Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
About 3.2 million people around the world attended the D.C. Women’s March or one of its satellite marches, according to estimates from FiveThirtyEight. There are 4,000 (and counting) chapters of Indivisible. These are encouraging signs for Americans opposed to President Donald Trump and his policies, but many of these newly minted activists are struggling to balance their work for the resistance movement with daily responsibilities. Can these newcomers sustain their energy, continue showing up to protests and meetings, and calling and visiting their legislatures months and years into the Trump administration?
With help from Rapid Resist, they just might, all while decreasing the burden on seasoned organizers. Rapid Resist is a peer-to-peer texting tool that helps organizers increase attendance at or participation in a variety of resistance-related events and actions, simply by sending text messages. Using Hustle, a text distribution tool, Rapid Resist volunteers write scripts, upload phone numbers, and get to work recruiting participants for protests, phone banks, and other political actions.
As co-founder Yoni Landau told AlterNet, he was inspired to make the tool, “by grassroots organizing work that was being done in Reno… We door-knocked during GOTV [Get Out the Vote] at weekly motels to turn people out to vote but also to connect them to local organizing that was building power for folks on the frontlines. It seemed like a much more fruitful partnership for my friends who wanted to contribute than the usual way blue-state volunteers come in to just help with a campaign.”
Landau and co-founder Jennifer Friedmann are former political staffers; Landau worked for the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Friedmann was Ohio regional organizing director for Hillary for America and organizing fellows manager for Organizing for America. Now, they want to support organizers on the ground, but in a way that wouldn’t be duplicative. So they went out and asked organizers how to best do that.
Landau and Friedmann wanted to make sure they weren’t merely covering the same ground as others and instead concentrated on filling in gaps in organizing. They interviewed more than 20 activist leaders, including those at Indivisible groups, to determine what they were missing, what they needed help with to create sustainable groups and effective actions. Turnout at events was a constant issue. They say Rapid Resist was created to “cut through the communications clutter to let folks know about critical events, and do so without adding anything to local organizers’ plates.”
The tool was piloted during a fundraiser for Nevada senator Dean Heller, who was wavering on whether to vote for or against the latest Republican health care bill. Local activists heard about the event just 72 hours ahead of the vote, yet were able to use the platform to send messages to 2,000 people to show up for a protest, encouraging Heller to vote no. Of those 2,000, 69 arrived, and a new platform was born.
Rapid Resist is targeted for use in Republican-leaning districts, with a focus on the Senate. As Landau explained, “The critical path for Trump to take away democratic rights goes through the Senate, and we quickly saw that if we could persuade a few key senators—they happen to be Republican—not to go along with his agenda, that would make a difference.”
Why text messages? For Landau, it’s all about the one-on-one connection. “Text-messages are intimate—we’re used to receiving them from close friends, and we’ve been able to have meaningful, disarmed conversations with folks that would be otherwise unreachable.” Plus, their reach is often stronger and wider than email: “99 percent of texts are opened, so even if you don’t reach them, they are at least glancing at the message.”
Feedback from organizers around the country seems to prove his point. “Rapid Resist is a great partner in the Resistance to help get people out to rallies,” Mike Johnson from Indivisible of Arizona said in a statement. He continued, “I’ve had more people show up as a result of Rapid Resist putting out a text a day or so in advance than I do from online postings.”
Marie Smith from Mainers for Accountable Leadership called Rapid Resist, “a critical tool for grassroots organizations across the country to mobilize and fight the Trump regime. In the past three weeks, Rapid Resist has helped hundreds of Mainers rise up and speak out to Senator Collins. As Collins is a key vote on health care and a senior intelligence committee member, Rapid Resist’s work is helping defend democracy.”
Following a push from many activism groups, and after the above statements were made by Johnson (Indivisible of Arizona) and Smith (Mainers for Accountable Leadership), Maine’s Senator Susan Collins and Arizona’s Senator John McCain, both Republicans, voted no on the most recent “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
The actual Rapid Resist messages are sent by teams of texters, who working with activist organizations (a third of which, according to Landau, are Indivisible groups), text alerts and invitations to events and actions. If the respondent says yes, the texters pass on their information to organizers.
So far, Landau reports, “The blue-area groups that text for us really just found us—they were so hungry for a way to meaningfully contribute that we are struggling to keep up with the demand for texting.”
It’s simple to get started. Rapid Resist has a training program that allows people to set up text-banks for their groups, which makes the texting feel more like a party: “It is much more fun to sit around and text and drink beers and share successes than to be at a traditional phone bank!”
So far, the issues the groups have texted for include “immigration, women’s rights, anti-hate, public education, and Trump-Russia collusion.” Prior to the last week of July, their main push was stopping the ACA repeal.
While longtime organizers worry about the sustainability of the newer resistance members, Landau and Rapid Resist are committed to supporting the organizers. Landau explained, “the Americans I’m worried about are the leaders that have stepped up to organize—I think the general public will continue to be outraged and to step up if they are asked to do so meaningfully by those they trust. But we’ve seen leaders burn out because they don’t have the support they need.”
Learn more at RapidResist.org.
Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.