Progressives Could Learn A Thing Or Two From The Tea Party

Progressives Could Learn A Thing Or Two From The Tea Party

An energetic and full-throated resistance is building nationwide to oppose the whims of Donald Trump. Witness the crowds that turned out last weekend to protest Trump’s malicious executive order barring refugees from entering the country and voiding the visas of citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Yet the likeliest way to put a leash on Trump and overcome his enablers in Washington requires much more focus than marching in the street. It’s not as sexy. It won’t give you the same thrill or cachet as playing the agitator extraordinaire. You won’t be able to brag about it to your grandchildren. But it’s what will work.

We need to make our representatives and senators squirm. It’s not that hard, if you know how to do it.

Writing to or calling our elected officials is something we know we’re supposed to do, and yet we so seldom follow through. Even when we do get motivated to write a letter or make a phone call, we often do it wrong. The point is not so much to let our rep or senator know how we feel, although that is part of it. Rather, the point is to make him or her aware that you are watching and listening, and that he or she will pay a price for acting or voting against your wishes.

How do you do that effectively? There’s a handy guide titled “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” This easily digested 27-page document is downloadable at

As the guide explains, members of Congress react mostly to their constituents. And they don’t like to look bad. Small efforts of vocal, well-timed and articulated advocacy can work wonders.

“Indivisible” groups are forming in major cities and in smaller communities. At last count there were around 4,500, with at least one in virtually every congressional district.

The document offers plenty of insider knowledge, as it was crafted by former congressional staffers. They share their insights into what made their former bosses listen, and squirm.

Thus, “Indivisible” does a great service in helping the well-intentioned but off-script activist. This is covered in helpful table outlining “what your member of Congress doesn’t care much about.” This includes form letters, tweets, Facebook comments that haven’t generated widespread attention, and “your thoughtful analysis of the proposed bill.”

One chapter, “How Your Member of Congress Thinks and How to Use That to Save Democracy,” elaborates the simple but crucial dictum that congressional members worry first and foremost about getting re-elected and protecting their image. Unhappy and outspoken constituents make for bad optics, which inspires more unhappy constituents.

The pamphlet cribs a few sheets from the tea party playbook. Tea partiers, after all, were adept at organizing, keeping their focus local. They didn’t waste energy developing complicated policy agendas. Rather, they relentlessly hounded members of Congress who supported anything that Obama touched. They were the impetus for the extreme obstructionism that transformed the GOP into the “Party of No.”

Tea party efforts cleared the path for decisive midterm victories for the GOP and, eventually, for Trump to take the White House. That is why progressive protesters against Trump, inasmuch as they are on the defensive and need to act accordingly, also need to recognize that playing effective defense presents an awesome opportunity to organize for eventual legislative majorities.

Republicans are firmly in control of Congress at least until the midterm elections in 2018. Retaking the Senate, much less the House, will be a tough uphill climb. The first step toward taking Congress back is to say no to Trump’s agenda now. Hence, the authors of “Indivisible” offer tips for “stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.”

Every dysfunctional president has had his enablers. And members of the GOP who do not stand up to Trump’s more egregious moves — which is to say, virtually his entire policy agenda — fit that definition.

Despite his preening and complaining, Trump did not win the popular vote. He has started with a record low approval rating, and he becomes more unpopular with every display of narcissism or cruelty.

So “Indivisible” offers this solid reassurance: “If a small minority in the tea party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”

The greatest weapon the American public has to fight Trump and his minions is the central institution of our representative democracy: the legislative branch.

Progressives must threaten their representatives with removal if they don’t heed the majority that finds Trump repugnant, and they must organize that majority to speak unambiguously in November 2018.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752,, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: Activists gather outside the Trump International Hotel to protest President Donald Trump’s executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

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