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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Resistance against Donald Trump’s presidency has come from unexpected places, with many overnight activists joining their first protest or call to Congress. But one of the most surprising transformations is that of Beverly Tuberville, the founder of the resistance organization Indivisible Oklahoma, who, prior to Trump’s nomination, was a lifelong Republican.

Tuberville, who calls herself a “recovering Republican,” was inspired to question the Republican beliefs she grew up with after scandal-plagued Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate. Since that dramatic turning point, Tuberville has organized a town hall in March with more than 1,000 energized Oklahoma residents demanding accountability from their senators (who declined to attend), recruited state elected officials and advocates to advise her corner of the red-state resistance, and founded Indivisible Oklahoma.

Republicanism was the cultural norm growing up in Oklahoma, Tuberville explained in an email interview, “synonymous with Christianity.” She was fiercely anti-abortion, which made it “impossible to even care about how ‘off’ the Republican Party was on the other issues. It was always like, well yes, they want to trash the planet, take benefits away from people, excuse inhumane treatment of animals, and basically rob the poor—but they don’t dismember babies. Republican politicians are very astute at taking advantage of this frame of thought.”

Donald Trump’s nomination changed everything for Tuberville, leading her to question a number of longstanding beliefs: “I began researching every issue important to me, rather than trusting the Republican rhetoric. I began to realize that Republicans have done nothing to reduce abortions, while Democrats had done a great deal with free long-term birth control programs and sex education. I also began having dialogue with those from other parties that hated abortion as much as I did. They just didn’t believe making it illegal was the answer.”

Tuberville continued, “I can tell you this: if Democrats and Independents would learn how to talk to conservatives about this one issue, they would win elections. I hope to help with that. There are very real reasons why abortion should remain safe and legal.”

At first, the political conversion was traumatic. She was up all night crying on the night of November 8, and “began looking at a lot of my friends differently. Most voted for Trump, and most of them believed all of the fake news about Hillary. I remember telling my mom that I didn’t have any friends left, or even people I cared to spend time with.”

She went to a local Democratic Party meeting, but was dismayed that the average age of the room was 70. “I was the youngest person there. I’m 53. So, wow, where were all of the millennials? It was quite depressing.”

The release of the Indivisible Guide and the ability to register a group on the site and invite other like-minded locals to a meeting was a crucial turning point in red-state resistance, allowing potential activists to “come out of the woodwork.” Tuberville says Indivisible Oklahoma is made up of “many recovering Republicans like myself, yellow dog Democrats, Independents, Berniecrats, Green Party, some libertarians, and some who are still Republicans.” People from all over Oklahoma joined the initial Facebook group and began splitting up into what are now more than 40 groups with 6,000 members across the state.

Multiple groups got started calling, writing to and showing up at the offices of their Congress members. One eastern Oklahoma Indivisible group even gained viral publicity from one of Rep. Markwayne Mullin’s town halls. Mullin was upset that one of group’s leaders, “a grandmother of four and a farmer,” Tuberville noted, had dared hold up a slip of paper indicating she disagreed with his vehemently anti-EPA comments. “He told her she had to put it down. She refused, and he motioned for officers to remove her, then motioned for a second officer when she said they would have to physically remove her. The clip was even featured on the Washington Post.”

In March, Tuberville helped to organize a massive town hall, featuring a former Oklahoma state attorney general, a state representative and staff from the Sierra Club and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. There were 1,000 attendees clamoring to voice their concerns on the environment, education, health care, immigration and civil liberties.

Notably absent from the packed auditorium at Rose State College were Oklahoma’s Republican senators, James Lankford and Jim Inhofe. They were invited, but declined to attend.

Tuberville wasn’t surprised: “Oklahoma representatives are in such a red state that everything has been relatively easy for them up to this point. They’ve had major funding from the fossil fuel industry, and automatic support from churches, simply because they are Republican. But now, people are getting involved and waking up. Many are not happy to wake up and see what a mess has been made of our state and our nation.”

She also believes that despite the uphill battle the Oklahoma groups face, this activism war is one worth fighting, and that at this point, Indivisible’s defensive strategy is the answer: “red states’ representatives do not care what you think about their agenda if you are in opposition to it. They do not want to hear our carefully thought-out argument. We are in damage control. We can’t just lie back and let them destroy our country, and state for that matter, unopposed.”

Still, she believes there’s an opportunity for substantive change: “We may start out in defense mode, but we are infiltrating every part of the state. We’re having Indivisible members getting involved in committees, tables, organizations, marches, PTAs, women’s groups, and churches. Some are becoming precinct leaders for the first time and attending political party meetings for the first time.”

As she put in a blog post for Indivisible Somerville, “We are #RedStateWoke. Oklahoma is a desert. Indivisible is the water.”

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.