Looking at the Indivisible Guide for Progressive Tea Party

from the Indivisible Guide Facebook page

New Orleans   Some groups are forming in Congressional Districts as part of the resistance to President Trump’s agenda and are deliberately mimicking the Tea Party’s earlier playbook when they were opposing any and all Obama. Several groups are using Indivisible in their names having been inspired by the Indivisible Guide, which is described as having been written by former Congressional staffers. The Guide is a straightforward how-to piece on going after members of Congress, referred to throughout as MOC’s.

The authors are somewhat unlikely protestors. The names identified by their Twitter handles, which seems so “Age of Trump” it almost made me pause, call themselves the Indivisible Team. They include a 40-year veteran lawyer with his name on a corporate law firm in New York, a public interest lawyer based in San Francisco, an Arlington, Virginia DC beltway woman who seems to be working with and perhaps formerly worked for Tom Perriello, a one term Democratic Congressman who has announced as a candidate for Governor of Virginia, and was a cofounder of the online petitioning group, Avaaz, and finally a health and immigration policy analyst with experience with the National Immigration Law Center. In fact they probably are not really protestors so much as advocates with deep experience as lobbyists, who see this as a hammer that they have seen frighten the bejesus out of Congressional representatives in the past, and have a identified a moment where people are looking to strike a nail back home.

That said, read as a lobbying guide, rather than an organizing program, the Indivisible Guide has real value. It gets to the nuts and bolts including phone script role plays that are reality based. Their tactical descriptions and discussion of preparations for town hall meetings with the local representatives is about the best any organizer could hope to read if they were planning an action at such an event. Their advice on triggering the press for even small 10-person actions with social media and how to employ such tools in organizing their protests also is accurate and helpful. The short story is that for those of us who read – and write – manuals about organizing models and tools, they did a good job.

At the same time, these are not people looking to create big social change or drain the swamp. They totally believe in this system and how it works. They advise against getting caught up in discussions about policy or programs, saying progressives don’t have a chance. In their view this guide and the call of the moment is all about resistance.

I appreciated their transparency and the value of their guide, but resistance without a plan or program that takes the status quo as certain and bounded rigidly by the election cycle, is a stopgap at best and misses the moment and the opportunity, while risking seeming like nothing more than protest for protest sake. Right now protestors are in it for the win, not just to hear their own voices yell, and they need a guide for that strategy as well, not simply a well assembled how-to tactical manual on grassroots lobbying.


Fake News and a Field Guide to Lies

fake-newsNew Orleans You have to love headline news about fake news.  Usually fake news is in the stories, not the headlines.  We all have to appreciate the irony contained in articles in almost any newspaper, especially opinion pieces, about fake news when there is no disclosure of inherent biases contained in any of them.  Nonetheless, it is a real and ageless problem.  What do we do about outright lies that take on lives of their own and move public opinion and often become impossible to ever pry loose?

            Admittedly, I’m jaded about this.  For all of the journalists and columnists now trying to act high and mighty because of their fears about the Trump ascension and the host of different tribes in his movement, it seems a case of “whose ox is being gored.”  Don’t make me go into the total fakery involved in contentions around voter fraud versus voter registration errors once again.  Finally, most commentators have sorted this out, but for conservatives in the USA, it’s too little, too late, since so much of this has seeped into the ideological fabric of the right, when it was always a lie, just never called out in a timely fashion, and without defenders when ACORN and others were attacked and decimated.

            Nonetheless, let’s swallow our bitterness hard, and say, better late than never.  Facebook thus far seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth without a real plan that they are willing to throw money and muscle at, as they vacillate between concerns about free speech and the damage of fake news.  Studies indicate that Facebook is a much louder microphone for all of this than Twitter, but they are all swimming in the same stew of privileging eyeballs and advertising regardless of adverse impacts and real harm to millions.

            But, even if they make progress in some directions, ferreting out the facts in all of the news may be harder than any are willing to admit.  Reading neuroscientist Daniel Levitin’s A Field Guide to Lies:  Critical Thinking in the Information Age was a fascinating look at both how easy in our fast moving world it is easy to be fooled if we’re not paying close attention, as well as how determined many of the actors in business and politics are to fool us, and I’m not talking about basement hackers in Russia or scammers in Nigeria.   Some of the bits on advanced math and reasoning might not be helpful to the average bear, but his points on how we are often manipulated by fake facts hidden in preposterous math or deceptive charts and graphs lacking any qualifications or context were excellent and sound a solid cautionary note about how difficult separating facts from fiction may be for many.

            Once again though we have to confront the fact that power plays with fact and fiction.  We do not yet have an accurate count on the number of people who were effectively disenfranchised by the wave of Republican-led voter suppression laws state by state in the recent election, but we know it is in the millions.  We have to weigh all of those unjustly deprived of their votes, particularly among low-and-moderate income and minority families against the right’s argument that even if there are only a handful of actual, proven cases of voter fraud in the US annually they still justify the barriers to voting even if they rob millions of their right to vote.

            Let’s hope the search for truth is not a temporary project or a finger pointing exercise but a real and objective effort to level the playing field with facts rather than fiction.