At the Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Church on South 56th Street on Wednesday night, the more than 100 members of Indivisible Tacoma who gathered for the group’s weekly meeting repeatedly vowed to “raise hell” in the face of the Trump administration.
Raising hell, it would seem, takes many forms. On this night, at this meeting, it looked markedly civil.
Speakers identified their preferred gender pronouns. Members often used hand signals for silent applause. In honor of International Women’s Day, all the men in the room were implored to shake hands with the women in attendance, thanking them for their ongoing contributions to our country.
In our current political climate, increasingly, this is what the resistance from the left looks like.
“It’s not standing and shouting and wagging your finger and being disruptive, but it is being very assertive in how you feel things are going in our country,” said Dennis Townsend, 62, who lives in Spanaway and has been involved with Indivisible Tacoma since January.
“Unless you assert your rights, you’re conceding them,” Townsend continued. “Some people might interpret that as raising hell, but it’s asserting yourself.”
It’s not standing and shouting and wagging your finger and being disruptive, but it is being very assertive in how you feel things are going in our country. ... Unless you assert your rights, you’re conceding them. Some people might interpret that as raising hell, but it’s asserting yourself.
Indivisible Tacoma member Dennis Townsend
Inspired by “Indivisible: A Practical Guide to Resisting the Trump Agenda,” a 26-page document created by a group of former congressional staffers that outlines useful tactics for pushing back against the Trump administration, Indivisible groups have begun meeting across the country.
Often compared, in approach not substance, to the tea party movement, the Invisible playbook involves residents banding together to write emails, make phone calls, show up at district offices, and generally assert firm pressure on elected officials — particularly Democrats — to boldly stand up to Trump.
“The last time I was politically active was in high school. It’s been since 1968 that I’ve ever been in a congressperson’s office,” said Phil Venditti, a recently retired 65-year-old college professor who told me he’s been active in Tacoma’s Indivisible group since its second meeting. “But things are so dire, so terrible, so horrendous now that I couldn’t in good conscience just go quietly into my retirement.”
Townsend put it more bluntly when asked why he joined Indivisible Tacoma.
“Donald Trump being elected. Period,” he said.
With more than 800 members so far, Indivisible Tacoma bills itself as a “nonpartisan community of citizen lobbyists dedicated to protecting our nation’s values and principles through grass-roots political action.”
Concerns raised Wednesday night ranged from immigration, the threatened repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and the treatment of those detained at the Northwest Detention Center, to more general ones, like a loss of integrity and trustworthiness at the White House and what was often described as an assault on America’s moral compass.
For 28-year-old Leah Sanchez, who works at a Port Orchard home for developmentally disabled adults, health care concerns — and the future of Obamacare — were at the top of her list
“The first week that the Trump administration was in office, the case managers were in the office crying because they thought that their residents weren’t going to have homes,” Sanchez said.
Participation in Indivisible Tacoma marks Sanchez’s first real political involvement. So far, she says she’s “been heavily involved in contacting our senators and congressmen,” and is even considering running for office in the future.
All of this is new. I was completely apathetic before Trump came into office, and that’s changed.
Indivisible Tacoma member Leah Sanchez
“All of this is new,” she said. “I was completely apathetic before Trump came into office, and that’s changed.”
Judging the impact of Indivisible Tacoma is difficult at this point. But the group is making efforts to do so. Along with counting how many people show up to the weekly meetings — 105 last week, according to the group, which has quickly outgrown meeting rooms at local libraries — the number of phone calls, emails and offices visited was recorded on a tally sheet in the back of the room.
Jason Phelps, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, said members of Indivisible Tacoma attended Kilmer’s recent town hall event in Tacoma, which ended up attracting “something like 500 people.”
In the past, Phelps said such events have drawn “a few dozen people.”
“(Kilmer is) glad to see that so many folks in the Tacoma community are finding new ways to get engaged and make sure their voice is heard,” Phelps said.
Kati Rutherford, spokeswoman for Congressman Denny Heck, had a similar take. She said Heck has met with Indivisible groups from Tacoma and Olympia. In particular, she said, Indivisible Tacoma members helped get the word out for the congressman’s recent health care meeting at Portland Avenue Park.
And when it comes to raising hell?
The majority of calls, emails and visits that I know of are pleasant and cordial.
Kati Rutherford, the deputy chief of staff and communications director for US Congressman Denny Heck, on interactions with Indivisible Tacoma
“They’ve been described to me as friendly, and really committed to finding solutions and working with members of Congress,” Rutherford said. “The majority of calls, emails and visits that I know of are pleasant and cordial.”
Which brings us back to comparisons to the tea party, a movement not necessarily known for its warmth toward elected officials, but one that undoubtedly succeeded in influencing the direction of its party.
“Obviously, they had a totally different agenda than we do,” Venditti told me of the similarities and differences. “I think we have the potential to be far better than the tea party was. They were inherently interested in disrupting the Republican Party and taking us back to the neolithic era — that’s my interpretation — whereas what we’re interested in is diversity and inclusion and human rights.”
“How we safeguard and promote those things is going to be somewhat similar,” he continued. “We’re going to have people get together face-to-face. We’re going to meet our congressional representatives. We’re going to keep the pressure on.”