On January 5th, fifteen days before Donald Trump was to be sworn in as President of the United States, 35 people from across Chicago met in the back room of Gideon Welles, a local bar in Lincoln Square. The goal was simple: figure out how to oppose the Trump administration and ensure democratic values were not completely eroded over the next four years. None of us quite knew what we were doing, but with the Indivisible Guide at our ready, we were game.
A month later we had our second meeting. 450 people backed into a middle school gym, fired up and ready to go. From that day forward, Indivisible Chicago joined with neighborhood groups across the city. Since those first days in the back room of a bar, we've grown to over 3,000 members, working with more than a dozen neighborhood groups.
Our voice is heard; our presence is felt
The February Congressional recess was our first real chance to make our voices heard. What started as an idea of pushing back at one representative who was not working hard enough for us turned into an opportunity to rally at every office in Chicago. And then we decided, why not go for broke, and throw an event in every single congressional district in Illinois? Eighteen districts in all had events, ranging from a presentation of thank you cards to protests denouncing the spineless Illinois' Republican party's refusal to stand up to Trump and put country before party. Over a thousand people across the state joined in and our voices were heard, demanding investigation into Trump and stronger defense of the Affordable Care Act. But we were just getting started.
A couple weeks later, at a town hall being hosted by Representative Gutierrez, a representative from Indivisible Humboldt-Logan was in attendance and stepped up to speak with the congressman. But she did much more than ask a question. She stepped up to the microphone and reminded the congressman that he ran unopposed in the last election and he'd hardly lose votes by fighting back against Trump. He had nothing to lose, so why not go for broke. She presented him with a wrench, and asked him to be the wrench in the gears of the Trump administration. Three days later he was speaking on the floor of the House, and mentioned a constituent who had given him a wrench, and he vowed to be that wrench in the gears. And the following week after that he was arrested for refusing to leave the ICE offices. He had taken Indivisible's message to heart.
At the Statewide Day of Action, one of the primary requests made of Congressman Quigley was that he hold a town hall. He had expressed that he doesn't like doing town halls, and we had let him know that it's important to do them anyway. In the end, he agreed and a town hall was set for April. He was joined by Congresswoman Schakowsky and Senator Durbin. The town hall was a rousing success, with over 650 people joining us between the main hall and the overflow room and another 300 watched on the live stream. The most important thing was that over 700 questions were submitted to our members of Congress and we were able to bring constituent concerns to the floor and get our representatives to commit to taking actions on Russia, health care, and immigration. The voice of the people was heard. It was participatory democracy at its finest.
We have not rested on these victories, continuing to push forward. We are working on a city-wide level approach, meeting with Tom Tresser in Printer's Row to discuss his book "Chicago is Not Broke" and formulate a plan to advance the city we deserve. Indivisible South Side remains deep in planning and organizing, making press for their work. When Joe Walsh, legendary dead-beat dad came to visit, we worked with the 39th Ward Democrats to protest his presence and dwarf a meager GOP gathering with our presence. Every day we expand our sphere of influence and our impact grows.
Congress, we are watching you
Desperate to keep their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Republican congress was forced to attempt to replace a health care bill that had grown in popularity over after the election. The bill they came up with was a disaster, and would have cost 24 million Americans insurance over the next 10 years and drive premiums up drastically, especially for the elderly. On the plus side, it did give tax breaks to the wealthy, so at least it had that going for it. The bill was a mess, it was dangerous, and it could not be allowed to pass.
Indivisible was a driving force all across the country, with people showing up at town halls decrying the efforts to repeal the very health care bill that had saved their lives and replace it with something that was nothing more than a tax break for the rich. Members of Indivisible from all across the country called their members of Congress and let them know that they would be packing their bags if they voted for this bill. Here in Chicago, we phone banked, calling democrats in Illinois' red districts and asking them to call their representatives. Indivisible 123GO out of Beverly and a group of members of Indivisible Chicago on the north side gathered a dozen people at each location with only 24 hours notice, a true call to action. Thousands of calls were made and hundreds of connections. Our first phone banking test? We nailed it.
That week, we met at the Federal building, our own members declaring support for Obamacare before a fired up crowd before marching to Trump Tower. The next day the bill died and never came to vote. If it had not been for the hundreds of thousands of calls made by Indivisible groups across the country, our Republican reps would have undoubtedly voted for the bill. It was our calls that dragged them away from the party leadership and reminded them they're beholden to their constituents, not to the big "R" next to their name.
But Trumpcare would not die. With the 100 day deadline approaching, Trump forced a new attempt at passing a slightly worse version of AHCA. The new bill would still have 24 million people losing healthcare, but now states can effectively deny people due to pre-existing conditions. But because of how terrible this bill was, the Freedom Caucus signed off, putting extra pressure on the people to push the moderate Republicans left. And what happened? The movement mobilized. We made calls. And as of the morning of Friday, April 28th, a vote for the bill was delayed because they don't have the votes. The people will not be denied.
After the utter failure of the AHCA, the Trump administration turned to getting Neil Gorsuch on the bench. Falling somewhere to the right of Scalia, Gorsuch was an unacceptable appointment for a President under investigation for colluding with the Russians. Indivisible had a simple request: require 60 votes to confirm Scalia's replacement on the court. If Gorsuch couldn't get 60 votes, then they could change the candidate to someone more moderate. On Monday, both Illinois senators were on the fence as to whether they would filibuster the nomination.
So we called. We called all day Monday, flooding their lines. We went to social media and asked that they require 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch. By Tuesday, Senator Durbin had agreed to support our stance and released a statement declaring his support for the filibuster. We had yet to hear from Senator Duckworth, and so we kept calling. We called every day that week until finally, at the end of the week, she released a statement agreeing to filibuster. The Senate had the numbers to filibuster. Of course, Mitch McConnell killed the filibuster and Gorsuch got his majority, but it was still a victory in the end. The Republicans had to burn a lot of political capital in nuking the filibuster and that will come back to haunt them in the future.
Defending the citizens of Illinois
We fight back against Trump at the Federal level, but another thing we can do is fight back against the Trump agenda by putting laws on the books here in Illinois to protect against his agenda. One major victory for Indivisible has been the progress of HB780 and SB982, bills to require 5 years of tax returns to get on the Illinois ballot. This is a bill put in place to codify a norm that's being flouted by the current president. The job of president requires an extra level of vetting and transparency and this bill was all about ensure that future presidential candidates have to meet some reasonable standards. Indivisible rallied around this bill and through calls and the signing of witness slips, we were able to push it out of committee and to a floor vote. We worked with the offices of Senator Biss and Representative Andrade, even going so far as to lobby in Springfield for the bill. Then, on Thursday, April 27th, SB982 passed the floor vote and moves onto the house! Indivisible's hands were all over this bill and we can take some pride in getting this bill ones step closer to Rauner's desk.
In the days since Indivisible began to get involved in state legislation, we've helped push HB40 through the Illinois house with a phone banking push and helped raise over a thousand witness slips in support of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. We are a big voice in state politics and are driving legislation to protect the citizens of Illinois against the policies being enacted at the federal level. With the relationships we are developing with our state legislators, this is again just the beginning.
The first 100 days have felt like 1,000. The constant barrage of hate spewing from Washington, often 140 characters at a time, makes it feel like every day is an emergency. But slowly and surely we are winning. The administration was not prepared to fight against an activated citizen force, a movement like history has never seen before. And so yes, a week can feel like a month, but we are winning. And we will win.
The futures is ours. And until we can reclaim that future, we will resist.
Founder, Indivisible Chicago