How “Indivisible” are we?
With the country now four months into the movement called “Indivisible” and my being three months into co-leading a group with a friend in Brookline, I was asked recently what it’s like being one of the few people of color at Indivisible meetings (and usually the only black person). My quick answer is that it is not much different from the rest of my life. I swam competitively since age 6, I was a scholarship kid at a private school, I attended an Ivy League university, and I live in Brookline, Massachusetts. I’ve spent most of my life as the only brown person within a fairly significant radius. But her question about the make-up of Indivisible got at something that has been gnawing at me for several weeks now.
Right as our group was getting started, I stumbled across an op-ed piece by Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post that described the work of groups formed using the Indivisible model as “basic civics.” I know what she means; as citizens we’ve coasted for some time now as single issue voters with little more than a Schoolhouse Rock understanding of our own political process. But what I thought Rosenberg missed in her article is that communities long red-lined out of investments by banks, brutalized by law enforcement, and gerrymandered into ultra dense voting districts might not be down with the “old-fashioned civic engagement” plan to call members of Congress on a regular basis. A not insignificant number of members of Congress are working on making that level of engagement near impossible.
The team that launched Indivisible tackles the issue of diversity in group membership pretty directly in the guide. From Chapter 3:
Trump’s agenda explicitly targets immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ people, the poor and working class, and women. It is critical that our resistance reflect and center the voices of those who are most directly threatened by the Trump agenda. If you are forming a group, we urge you to make a conscious effort to pursue diversity and solidarity at every stage in the process.
In addition, where there are local groups already organizing around the rights of those most threatened by the Trump agenda, we urge you to reach out to partner with them, amplify their voices, and defer to their leadership.
It’s about as clear a statement on the issue as one could hope to get. But there’s no discussion about the forces that are pushing back against Indivisible becoming a movement whose hope of achieving the vision that they set forth requires crossing both color and class lines. Try to make your group diverse if you can, but if you can’t… make your calls anyway? I’ve been on a number of the Sunday evening calls sponsored by Indivisible and MoveOn.org and the topic just doesn’t get air time. I’ve done my dutiful, “push the button if you have a question”; and in all fairness, I know that there are literally thousands of questions you’re wading through. But I pushed the button. And I keep pushing it.
Overall, I’d describe participating in Indivisible as doing a lot of code switching. We had our most recent meeting the day after I happened to see “Hidden Figures.” I was literally fired up. I wanted to start the meeting with “Alright people. Let’s set this off!” Instead our group got going with a rather cordial “Okay, why don’t we get started.” And Brookline being Brookline, a group’s going to have a number of scientists, business leaders, and educators with the definitive perspective on any topic you broach. Our group talks, acts, and looks like many of the other groups that our members move in and out of every day.
We’ve gotten far enough along in our group’s work and plans that we’re breaking ourselves down into subcommittees and among the things I’m responsible for is the group’s Twitter account. This gives me the direct responsibilities of finding and connecting with other Indivisible groups. It’s felt a bit like a resistance scavenger hunt scanning the pictures, live feeds, and videos for evidence of brown faces. And you can’t infer much from the Twitter profile pictures because we’re all so dutiful and consistent with our Indivisible branding. I did get some insight in an online discussion about this with a Dorchester resident: “names for black groups tend to be organized around ideas, aspirations, goals…white groups are around geography.” It’s an interesting lens to apply to one’s feed. I’m still trying to figure out what’s up with the Indivisible WOEC (pronounced “woke”) group in El Cerrito, California. You all seem promising so please holla back.
So why bother?
The main reason is that I want to work in and take action in my community. For better or worse, isolated or no, I chose Brookline. I like it here. And I want to do what’s needed for other people to make that choice, too. The current occupant of the Oval Office (I see what you did there, Obama spokesperson) can midnight-Tweet all he wants but how this plays out is what we choose to do or accept in our local communities. And I choose to resist. With whomever I can.