- Jordan Blanchard
- FREEDOM WRITER: "Indivisible Guide" co-author Billy Fleming is a Fort Smith native.
Every movement has a manifesto, and for the effort to resist the policies of Donald Trump that manifesto is "Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda," available at indivisibleguide.com. Written by former congressional and White House staffers in the wake of the surprise election of Trump and released free online in mid-December 2016, the 27-page guide draws heavily on the lessons those staffers learned from the tea party movement on how small groups of average citizens can apply enough pressure to tilt the political table in their direction. The result is a blueprint for shaping the opinions of members of Congress and defend against the worst impulses of the Trump regime.
Over 100 former aides worked on the guide and the follow-up "tool kits" meant to shape the direction of the burgeoning Indivisible movement. One of those authors is Billy Fleming. Originally from Fort Smith, Fleming is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, where he served as student body president. He later worked as a junior staffer in the Obama White House, and now lives in Philadelphia, where he's teaching and studying for his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.
Fleming said the guide came about as a way for the authors to deal with their frustration over the election of Trump. "They had this sort of epiphany that we lived through this incredible period of resistance in 2009-2010 through the tea party," Fleming said. "These guys were all Hill staffers when that was going on, and they all asked themselves, 'What can we learn from that experience to help us stop as much of the bad things about the Trump agenda as we can?' They got started drafting — putting some of those thoughts into a Google doc. That's when they pulled me and some other folks in to help flesh out that document and get it ready for public consumption."
From the moment the guide was released, it was clear it had tapped the fear and energy of the left. Within hours, it had been downloaded so many times that the hosting site crashed.
"It was one of those things that we thought maybe a hundred people might read, including our parents," Fleming said. "It was pretty wild to watch it that first night, going from a few dozen people reading the Google doc online to a few hundred to a few thousand and then have it crazy within hours of it launching. It's grown beyond anything we ever could have imagined."
Fleming said the appeal of the guide is that it is so accessible. For staffers, it seemed like "Civics 101" information, but for Americans who had never reached out to their congressmen or tried to shape public policy, it was revelatory.
"Congress is viewed by a lot of people as this kind of black box that isn't accessible to them," he said. "We viewed the guide, and we still view all the work we do, as a way to demystify how all those things work in Congress and to give people the tools they need to influence and interact with their members of Congress. It shouldn't be as hard as it is to do that."
Fleming said the number of Indivisible groups that have sprung up nationwide has been incredible. While sustaining that energy throughout the Trump presidency will be a challenge, he said there have already been results. He believes the revelation that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have lied under oath about his contact with a Russian ambassador is directly attributable to pressure applied on Congress by Indivisible groups.
"Organizing work is hard work, and you win a lot and you lose a lot," he said. "I think for us, what we're trying to do is to really celebrate the wins we've had. The Jeff Sessions news? That's a big win for our chapters. Were they not constantly pressuring their members of Congress to give Jeff Sessions a full hearing in the Senate, it's highly unlikely he would have been asked the number and the types of questions he was asked. We may not have had anything on the record about his involvement with Russia."
The authors of the "Indivisible Guide" plan to keep that momentum going by periodically issuing free updates to the guide in the form of "tool kits." Recently, for example, they released a primer on how to hold events that draw public attention to members of Congress who refuse to schedule public town halls with their constituents.
Though Fleming said the fight against Trump is "a long game," he said Sen. Tom Cotton's town hall in Springdale was unlike anything he's ever seen in Arkansas politics. "We should feel heartened and we should feel proud of all our people in groups like Ozark Indivisible and across the country who are taking time out of their lives to invest in their communities and to invest in their civic responsibility in the public process of engaging in discourse with their representatives to Congress," he said. "Those are the kind of things that should be lifted up and applauded, because not enough people do it."
Still, Fleming said, people shouldn't get so caught up in the energy of the moment — and the potential for progressive wins at the polls in coming years — that they forget people will be harmed by the presidency of Donald Trump.
"People will die, people will get deported and people will lose their quality of life because of this president," he said. "However that translates into energy on the progressive side, that's great. But we should also look at this a bit more soberly and say, 'In addition to however this translates to wins down the road, what can we do to be good allies and good supporters for the people who will suffer the most under this administration?' "