On Valentine’s Day, about 50 people visited the Boise offices of Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson. They delivered a petition signed by 1,000 people calling for each to hold a town hall meeting to hear their concerns and answer questions.
Sam Sandmire, of Boise, traveled to all three offices with the group. She was surprised by how many people turned out. She asked eight participants how they had heard about the event. They cited friends, neighbors, co-workers and various social-media groups. “I got eight different answers,” she said.
Americans seeking to resist President Donald Trump have found myriad ways to come together organically — through social media, online groups, neighborhood groups and old-fashioned phone calls.
Some of them are borrowing from the tea party playbook of 2009 and 2010, which succeeded in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal and dedicated band of citizens. They have joined a new group, Indivisible, which has taken off in the past few weeks.
Indivisible followed the posting of the 26-page “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” The guide has been downloaded more than a million times. More than 7,000 Indivisible groups have registered. Every state has some. Idaho has a statewide group and at least five local ones.
In Utah last week, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz was shouted down by resisters at his town hall.
The birth of the guide
A couple of days after Thanksgiving, former Democratic congressional staffers Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg were sitting in a bar in Austin, Texas, commiserating about Donald Trump’s election.
According to multiple media reports, the married couple joined forces with a few fellow congressional staffers to channel their insider knowledge about how Congress works and prepare a guide offering best practices for making Congress listen. They hoped to help progressives who wanted to fight Trump but did not know how.
“We believe that the next four years depend on Americans across the country standing indivisible against the Trump agenda,” they wrote in what they later described as a “poorly formatted, typo-filled” Google document that they posted online in December.
They looked at how conservatives and Republicans responded after the Great Recession struck and Barack Obama was elected president.
“We are former progressive congressional staffers who saw the Tea Party beat back President Obama’s agenda,” they wrote. “We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own [members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda.
“Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”
‘People just came’
The statewide group was launched by Sarah Clemens, of Boise. She said she had been a regular voter but not politically active before Trump’s election. Afterward, she called Idaho’s Democratic Party and left a message asking what she could do to help. No one called back.
She learned about the guide while watching the national news. On Jan. 30, she created an Indivisible Idaho website, Facebook group and Twitter account. By Thursday, Feb. 16, the group had grown to nearly 700 members.
“I did not have to solicit anybody to come. People just came,” Clemens said.
There is a desire for this kind of movement here.
Sarah Clemens, founder of Indivisible Idaho
Many Indivisible members are newcomers to political activism. Clemens said some members did not vote in November.
“There was a realization that this is what happens when you do not vote,” Clemens said. “People are coming to terms with the fact that this is the consequence and, so now, what do I do? How do I get involved now? You have people who are finding their way into this for the first time.”
She emphasizes the group is not about bashing Republicans, though it does want Idaho’s all-GOP congressional delegation to answer for its support of Trump’s nominees and his agenda.
The group supports “policies that are inclusive for all Idahoans, including members of our LGBTQ communities, women, children, people with disabilities, minorities and absolutely every single person in between.” It also wants an independent investigation into Russia’s involvement with the Trump campaign, and it opposes Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from certain Muslim-majority nations.
“Our senators are currently unwilling to meet at town halls, to take phone calls or respond to emails,” she said. “We will be at the district offices, the public events, the ribbon cuttings — not to harass, not to demean or annoy, but to demand accountability.”
Teuvo Orjala started Indivisible North Idaho the weekend of the women’s march. One month later, the group has more than 600 members.
Idaho gubernatorial candidate and former state senator Russ Fulcher, a Meridian Republican, sees the parallels with the tea party, whose support he has received.
“Trump was successful for the same reason I think that the tea party movement was successful and, for that matter, that Bernie Sanders was successful — that is, leveraging people’s dissatisfaction,” Fulcher told the Idaho Statesman.
“They are fighting for their political life. The tea party was fighting for its political life. Bernie Sanders followers were fighting for their political life. All of them have a different endgame, but the motive is the same, the passion is similar and the tactics are similar.”
While anti-Trump groups are springing up, there has been little pro-Trump activism since the election.
“Once the goal is achieved, the urgency backs off,” Fulcher said. “They think, ‘We did our job, now he has to go do his” — he being Trump.
No town halls planned in Idaho
The guide says this about town hall meetings by members of Congress: “MoCs regularly hold public in-district events to show that they are listening to constituents. Make them listen to you, and report out when they don’t. … Tea Partiers used these events to great effect — both to directly pressure their MoCs and to attract media to their cause.”
Constituents angry with Trump have expressed that anger at several congressional town halls around the country. Chaffetz said attendees at his Feb. 9 meeting in a Salt Lake City suburb were paid to “bully and intimidate,” though he offered no evidence, and CNN said none of the attendees it interviewed said they were paid.
Unfortunately for Indivisible members, it appears that they will not get a chance anytime soon in Idaho. Neither Crapo, Risch, Labrador nor Simpson has held a town hall meeting since the election. None has plans to do so in the near future, although Congress will be in recess next week (Feb. 20-24) for “state work period,” when lawmakers work from their home states.
That is what prompted that group to deliver petitions on Valentine’s Day to Crapo’s, Risch’s and Simpson’s Downtown Boise offices. (The group did not go to Meridian, where Rep. Raul Labrador’s office is located. Labrador’s district includes Meridian and Eagle, but most of Boise is Simpson’s.)
Sandmire said she thought the group’s interactions with staffers at each office was constructive. “We were welcomed. We were listened to,” she said.
Crapo has held 200 town hall meetings across the state in the two years that ended in September. Spokesman Lindsay Nothern said there has not yet been time to put together another town hall meeting.
Labrador will speak at a congressional forum sponsored by the Boise Chamber of Commerce at The Grove Hotel on Thursday, Feb. 23. Tickets cost $35 to $45. Clemens said it is unfortunate the only way she can see Labrador is to buy a ticket.
Labrador’s spokesman did not respond to emails or a phone call seeking comment.
Are they paid? ‘Not one’
Other efforts at organized dissent have emerged, too.
Boise’s Women’s March on Jan. 21, one of many around the nation on the day after Trump’s inauguration, drew an estimated 5,000 people to the Capitol.
The Boise high schoolers who organized the march, Nora Harren and Colette Raptosh, kept their progressive agenda going Feb. 9 by delivering hundreds of postcards to Crapo’s office from people voicing concerns on gender equality, racial and economic justice, the environment, immigration and refugee resettlement.
About 700 high school students walked out of class Thursday and assembled at the Capitol for a rally to protest Betsy DeVos’ appointment as education secretary.
An estimated 500 people gathered Jan. 29 at the Boise Airport to protest Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Asked if he thinks any Idahoans who have protested or joined political action groups like Indivisible are being paid, Indivisible North Idaho founder Teuvo Orjala responded, “That is the craziest thing I have ever heard.”
Members of Indivisible North Idaho include “teachers, retired firefighters, students … not professional agitators. Not one,” he said.
Spokespeople for Crapo, Risch and Simpson said they have no indication that paid protesters are coming to their offices. Labrador’s staff did not respond.
“We haven’t had protesters in our offices — we have had concerned constituents voicing their opinions,” said Simpson spokeswoman Nikki Wallace.
Nothern, the Crapo spokesman, said most people contacting the senator’s office lately have complained about Trump.
Generally, most people are not happy with President Trump and the beginning of his administration. They want to talk about health care and some of the cabinet nominees. They want their voices heard by the senator.
Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, on recent constituent comments
“Idahoans are very split. The country is very split,” Nothern said. “The senator is taking all these comments and he is reading through every one. He really does believe in the local input and listens to it very carefully.”