Indivisible on Offense: Implementing the New Strategy Locally

Chapter 1 describes how the new Congress, with a new Democratic House majority, can demand a new strategy. This chapter explains how your Indivisible group can effectively put this strategy into effect.

In this chapter, we’ll cover:

  1. How to structure an ask for YOUR MoCs using this guide

  2. How to organize locally to implement this strategy

  3. Tactics that actually make your MoCs listen

  4. Ways that Indivisible National can support your work

Section 1: Make Good “Asks” to Make Your MoC Act

When meeting with constituents, just about all MoCs and their staffers thrive on strategic ambiguity. They want constituents to feel heard and represented, but they don’t want to have to do too much work. This is true even for friendly Democratic MoCs. They don’t want to be tied down — they want to maintain flexibility to act or not act as they see fit.

Well, that’s not our goal as Indivisibles — we want them to use their power to actively fight for us. Even our friendly Democratic MoCs need a nudge from time to time. To make sure they listen and follow through, it is extremely important to craft effective “asks” for your MoCs. You want them do something, so you ask.

The 3 S’s of a good “ask.” Any good ask for a MoC meets at least these three criteria, which, conveniently, all begin with the letter S. Good asks are “Triple S Asks” — specific, strategic, and seeable:

  1. It’s specific: Asks are not about philosophizing, they’re about prompting specific action. So your ask should be time-limited and precise. For instance, “Vote no on x bill,” or “Ask x witness about y issue at the hearing on z date.”

  2. It’s strategic. The reason you’re asking at all is because you want achieve something. If your MoC follows through on your ask, what will be accomplished? For instance, “Co-sponsor x bill” builds support for a policy you prefer, while “Make a speech about x issue” might not accomplish anything.

  3. It’s seeable. Look, we’ll say it, MoCs are really crafty. They’re politicians (yes, the Democrats, too)! Trust but always verify. If the action you’re asking for cannot be observed and verified, you will not be able hold your MoCs accountable for following through. You can check to see how they voted, you can watch the video of a hearing, you can ask to see the letter they sent.

The more you know about your MoCs, the more effective you can be at getting them to do what you want!

We know that pushing your Members of Congress can be a little intimidating, so it helps to go in with as much information as possible about their positions. Once you’ve looked up who your Representative and two Senators are, here are a few more basics to help you learn more:

  • How to check what committees your MoCs are on:

  • How to check if your MoC has co-sponsored a bill you support: You can find just about everything you want to know on Congress.gov.

    • Using the search bar at the top, you can search by your MoC or by the bill name or number.

    • Once you’ve found the bill you’re interested in, click the tab labeled “Co-sponsors” and search to see if your MoC is a current co-sponsor. (See below.)
      Image of how to check Co-sponsors on Congress.gov

  • How to check how your MoC voted on a bill:

    • Find the bill (or vote) you’re interested using Congress.gov, just as you did before.

    • This time, click on the tab labeled “Actions.” From here you’ll see whether the bill has received a vote. If it has, there will be a link to the recorded vote, called “Roll no. ###”.

    • Click on the “Roll no.” link and search to see whether your MoC voted for or against the bill.

  • How to check what the House is working on: The Majority Leader in the House (not to be confused with the much more powerful Majority Leader in the Senate) is responsible for notifying the caucus and the public about what will get floor time in the House. You can find out what the House will be voting on by visiting the Majority Leader’s website: https://www.majorityleader.gov/schedule/.

Plans on Capitol Hill can change quickly, but there are a couple of good ways to keep track of what’s happening. The Senate Democrats’ “Floor Watch” Twitter account does a good job of keeping track of what’s happening in the Senate. The House Democrats’ “Cloakroom” Twitter account does the same for the House. And sign up for our email list through our website — every week, we send out updates on what we expect to happen on the Hill and how you can be most impactful in your advocacy.

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A veritable smorgasbord of good asks for your MoCs.  

Your MoCs — particularly House Democrats, since they’re in the majority— have a range of tools at their disposal that you can and should ask them to use in order to advance bold progressive policy, continue to play defense, and hold the Trump administration accountable. Some tools are more effective than others, depending on the objective. And some tools are more appropriate for only some Members, based on their committee assignments. Here is an overview of the tools your Democratic House Member has in the majority, and when they are most effectively deployed by which Members.

