NEW YORK (JTA) — The group at the forefront of “resisting the Trump agenda” started in the middle of December with a single document circulated among friends. One that was “poorly formatted” and “full of typos,” in the words of one of its authors, Leah Greenberg.
As of this week, the Indivisible guide to grassroots advocacy has been downloaded or viewed over 1.7 million times and inspired more than 5,000 local groups (with another 2,000 groups waiting to be verified), which are using it to take action on issues like preserving the Affordable Care Act, supporting public schools or challenging the administration’s immigration policies.
At the center of the efforts is one young Jewish couple, Greenberg and her husband, Ezra Levin, both former congressional staffers who founded Indivisible with three friends and former colleagues.
“I think right now we are facing an existential threat, quite literally, from this administration and this Congress,” Levin, 31, told JTA on Thursday. “The only thing that I think is going to really work, to convince Congress to do something else, is local groups [that] stand up and make their voices heard.”
The group’s document, now proofread and reworked into a sleeker 26-page version, provides progressives with practical advice, such as the best way to contact a local member of Congress (office visits are preferred over form letters), voice opposition at a town hall (stick to a prepared list of questions and be polite but persistent) and speak with the media (research local reporters and use social media to contact them).
Last week, Levin became the organization’s first paid staffer — it had been run entirely by volunteers — declining a job offer at the Georgetown Law School’s Center on Poverty and Inequality to work as Indivisible’s executive director.
“This is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done in in my life,” said Levin, who was visiting New York from Washington, D.C., to be interviewed on MSNBC and ABC.
The group is also applying to become a nonprofit organization and looking to fill eight additional job listings in “the near future,” Greenberg, 30, told JTA on Tuesday.
Greenberg said she and Levin, who serve as vice president and president, respectively, of the Indivisible board, were “very surprised” to see how quickly the guide spread. They conceived of the guide over drinks with a friend a few days after Thanksgiving — two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president.
“When we put it online we thought that our friends were going to read it, and they would go home to families at Christmas and somebody would say, ‘What can I do?,’ and our friends would give them that Google doc, and in six months somebody would email us and they’d say, ‘Hey, I used your guide at a town hall,’ and we would be really excited,” she told JTA.
The guide draws on strategies used by the Tea Party — the conservative movement that relied on grassroots advocacy to oppose President Barack Obama’s policies — to advocate against Trump.
Since December, Greenberg and Levin have been working with some 100 volunteers to add more materials to the Indivisible website and provide support to local groups.
“I have no free time. I don’t do anything except work at my regular job and work on Indivisible at this time,” said Greenberg, the policy director for the gubernatorial campaign of Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello, for whom she worked as a staff assistant when he served in Congress. Greenberg also worked on efforts to combat human trafficking for the foundation Humanity United and at the State Department.
Greenberg, a native of Chevy Chase, Maryland, met Levin, of Buda, Texas, through the alumni network of their alma mater, Carleton College in Minnesota. Prior to working with Indivisible, Levin worked as deputy policy director for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, and for a think tank, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, where he focused on policy related to homelessness and poverty.
Greenberg draws motivation from her Jewish background.
“I see myself as being part of a tradition of Jews organizing for social justice, and recognizing that our own status of a minority group that has been persecuted calls on us to support others who are under attack,” said Greenberg, who identifies as a Reform Jew.
She was reminded of the anti-Semitism experienced by her ancestors last weekend when the St. Louis-area cemetery where four of her great-grandparents are buried was the target of vandalism that left over 100 gravestones damaged.
Levin, who was raised by a Jewish father and a Southern Baptist mother, identifies as “culturally Jewish.”
Though Indivisible is gaining steam in progressive circles, the group and the protests it has inspired have also targeted for criticism by Republicans. White House press secretary Sean Spicer described protests against Trump’s executive order restricting entry to the United States from seven mostly Muslim countries as “a very paid, AstroTurf-type movement.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah alleged that protesters who packed a town hall meeting earlier this month were part of “a paid attempt to bully and intimidate” him. Utah Indivisible encouraged attendance for the event.
Greenberg and Levin rejected claims that Indivisible pays protesters to show up at town halls and demonstrations. Greenberg said the group received all its funding from individual donations, but did not disclose whether it had received money from any major donors.
“The idea that this is some kind of centrally led financed effort from the top down is just totally wrong,” Levin said, adding “I would just call them lies, pure and simple.”
Noting that both the White House and Congress are now controlled by Republicans, the guide urges progressives to focus on voicing opposition to Trump’s policy proposals rather than urging an alternative agenda.
Greenberg said the organization is currently recommending that local groups focus their objections on efforts to appeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and efforts to limit Muslims and refugees from entering the country.
Indivisible has collaborated with a plethora of progressive groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, International Refugee Assistance Project, the United State of Women and Asian Americans Demanding Justice. Although the group has yet to partner with Jewish groups, Greenberg said Indivisible was open to doing so.
In working with a variety of groups in fighting against what they see as policies threatening the unity of the country, the group stays true to its name, which stems from the Pledge of Allegiance: “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“We were trying to think of something that had both some significance to America’s historical legacy and also express our belief that we all have to stand together,” Greenberg said.
Josefin Dolsten is a former news fellow at the Forward, writing about politics and culture, and editing the Sisterhood blog. She received an MA in Jewish Studies and Comparative Religion from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a BA in Government from Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at @josefindolsten.