Washington Republicans are not fans of the Indivisible movement. “I think it is an organized resistance movement that relies on aggression and intimidation to be heard,” state Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said.
Like many Democrats, Chris Petzold felt demoralized and adrift following Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory.
A senior program manager at Microsoft who lives in Issaquah, Petzold had regularly voted, but she was no political activist.
Trump’s win changed that.
“I had been in a pit of despair about what was going on in my country and crying myself to sleep every night,” Petzold said.
Before Trump’s inauguration, Petzold found an outlet for her newfound political energy. Driving from work, she heard an interview with an ex-congressional aide who helped write an online guide to effectively resisting Trump’s agenda with constant pressure on members of Congress.
The Indivisible Guide became a viral sensation, and sparked a movement named after it. Thousands of Indivisible chapters sprouted across the country, including dozens in Washington state. On the Eastside, Petzold and others organized a group focused on Washington’s 8th Congressional District and Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.
They have held protests outside Reichert’s district office, shadowed him at public events, and flooded his staff with phone calls about votes on health care and taxes. When Reichert announced his retirement in September, Petzold’s group claimed credit.
This fall, Indivisible activists hope to help Democrats flip Reichert’s seat blue, working to defeat well-known Republican candidate Dino Rossi in a race already drawing national interest and big money.
“We’re going to make him a four-time loser,” Petzold vowed during a meeting last month with other Indivisible leaders at an Issaquah alehouse, referring to Rossi’s three previous statewide election losses in races for governor and U.S. senator.
Indivisible groups have organized debates among Democratic primary candidates and conducted rigorous endorsement interviews. In March, a coalition of six 8th District Indivisible chapters endorsed two Democrats seeking to advance past the August primary to face Rossi in November: attorney Jason Rittereiser and pediatrician Kim Schrier.
Tea party parallels
The Indivisible movement does not shy away from comparisons with the conservative tea party groups that formed in 2010.
“If a small minority in the tea party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump,” the Indivisible Guide declares on its introductory page.
The national Indivisible organization, based in Washington, D.C., has a staff of about 40 people, which is expanding soon to more than 50, said spokeswoman Emily Phelps. The nonprofit group raised $7.5 million last year, a mix of small donations and major gifts, according to its annual report.
Phelps said the movement is decentralized. The national outfit acts as an umbrella, offering guidance and principles, but it doesn’t police how local affiliates should operate.
Petzold’s Indivisible Washington’s 8th District group, centered in the Issaquah area, has about 1,500 members in its Facebook group, with an email list of 400 and a couple of hundred people regularly attending meetings.
As a movement, Indivisible is largely women-led. Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard University, who is studying the groups, told Time magazine her research found 70 percent of Indivisible members are female. Skocpol said the groups already are more organized than their tea-party counterparts were at this point.
Not surprisingly, Washington Republicans aren’t fans of the Indivisible movement or their anti-Trump resistance allies. State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said GOP representatives have had to deal with activist “tantrums,” pointing to a “die-in” at Reichert’s office that protested the Republican health-care overhaul.
“I think it is an organized resistance movement that relies on aggression and intimidation to be heard,” Heimlich said. “I don’t think that type of action plays well with voters in Washington state.”
Lily Aguilar Smith, an Issaquah benefits consultant and another leader of the 8th District Indivisibles, said they have plenty of justification for anger at Trump’s presidency.
“There is definite outrage. That is driven by the fact that we see somebody basically ignoring the rule of law and trying to tear down progress that has been made,” she said.
Aguilar Smith showed up at the alehouse meeting last month wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “For a Good Time Call (202)-224-3121” — the phone number for the U.S. Capitol switchboard. She works the phones regularly herself, placing nearly daily calls and texts to Reichert’s office, as well as the offices of U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
“I had been on autopilot for the last eight years,” she said. “I am far more engaged now than I ever have been in my life.”
State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said she counts Indivisibles as “key allies,” and a home for people who may not be comfortable within the official party structure. “For many folks, this is their first foray into politics,” she said.
Democrats have held a dozen training sessions in the 8th District and trained a thousand volunteers, including many Indivisible members, Podlodowski said. While Indivisible leaders say they want to pull the Democratic Party to the left, local organizers say they count independents and former Republicans among their members.
Indivisible groups in the 8th District have organized not just in the Seattle suburbs like Issaquah and Sammamish, but also across the Cascade Mountains in the district’s more rural stretches of Kittitas and Chelan counties.
Indivisible Wenatchee has acted as a coming-out party for some liberals who’d previously felt like isolated blue dots in a conservative red county.
“We’re normalizing the fact that, hey, we’re here too,” said Lael Isola, an Indivisible member who moved to Wenatchee from Olympia two years ago.
Kelly Anderson, a community-college instructor, created the Indivisible Wenatchee Facebook group in December 2016. It now has more than 1,200 members.
“Living in Wenatchee is challenging for people who are liberal,” Anderson said, citing a “culture of politeness” discouraging political activism.
While the national Indivisible movement is focused on Trump and Congress, Anderson said much of the Wenatchee group’s activity has zeroed in on issues closer to home. The group has supported progressive School Board candidates and campaigned to remove the name of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from an elementary school.
“We focus on the state and national things some. But the secret, I think, to being successful here, to change the political climate in Wenatchee, is to get people, little by little, out of their zone,” she said.
This fall, Anderson said Indivisibles hope to unseat conservative state Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee. He is being challenged by Ann Diamond, a doctor and Winthrop medical-clinic founder, who is running as an independent. Condotta, who has held the seat since 2003 and won re-election two years ago with 63 percent of the vote, doesn’t seem too worried.
“I wish them luck with that,” Condotta said. He said there is no doubt Democrats are charged up this year and the Indivisible movement is a sign of that.
“I think it has reinvigorated the Democrats,” he said. “I respect that.”
But, Condotta said, “Trump is not a problem over here, he is absolutely loved and adored by two-thirds of the people in the district.”
Anderson said that, come this fall, Condotta — and Rossi — might be surprised.
“There is a definite argument that there are more liberal people here than you think,” she said. They didn’t speak up much before, Anderson said, but lately “I have seen people becoming a lot more bold.”