In this section, we cover 8 types of asks you should consider:

  1. Use their vote.

  2. Co-sponsor legislation

  3. Introduce legislation

  4. Use oversight authority, including investigation and subpoenas

  5. Write letters to the administration demanding answers

  6. Leverage procedural tools to slow the Republican agenda

  7. Join a caucus

  8. Publicly urge leadership to give greater attention to an issue

1. Use their vote. It may sound obvious, but it’s worth stating explicitly: Often the most effective tool your MoC has is the vote. With control of the House, your Democratic House Members can and should use their votes to support progressive legislation and oppose legislation that falls short. The Democratic leadership will expect unequivocal support from rank-and-file Members on whatever they put forward — but your Democratic Members can and should withhold their support of legislation that sells out our values in the name of striking deals with Trump.

What should I ask my MoC? To state the obvious, it matters how every MoC votes. But it will be crucial for Democrats to stick together as a caucus to resist Republican-controlled Senate-initiated deals with Trump. And it will be most crucial if your Representative is a progressive Democrat for those MoCs to vote together as a bloc to continually push the Speaker toward more progressive policies.

2. Co-sponsor legislation. There are a lot of bills introduced during a given Congress, and most will never get a vote on the House or Senate floor. One way MoCs can move their bills to the forefront of leadership’s attention is to rack up the number of its co-sponsors. Co-sponsoring legislation is a way that MoCs signal their strong support for a bill, and that the support is locked in. Your MoCs should co-sponsor only the progressive bills they want to see move forward for a vote in committee and on the floor.

What should I ask my MoC? This approach to co-sponsorship is important for all Members, so you can ask them to co-sponsor the right bills no matter what their committee assignments are.

3. Introduce their own legislation. Any MoC can do this. And before legislation can go anywhere, it has to be introduced. But before that, your MoC should do the legwork to hear from stakeholders and constituents (that is, you!) before they introduce a bill.

What should I ask my MoC? You can ask your MoC to introduce legislation that advances your progressive policy priorities. They might tell you that a bill has already been introduced by someone else, or is in the works to be introduced. If that’s the case, ask them to co-sponsor it. But if there’s no other bill, ask them to introduce the legislation and actively recruit co-sponsors.   

4. Use oversight authority, including investigation and subpoenas. All Members of Congress — including yours, whether Republican or Democrat — have an obligation to responsibly use their oversight authority to hold the Trump administration accountable for its rampant corruption, abuse of federal resources, and conflicts of interest.

What should I ask my MoC? If your MoC is a Democrat in the House or a Republican in the Senate who chairs a committee and/or an oversight subcommittee, you should ask that MoC  to state publicly and specifically which investigations they plan to launch and when.

What to do before you do this:

  1. Look up your MoC’s committee assignments, using the directions above.

  2. Look up the jurisdiction of those committees, using the chart in Chapter One.

  3. Pick one of the Executive Branch departments under your MoC’s jurisdiction and do a quick Google search for the Cabinet secretary and the word “investigation” (example: “Betsy DeVos investigation”). Seriously: This works for more than half the Cabinet.

  4. Choose a legitimate news source, read up on the ethical issues surrounding the Cabinet secretary, and make a direct ask of your MoC to use oversight authority to investigate.

5. Write letters to the administration demanding answers. MoCs regularly send letters of inquiry to the Executive Branch to demand answers about questionable activities or activities that are hurting their constituents. These letters are easily ignored when they come from the party in the minority — but now that Democrats have control of the House, the administration will pay more attention, because they can more easily be escalated from a letter to a question at a public hearing.  

What should I ask my MoC? You can ask your MoC to write directly to a Cabinet secretary or agency head to raise your concerns. The MoC should recruit colleagues to sign on as well, because the more Members on a letter, the likelier it is to get a response. If you raise an issue with your MoC and the response is, “Sorry, nothing Congress can do about that” — that’s not entirely true. Members can at least try this.

6. Leverage procedural tools to slow the Republican agenda. Even though Democrats have control of the House, Republicans still control the agenda in the Senate, and the Trump administration still has the authority to issue new administrative rules. But that doesn’t mean we are powerless to stop them. Procedural tools can significant slow the agenda down.

What should I ask my MoC? You should ask Senate Democrats to continue using the filibuster to block Republican legislation that advances the Trump agenda, and to withhold consent or deny quorum when it makes strategic sense.

7. Join a caucus. Caucuses are groups that MoCs join on the basis of either their values or issues that are important to them. It is intended to signal their priorities or support for an issue. Some caucuses have been around for decades, have paid staff, and are able to meaningfully advance their agendas. Other caucuses are less serious and less effective.

