Recently, a group of more than 50 concerned citizens gathered at a home in Villanova for a meeting organized by Rise Up: Indivisible Lower Merion. Indivisible is a national grassroots effort that helps citizens become more civically engaged through local organizing, specifically by targeting members of Congress.
The movement was spurred by an online guidebook, Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda, which demystifies congressional advocacy and provides a toolkit of resources for systematic resistance. The guide was written by former congressional staffers, who had been exposed to the successful local organizing tactics applied by the tea party in its resistance to the Obama administration. Now, these former staffers are encouraging others to apply these same tactics to progressive causes in attacking the policies of the Trump administration.
More than 4,000 Indivisible groups, including Indivisible Lower Merion, have registered and have begun organizing to fight back. At its meeting in early February, the Lower Merion Indivisible group reviewed the principles in the guidebook, as well as best practices and strategies for putting pressure on their legislators. The Lower Merion chapter is co-led by Ashley Best-Raiten, a former U.S. history and government teacher, and Tina Stein, a physician.
Explaining the impetus for forming the Lower Merion Indivisible chapter, Best-Raiten, who has also worked as a consultant on developing curriculum for civics education and civic engagement, said:
After the general shock of the election had worn off, many of the people around me were feeling paralyzed and helpless. They wanted to do something. I put together a weekly call-to-action schedule with simple call scripts and phone numbers for some of my contacts. Shortly after, a friend discovered the Indivisible Guide and asked me to form a group.
The Lower Merion chapter now has close to 300 members, and it has connected with 18 other groups in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Indivisible framework encourages groups to create diverse, accessible points of contact, including approaching members of Congress at town hall meetings and other events, planning district office sit-ins or gatherings — like Tuesdays with Toomey — and organizing protests and rallies. Daily actions include calling, faxing (Toomey received 11,000 faxes in one week), emailing and tweeting, as well as scheduling meetings to lobby on specific issues.
These meetings are one of the most effective means for citizens to make their voices heard. The day after the Women’s Marches in January, Stein scheduled a visit for a group of five Lower Merion citizens with a staff member at Senator Pat Toomey’s office to lobby against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s important for our legislators to be reminded that the decisions they make affect real people — their constituents — who in the case of a repeal of the ACA, may face serious, life-threatening consequences if there isn’t a sustainable alternative plan in place. The group of Lower Merion citizens shared their personal stories with Toomey’s staffer and magnified the impact of their visit by leaving behind a folder full of additional stories from other constituents.
Indivisible Lower Merion provides shared online documents with daily marching orders and action alerts to help guide an effective process. Participants have the opportunity to choose how they would like to take on a more active role within the group to help make the activism manageable for everyone.
Thanks to tireless efforts by grassroots activists — many who are new to the world of activism — we are seeing reversals or halts on some Trump administration executive orders. Mayors are taking defiant stands in their cities against what they consider to be tyranny, and leading members of the business community, concerned about their bottom line, are breaking ties with the Trump agenda.
A goal of Indivisible is to make a conscious effort to pursue diversity and solidarity, to partner with other local groups (e.g., Black Lives Matter, United We Dream, Fight for $15, Philadelphia Jobs with Justice and Food & Water Watch) and of course, to engage new members. Although the process will take time, collectively citizens are having a meaningful impact as they make their voices heard.
To learn more or to get involved with Indivisible Lower Merion, contact [email protected]. The next Indivisible Lower Merion meeting will be held on Sunday, March 12, from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. at the Ludington Library, 5 S. Bryn Mawr Avenue, in Bryn Mawr.