One month into his tenure as the one of the most disliked US presidents in modern history, Donald Trump has created far more headlines than actual policy. Aside from his incendiary rhetoric—painting the media as an “enemy,” implying the courts may be culpable for some future attack—Trump’s legislative feats, so far, are scant.
But it’s still early in this administration, and the president has plenty of time—at least 47 months, in fact—to find ways to achieve his most ambitious goals, from an effective (and somehow Constitutional) Muslim ban to eradicating the Affordable Care Act. By the same token, the “resistance”—that amorphous collective of anti-Trump protesters, writers, and legislators—should not be patting itself on the back just yet. As evidenced by the loud and often tumultuous town halls that greeted this week’s Congressional recess, this fight is only beginning.
Just as Trump’s cabinet is rethinking its policy strategy, those who would oppose Trump’s agenda must spend this spring refining their own approach. Crowdsourced guides like “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” are part of this effort. The new blueprint provides a series of relatively straightforward building blocks. Importantly, the guide notes the importance of pressuring Congress, as well as the White House. Both the House and the Senate, despite their current fealty to the president, still have the tools to derail Trump’s darker visions for America.
Guides like “Indivisible” understand that grassroots disruption is one of the best ways to build strong movements. After a frustrating Electoral College defeat, American liberals know they may have sheer numbers on their side—but they don’t have the structure. Instead of depending on big money organizations like the Democratic National Committee, the anti-Trump movement needs to follow in the footsteps of the Tea Party, which decimated Democratic legislatures at the state and Congressional level across the country during the Obama years. The Tea Party used highly effective messaging and unrelenting enthusiasm. (As The American Prospect’s Paul Waldman wrote this week, “midterm elections are all about enthusiasm—which almost always means anger.”)
The most striking thing about this strategy is its simplicity. The Tea Party didn’t simply bring a hefty turnout to the polls, or employ the kind of sophisticated door-to-door approach that ultimately did not work for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. It also cranked up an angry roar of protest that drowned out the Democratic response.
Despite its seeming spontaneity, the Tea Party was well-prepared. Trump opponents will need to similarly research how their Congressional and local officials have voted. There are plenty of websites that track votes, including VoteSmart.org. Websites like OpenSecrets.org can help track funding (although it’s prudent to crosscheck findings against the investigative reporting of media outlets). Setting up a Google Alert for specific politicians is also a good way to keep informed in real time.
On the ground, local advocacy groups will need to seek out similar communities already in existence; no matter the county or constituency, many Americans are concerned by Trump’s policy proposals. Indeed, this is where Trump opponents may actually find themselves better positioned than the Tea Party. While Obama opponents were formidable, a plurality of American voters preferred Hillary Clinton on Nov. 6. That represents a much broader coalition.
At town halls, advocates would be wise to spread out and stay organized. It’s smart to stagger questioning and, as “Indivisible” recommends, “keep a firm hold on the mic. No staffer in their right mind wants to look like they’re physically intimidating a constituent, so”—if they’re trying to wrest the microphone away from you—“they will back off.”
Meanwhile, photo-ops are a protester’s best friend. Local school events, local business openings are all opportunities to ask officials questions they may have managed to previously ignore. Indeed, the outpouring of dissent has already pushed some elected officials to sneak out of meetings incognito. Businesses care about public perception, too. A Twitter group called Sleeping Giants has successfully convinced hundreds of companies that support the alt-right website Breitbart to stop advertising with them.
In our hyper-wired world, a cellphone recording has become a key tool of protest movements and citizen journalists alike. Getting something on the record, no matter how enthusiastic or milquetoast, is a victory for advocates of all political persuasions. It’s almost impossible to know what’s going to gain traction on social media. And Congressional officials know this, too.
At the same time, however, Trump opponents in particular need to encourage open dialogue and reward those officials willing to embrace it. This is especially true when—as we saw from South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, who hosted a four-hour discussion with anti-Trump constituents over the weekend—such a move comes from unexpected quarters.
Obviously, violence runs counter to any protest’s aims. Not only does violence risk damaging the material interests of innocent bystanders, but, as Erica Chenoweth recently wrote, “states have easily exploited the appearance of violent flanks to re-assert their legitimacy and suppress larger nonviolent dissent.”
Most importantly, Trump protesters will need to persevere. Trump and members of his administration are already claiming that protesters, in an echo of the Tea Party’s initial upswell, are little more than paid shills. That’s good news for protesters, at least; it means Trump’s team is rattled.
Resistance movements may be built on hope, but the successful ones are also built on a pushback that authorities can’t ignore. Ultimately, this means that resistance to Trump will only succeed if it manages to combine tactics with temerity. This is month one of a long slog. It will only succeed if constituents get out the vote for special elections, if they can cohere at every event and every town hall—and if they can engage and recruit non-traditional allies along the way. After all, as one of the most popular signs at the January Women’s March in Washington read, “Lots of straight white guys hate Trump too.”