New Orleans A chain of emails and phone calls found me walking into a late Sunday afternoon meetup at a community center in New Orleans on the edge of the French Quarter. I wasn’t there to attend the group but to visit briefly with its organizer, Beau Willimon, best known currently as the writer and one of the showrunners for the dark Netflix political hit show, “House of Cards” before he ran for a plane.
Let me step back a minute, because this is an interesting story that underlines this delicate but exciting political moment. Before “House of Cards” and other works as a playwright, Willimon was a card carrying member for various political campaigns on the regular cycles. He worked on a Schumer re-elect campaign in New York. He worked in New Hampshire and several Midwestern states before the Howard Dean shout out and unraveling. He was here and there before jumping off the bus and heading for the stage.
He didn’t get a brain transplant though, so like so many others, the top of his head also exploded after the Trump election became part of everyone’s reality show. He unleashed a series of tweets to his 40,000 Twitter followers that something needed to be done, and having been part of actually doing the work in the past, he connected with others, and started to get serious about making something – hey, just about anything – happening on the spur of the moment. At least that’s the upshot of the story as it came to me as we strolled along the back streets of the French Quarter, while Beau tugged at a cup of gas station coffee we had gotten across from the community center.
The result of all of that has been meetings, both small and large, like the one I observed in its final minutes in New Orleans all of which at this point have been loosely connected and supported by a platform Beau and his allies created called the Action Group Network. The organizing model is very, very straightforward and simple much of which is built on the premise of “letting a thousand flowers bloom,” but most importantly tapping the anger that is America now and using the web platform to throw a big net out in communities throughout the country working with their website signup list and a few organizational allies, organizing meetups, and then letting the participants take the action groups, either collectively or with others they have met there, who want to join their thing with someone else doing their own thing, and make something happen. Beau has put together a small staff to operate in six regions and support the operation. The meeting in New Orleans was last minute but the 20-odd folks didn’t mind. A meeting in Oxford, Mississippi had had 200. The website counts various levels of activity in 22 states with big pockets in California and New York, not surprisingly. Beau claimed there was really something in 15 states, but is hoping for the Action Group Network to be in all 50 states by the end of the year.
Where is it all going? Hard to tell now, but the threshold for entry is very low in order to try to make something happen. If what I heard was any barometer, a core of the interest is focused on efforts like that of Indivisible and others focused on 2018 and beyond, but others were trying to connect on a wide range of issues from choice to fracking to voting rights to disability access. From talking to Beau, it’s clear the door is wide open for any and all that want to get involved and see if they can find others with a similar interest, and it’s as easy as hitting www.actiongroups.net on your web browser and clicking on JOIN, and seeing what happens next.