The Indivisible Project was started by two former congressional staffers who were concerned about the results of the November election. The Indivisible model serves as a way for local people to oppose the Trump administration’s agenda and hold Congress accountable.
“Staff members put together this guide, and it explains how a small group of very active people could influence decisions and government, and especially at the national level,” Indivisible member Mary Wright said. “The guide basically says to get going. Call your members of Congress. This is your job. This is your country.”
Wright said there are an “enormous” number of small groups nationwide. In southern Vermont there are groups in the Deerfield Valley, Brattleboro, and Bennington, with new groups forming all the time. The southern Vermont Indivisible groups are grassroots organizations, and Wright said there isn’t too much in terms of hierarchy. It’s up to each group to decide how often they will meet, but a large responsibility of Indivisible members is to make phone calls to state representatives and senators.
“We share information about what bills are coming forward, who has been nominated for what, and we make phone calls,” Wright said. “We do our jobs of being citizens every day. Peter Welch came down to Brattleboro unexpectedly a couple weeks ago. He said to some people that the number of calls from southern Vermont is astronomical — we’re keeping them busy.”
Kit Cincotta recognized the importance of local individuals getting together to have a conversation.
“People really want to come out of the woodwork to influence change or to participate,” Cincotta said. “Part of this starting locally was to connect, to start talking, to communicate, and to put out a need to do something.”
The Indivisible movement aligns with Gill’s vision for the future of the Democratic Party. He said he would like to see the party get back to grassroots and he stressed the importance of holding discussions.
“The way you want to do it is exactly like this,” Gill said. “Go out, talk to people, hold community forums. That’s one of the biggest things you’ll see the Democratic Party doing. We’re going to hold community forums all over the state on all kinds of issues. You can’t just have one forum and expect to be done. It has to be a recurring discussion.”
Gill suggested that this doesn’t necessarily have to be a partisan effort, and that most important is that it’s about electing officials who uphold the values that are important to you.
“We have to get away from, to some extent, the party labels,” Gill said. “Let’s welcome (people) in. These are the issues we’re talking about. If you’re someone who wants to talk about health care, student debt or comprehensive tax reform, then let’s talk. My primary concern is that you’re someone who actually wants to talk about these issues.”
Gill said there is a lot of energy among citizens to get involved and do something, but many are unsure if they should direct it toward the Democratic Party.
“The Democratic Party right now is at a little bit of a crossroads,” Gill said. “A lot of people are asking, what does the Democratic Party stand for? What is its vision? My response to that is the Democratic Party stands for what it’s always stood for.”
Gill said issues like eradicating poverty, helping the middle class, and equality are still important focuses for Democrats. The main issues he would like to see the party focus on are health insurance, the rising costs of college tuition and student debt, and the environment.
“You could read a speech from 1996 and then read a speech from 2017,” Gill said. “We’re talking about the same issues: health insurance, student debt, climate change. I want the Democratic Party to come out with big, bold, new ideas. Ideas that may be controversial, and let’s discuss them. Let’s see if these are ideas that will work.”
Because it costs money to implement these ideas, Gill said there has to be more discussion on how to pay for them. “We shouldn’t be worried about saying taboo things like ‘we’re going to raise taxes,’” Gill said. “Nobody is out there just raising taxes, but we want a certain quality of life. We want the environment, we want our schools to be good, we want all these things. Well these things cost money, and they have to come from somewhere, and we have to look to see where we can get the revenue to pay it. So whether that’s the right way or not, we have to at least discuss it.”
Campaign finance reform was a concern shared by many of the attendees, and while Gill agreed that money should be taken out of politics, he indicated that steps must be taken before that can realistically happen.
“Why does it take money to win?” Gill asked. “We never ask that question. It’s because it takes that much time to reach the voters. If you want to take money out of politics, have an informed citizenry.”
An informed citizenry will also lead to higher future voter turnouts, Gill said.
“How you get an informed citizenry is going out there and basically trying to convince people,” Gill said. “I’m trying to have more volunteers, more field workers, more people going out and talking to their neighbors.”
Jack Dolan suggested looking outside of state lines to help influence change elsewhere.
“In Vermont we can pretty much rely on our delegation to do the right thing,” Dolan said. “It’s important, if you have contacts in other states, to reach out to them. Let them know what’s going on and have them call their representatives and senators.”
Gill said the Vermont Democratic Party has phone banks making calls to other states that are having elections in order to help get Democrats elected, for example in Kansas this past week. Jane Field, of Putney, said Vermonters should not take the trust they have in Vermont’s delegation for granted, because there are outside influences that are always targeting state representatives.
“It’s important to keep our state blue,” Field said. “I don’t think we can take this for granted. We have to keep the pressure on all over.”
Overall, attendees seemed optimistic that, even at the individual level, positive change can be made in Vermont that can, in turn, set an example for the rest of the country.
“Vermont has a track record of leading the nation,” Bonnie Hudspeth said. “We can’t be skittish. We are well positioned in New England, in Vermont specifically, to put forth some bills where we’re leading the nation in renewable energy, where we’re leading the nation with a single-payer (health care) system that works. Beyond Bernie Sanders, how can our state work together to set that model for the nation?”
Gill agreed that Vermont has led the nation on issues in the past, can continue to do so, and that it’s up to individuals to tell their representatives what they want to see happen and to push for their values.
“Go for issues that you believe in, whether it be climate change or getting money out of politics,” Gill said. “I think a shove is always good. More organizations are in a position to shove, and to shove hard. I would urge you to shove us hard. That is where I think the organic movement can really make a difference.”