What should I ask my MoC? The caucuses your MoCs join — and the caucuses they don’t join — signal what kind of Members they’ll be. We want Democrats joining caucuses that prioritize our progressive values, like the Congressional Progressive Caucus or the Women’s Leaders Caucus. Of course, they should also join the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the LGBT Caucus if appropriate. But your Members should not join caucuses that work to thwart our progressive agenda. Those caucuses include the “New Dems” and the “Problem Solvers.” You can also ask your MoC to join an issue-based caucus. There are dozens of them, but, for the most part, they’re not very effective.

8. Publicly urge leadership to give greater attention to an issue. Sometimes leaders need a little nudge — or tremendous pressure — from within the caucus to prioritize an issue. For example, it’s likely that leadership will want to steer clear of abolishing ICE. But with sustained, meaningful pressure from within the caucus, that could change.

What should I ask my MoC? Giving floor speeches, issuing statements, giving a platform to affected communities, and publicly calling out leadership for not prioritizing an issue are all ways that MoCs can hold their own leadership accountable.

Section 2: Organizing Locally Using Tactics That Work

Now that you have a new strategy for a new Congress, and you know what to ask your MoCs to do, let’s talk about the most effective ways to organize locally to make Congress listen.

In this section, we’ll cover:

  1. A refresher on tactics that actually work

  2. Strategies for Indivisible groups to organize locally

  3. How we at Indivisible National can help

Refresher: Tactics That Actually Work

Fact: The Affordable Care Act would be fully repealed today if not for the nationwide grassroots mobilizations of 2017. But it wasn’t just constituent anger that saved the ACA; on the contrary, it was determined, local organizing focused on Members of Congress, using tactics that work. We didn’t invent these strategies and tactics — we took them directly from the Tea Party, which used them to bring President Obama’s agenda to a halt. (See our original Guide to learn more.)

Case Study: Resisting TrumpCare in Maine

Local Indivisible groups in Maine were instrumental in protecting the  Affordable Care Act.

Working closely with the Indivisible organizing team and other progressives in Maine, local Indivisible groups used the above lessons to pressure Senator Collins into voting against TrumpCare. Groups across the state worked together to make sure each of her six offices heard directly from constituents demanding that she vote to protect the ACA. One group even drove four hours to ensure that her northernmost office was covered. 

An MoC may be able to ignore constituents if there are just one or two people making phone calls, but by working together the groups demonstrated that every corner of the state was committed to defeating TrumpCare (and to finding a new Senator if their current one wouldn’t represent their interests).

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5 Rules for Planning a Tactic:
  1. What your MoC cares about: re-election. When it comes to influencing Members of Congress, the one guiding principle to keep in mind is: it’s all about re-election. That is always on their minds. After all, you just elected them to office, so they know how important you are. This doesn’t mean there aren’t principled MoCs who really believe in the work they’re doing and actually want to make a difference for their constituents. But even they have to be elected and re-elected in order to accomplish those things. To get re-elected, MoCs are obsessed with crafting their local image as good, diligent, and attentive MoCs. Your tactics should take advantage of that overriding desire. Anything tactic that threatens that local image will be taken very seriously by an MoC. 
  2. The more effort you put into your tactic, the better. More effort shows that you care — and caring means that you’re more likely to do other things, like either help them get re-elected or work to support their opponent. When you show up, in person, with a group, it signals that there is real discontent among constituents. This disrupts that MoC’s decision-making process and requires them to make effort to do damage control. On the flip side, advocacy tactics that don’t take much effort, don’t come from an MoC’s constituents, and don’t generate attention aren’t impactful. 
  3. Stay local. You don’t need to travel to Washington to pressure your MoC. Members will prioritize what their constituents back at home — those who will be voting for or against them — care about. That means a local action covered by local news — for example, at a district office or a town hall — will have more of an impact than attending a march or rally in D.C. 
  4. In-person group actions are more effective. The closer you can get to an MoC, the more effective that tactic will be. A visit to an MoC’s district office is more effective than a call; a call is more effective than a letter; a letter is more effective than a tweet or a Facebook post; and a petition is pointless (staffers usually can’t even enter it into their system for tracking calls, so they’ll just toss it). And you should find strength in numbers. It’s much harder for MoCs and their staff Members to dismiss large groups showing up and yelling at them than a single person. That’s why it’s important to coordinate group actions.
  5. Pictures or it didn’t happen. Actions that get covered by local media are the best of all.  All MoCs want to generate positive local press coverage and avoid negative attention that suggests they are facing backlash, which will make it harder for them to get re-elected. They can ignore you, or even a group of you, but they can’t ignore local coverage that makes them look bad. Hold larger events or events with creative visuals. Invite reporters. And always be sure to record everything and share it all on social media. 

