Organizing the Indivisible Iowa Network

Lauren Whitehead explains Indivisible Iowa‘s unique approach to acting on the wise words, “Don’t mourn, organize.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

Did you know that there is a network of Indivisible chapters covering all 50 state Senate districts in Iowa? Here’s how it came about.

Like most readers of this blog, I was invited to join around a thousand progressive resistance startup groups during the weeks following 45’s election. My Facebook feed became an overwhelming and relentless stream of calls to action, warnings, memes, speeches, and existential angst as we all processed what had changed on November 8. Post-election, aside from the emotional fallout of such a horrible outcome, I was exhausted from 2 years of organizing for the election. I thought I might not be able to do it again. I thought that perhaps it was all pointless.

But unsurprisingly, I just can’t quit political activism, and over time I started to sort through the groups I had joined to find the diamonds in the rough–the groups that I felt had the most potential for focused and efficient accomplishment. Ten years into my amateur activist life, I was not in the mood for a group that couldn’t get it’s shit together, even though I felt the value in the organic gathering all around me. I wanted to be a part of group that offered something unique, and not a replication of the info every other group was sharing, one that was taking that frenetic energy we were all feeling and channeled it into a structure with goals.

It could have been any of them. So many groups are doing great work–Iowans for Public Education, Action Iowa, etc–but I got pulled into early conversations about starting an Indivisible group. I like Indivisible because it is about drawing constituents in to the governing of their worlds, from city council to executive office, which means faster change and community building for the midterms and 2020.

Indivisible has no particular agenda beyond an opposition to that of the GOP (not just 45, but the oppressive and retrograde agenda of the entire party), and focuses on LOCAL actions. These are things people can sink their teeth into; these are the groups that I believe will have the most impact the soonest. I genuinely believe that oppression starts and ends at the state level. Any group I worked with had to be about the state as well as the federal. Indivisible fit the bill.

A new acquaintance, Anna Plank, started Indivisible Iowa, which was organized by state Senate districts. A handful of folks joined and in one of those kismet moments, it seemed we had managed to attract a handful of people who were actually willing to follow through on the work required to establish and maintain a large network. It’s much easier to direct people to action when you know who is in whose territory.

Anna recruited people to volunteer as chapter leaders, with each chapter covering a senate district and two House districts (except mine; I’m a freak and wanted a group just to focus on Bobby Kaufmann). Within three weeks, we had established Indivisible chapters in 80 percent of Iowa’s Senate districts.

We have a leadership team that works primarily to coordinate communication, determine weekly actions (a state action and a federal action), promote event attendance, network with other groups, and we are working on collaborating with Action Iowa to have a “research team” to quickly find info and support chapters in their advocacy. We have four District Directors who keep an eye on all chapters in their Congressional District and make sure they have what they need. This is entirely volunteer led. In fact I think this might appear in the dictionary next to the word “grassroots.”

As of writing this, we have chapters in all but Senate District 8/House Districts 15/16 (so come on Council Bluffs!). CORRECTION: Council Bluffs has a chapter now.

This means that every Democratic candidate in every Senate and House District has a group–however small–ready to support them in 2018. This means that every group is talking to folks about running for upcoming city council, mayoral, and school board elections. And it means that Democrats, even in Fremont County, are finding each other. The growth has been beyond what any of us expected. I genuinely felt that if I found ten people in House district 73 (Bobby Kaufmann’s), it would be a win. We have over 100. Managing the group has taken enormous time and effort from some bad-ass committed men and women.

As far as I know, we are the only state organized in this manner. As far as I know, we’re the only Indivisible network organized in this manner. If the last 6 weeks are any indicator of the next 6 months and the next 6 years, I think Iowa has reason to be hopeful. And I think the Iowa GOP has reason to be very, very afraid.

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