itself, the other is the system of power. First, about the government.
It is almost as though the system was designed to be confusing. For example, what is a “house member.”
Well, it depends. Do you mean state level or national? In Minnesota, you have a house member at the state level, and you have a house member at the federal level. The state house member is in the state house, and the federal house member is in Congress. We often use the word “Congressman/Congresswoman/Congressperson” for the federal house member. But, “Congress” also includes Senate. So, “The Congress” at the federal level is the Senate (you have two of those) and House, even though we use the term “Congressperson” to refer only to the house and “Senator” to refer only to the Senate. But not at the state level.
Unless you live, say, in New York, where you have no house members. You have Senators and Assemblymen/persons. That state, and some others, have a Senate and and Assembly. Some states don’t have two houses of their legislature, but only one.
Don’t get me started on committees and what they do (vitally important).
I think I’ve made my point. Individuals who are now indivisible but who have not been much involved before are learning all this stuff new, and believe me, they are learning it good.
Then there is the power stuff. We have a representative system where the people elect house and senate members at the state and federal level, and they toil in service of the voters. Right?
First, voters are not relevant, the elected officials represent all the people whether they voted or not. Second, only some of them represent the people. Most of them represent special interests which occassionally coincide with the will of the people. So, Big Oil and the Sierra Club fight over votes, and we give money to Big Oil and the Sierra Club to do this.
The difference is, of course, how these various entities get the money that they use to shape policy in state houses and DC. It is all our money, we are the ones paying for all of it, but the route by which the money travels from you and me to a political campaign or PAC varies in a critically important way.
We give money to Big Oil because we want to drive our cars, heat our homes, use pharmaceuticals (yes, they are often made of petroleum), etc. Every time you spend money on anything, a tiny percent goes into a political or issues campaign, sometimes a candidate’s coffers, sometimes in a super PAK, sometimes to support an ad campaign about how great Methanol is, etc. We have a multi-trillion dollar economy and several hundred million dollars of that is channeled into political activism directed by several dozen individuals who control the largest share of that economy. It is baked in.
Funding for the Sierra Club and all the other organizations, or individual candidates raising those small number donations from the voters, etc., is not baked in. That comes and goes with how much interest the general public has in particular issues and that all depends on which shiny objects are about at the moment.
Indivisible has done two things in this area. A very large percentage, maybe about half, of the people now engaged in Indivisible, did not know very much about this power and money thing. They probably knew it was there, had a vague idea, but not the details. They are now learning the details, and the are creating ways to address it.
The second is what a new Indivisible member told me at a protest event the other day. She was one of those individuals somewhat but not fully involved in previous years. Now she is involved. She said, “A sleeping giant has been awakened. And she is pissed.”
There are some 100 million independent adults or households in this country. About 100 million entities that might decide to write a check for, say, a cause or candidate, or be members of Public Radio, or join a gym, or whatever. Imagine if 10 million of them decided to get serious about his. Ten million Indivisible individuals, where “individual” means household units, being serious. They decide to tithe themselves a total of $1000 a year to contribute to political campaigns. They get semi-organized, but informally so, using the Internet. They distribute their campaign dollars across state and congressional campaigns.
Ten Billion Dollars is a lot of money. Since the House runs every two years, if this was put into all of the Congressional races, that would be 20 billion divided by 538 per race. That’s about 37 million dollars per campaign. That’s ridiculous.
I would love to see that happen, of course. But here, I mention it only as a thought experiment. Here’s a fact: Indivisible is larger than the baked-in Big Industry special interests and the liberal and progressive organizations like the Sierra Club and the ACLU combined. We can kick big money out of politics, not by making it somehow go away, but by making it small. We can force elected officials to represent the people of their respective districts by doing something very simple but incredibly effective when the numbers are large: Insisting on it.
People like Erik Paulsen and Donald Trump will not do what we want (which is, simply, to govern fairly and intelligently) because we insist. They are not built that way and never were. But once we throw all the bums out, as the old expression goes, and replace them with thoughtful, intelligent, reasonable, moderate through liberal (depending on the district) and honest individuals, then we can do something remarkable. We can take over the country.
Imagine that: The people taking over the country.
Sticking with this last issue, of knowing stuff, I want to recommend two books. I’ve reviewed them both, so here are links to both my reviews, and the amazon pages. I’ve checked my local library for both, just to make sure they have them, and yes, they have several copies: they are all out, and the reserve backlog is months long!
Shawn Otto is a political expert, author (of non fiction, fiction, and screenplays) and a bunch of other stuff, and he wrote The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It. (Full disclosure: Shawn is a friend, but he’s a friend BECAUSE he writes great books, of course!) Much of what we are seeing, including the buying off of the government by the aforementioned industries, is about the war on science. Otto sets this in historical and contemporary perspective, and provides a field manual for what to do about it. This is a must read. (My review is here.)
Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right is a very well researched and engagingly written expose of how that baked-in money works, and thus, how our government actually works. It is also a must read. (My review is here.)