More About Local Media Coverage: Why It’s Essential and How to Get It

MoCs care enormously about maintaining a good image in their hometown media. They want to appear in-touch, well-liked, and competent. They want to get local coverage of their work on certain policy issues whenever possible — and to talk about issues where their position is unpopular as little as they can. Splashy cable TV shows are nice, but local media really are where MoCs’ careers live and die, and where their legacy matters most. Local media coverage forces your MoCs and their staff to spend time reckoning with your issues and your stories.

An added bonus: Media coverage helps to expand our movement by making others in your community aware of your Indivisible group’s work. It helps to recruit new Members!

Where To Start: Building a Media List

Working with local media may seem confusing if you’ve never done it before. The best place to start is to learn who’s who.

Every Member of Congress has a short list of local reporters who cover that MoC regularly. It’s part of the job for these reporters to keep tabs on the votes they take and to find interesting ways to show their impact on real people in their district. As a local Indivisible group, you’re going to be able to make that job easier.

Start by Googling around and reading recent local newspaper and radio stories on your MoC. You’ll find a lot of the same reporters’ names come up over and over again. Gathering a list of those names, looking for their email addresses as you go: That’s the beginning of your media list.

The next time you plan an event or engage in another one of the tactics, introduce yourself to these folks and send them the information. Congratulations: Your Indivisible group’s media outreach program is now underway!

Learn more about the Indivisible Project’s media training resources, including:

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With those rules in mind, here are 7 tactics to make your MoCs listen:

  1. District office visits. Members of Congress have offices back home in their districts for a reason — to serve the constituents they represent. A district office is a good place for your group to show up, meet with staff or the MoC, and draw attention to your concerns.  Read more here from the original Indivisible Guide about how to have impactful district office events.

  2. Coordinated phone calls. While showing up in person is always the best tactic, flooding an MoC’s phone lines can also have an impact. Check our online resources (we update these nearly daily!) for call scripts that your group can use, and read more here, from the original Indivisible Guide, on how to maximize your impact through phone calls.

  3. Earned media events. Your MoC’s local office is also a great location for protests with creative visuals. These are easy and appealing for reporters to cover, and they can result in news stories that pack a punch. Indivisible groups earned great coverage by holding “die-ins” to protest their MoCs’ support for TrumpCare, and “retirement parties” to signal that voting for Trump’s tax bill would end their MoCs’ political careers. Tailor your tactics to your group’s talents and interests. These types of creative, fun events are great at getting media coverage. Here’s more on how to get press coverage of your events.

  4. Town halls and public events. Town halls and public events are ideal for showing up in a group and making your voices heard. Footage of angry constituents demanding answers in person is one of the most effective ways to force attention on MoCs and hold them accountable. Demanding their attention and disrupting their preferred narrative is an effective way to draw attention to your concerns and influence their decision-making in the public eye. Read more here about showing up at public events, and more here about maximizing impact at a town hall.

  5. Statewide (or districtwide) public letters. Another way to increase the pressure is to coordinate with other Indivisible groups and jointly write a letter to your MoC, listing the co-signing groups. After submitting the letter to your MoC’s office, email it to your local media list. Letters like this are a great way to demonstrate the depth of local support for your cause. It’s something reporters can easily quote and cite in their next story about your issue. You can also try submitting your letter to the Letters to the Editor section of your local papers, inquiring whether they might run it in the letters or op-ed sections.  

  6. Letters to the editor. Letters to the editor in your local newspaper that mention your MoC by name are a great way to get their attention. MoCs and their staff members regularly review press clips that mention that MoC, including letters to the editor, meaning that your advocacy will get noticed and discussed in the office. Read here for more on how to advocate using LTEs.

  7. Op-eds. The op-ed sections of local newspapers are some of the most valuable pieces of real estate in media. MoCs regularly use local op-ed pages to write their own narratives and shape public opinion showcasing their leadership. By writing your own op-eds, you can be a part of shaping that narrative. Whether you support or oppose your MoCs, getting into the op-ed space is a great way to hold them accountable. Read more here on writing op-eds that make a difference.

Why contacting MoCs who don’t represent you is a bad idea.

Do not contact MoCs who are not your MoC. 

There are NO exceptions to this rule — even if those MoCs are in leadership, even if they’re on a relevant committee, and even if they’re making a decision that affects us all. Members of Congress simply do not care about calls and pressure from non-constituents, and calling them anyway will be counterproductive. If you jam up the phone lines with your out-of-state calls, you’re diluting the power of actual constituents. We know it’s tempting, but it’s important to avoid doing this. Read more here about why you should never call MoCs who aren’t yours.

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Tactics for Building a Strong, Sustainable Indivisible Group

We know that the tactics we’ve covered are best carried out as part of a local, powerful group. Here are some ways for you to build and strengthen your Indivisible group to carry out these strategies.

By now you should be part of a local Indivisible group. If you haven’t joined up, that’s Step One! There are local Indivisible groups in every congressional district, so chances are there is an Indivisible group near you. Find it here. If there isn’t, you can start one! Read more here about how to organize an Indivisible group in your community. And be sure to register your group to become a part of the nationwide Indivisible network.

Expand and strengthen your group. Make it a top priority to recruit new members (learn more in our How to Make New Friends! explainer) and develop group leadership (learn more in our Building a Great Leadership Team explainer). Developing your group will take work, but it will pay off in the long run.

Connect with other Indivisible groups. As a starting point, your group can combine energy and resources with nearby Indivisible groups. This can help your group reduce redundancy, expand your reach, and build your power. Many Indivisible groups have already coordinated to build statewide networks that share information and work together (Indivisible Illinois and Indivisible CA: StateStrong are two examples). Start by reaching out to the Indivisible Organizing team. We can let you know if there are already Indivisible groups coordinating with one another in your community and put you in touch with other active local groups. You also find other registered Indivisible groups near you here.

Build partnerships with directly affected communities. Trump’s agenda explicitly targets immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ people, the poor and working class, women, and other vulnerable communities. It is critical that your resistance reflect and center the voices of those who are most directly threatened by the Trump agenda.  This is not only because the Trump agenda targets particular communities, but also because Trump himself is a product of a broader racist and bigoted GOP agenda that services the white and wealthy. You can read more about forming local partnerships here, and more on building inclusion here.

Lean on Indivisible National

Work with your National Indivisible organizer! Did you know that there is a full-time organizer on Indivisible National’s staff dedicated to providing you with resources and support in your activism for your state? Your organizer is a true partner in this fight. They can connect you with other Indivisible groups, provide strategic guidance, connect with an expert from our policy team or other National resources, and help you build your local movement. Connect with your Organizer here and take advantage of what they have to offer you and your Indivisible group!

Use our map. You know about our map to find a local group. But our map of events happening around the country is just as important. We’ve worked hard to make our group and events map intuitive and ready for Indivisible groups to use in working to build attendance for events and strengthen their numbers.

Help us recruit for your events to expand your group. Any event on our map by Wednesday at 11:59 pm ET will be sent to folks in the event’s area in the “Find an Indivisible event near you” section of that week’s newsletter. This newsletter goes out to our entire national list (that’s a lot of people!) — it’s a great way to reach possible new group members.

Sign up to get the latest news and updates from Indivisible. Indivisible National regularly shares updates on legislation, the most impactful calls to action based on where you live and who your Members of Congress are, resources to demystify the way Congress and elections work, toolkits for planning events and getting press and social coverage, and other news and opportunities for you and your Indivisible group. Sign up here.

Follow us on social and tag us to amplify your work. Just like our emails, our social feeds are a great way to stay in the know on breaking news, analysis from our in-house policy wonks and campaign strategists, and the latest movement calls to action. It’s also a good way to stay up to date on what’s happening with other Indivisible groups around the country. Follow us on Twitter @IndivisibleTeam, on Facebook, and on Instagram. And don’t forget, we love to feature the work you’re doing on your home turf, so tag us on Twitter in your photos and videos so we can amplify you!

Our website is a critical resource for you.

Nearly every day, our team at Indivisible National is researching, writing, and publishing resources on indivisible.org to make it easier for you and your group to take action to hold your MoCs accountable (and win elections!). Check back regularly for the latest in resources, trainings, the IndivisiBlog, and the best of Indivisible news around the country (and a lot more).

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Join our nationally coordinated network. Our strategy remains the same: local groups taking local actions that actually make Congress listen. To support this strategy, we are leveraging our national resources to train and support local groups on the ground. This means building a national network of Indivisible groups to coordinate strategies and actions, and building local leadership and organizers on the ground — and we want you and your group to be a part of our network.

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Indivisible on Offense: A Practical Guide to the New, Democratic House by Indivisible Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.