We know this because we’ve seen it before. The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own MoCs to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism — and they won.
We believe that protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda — but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness. Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.
To this end, the following chapters offer a step-by-step guide for individuals, groups, and organizations looking to replicate the Tea Party’s success in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal, dedicated group of constituents. The guide is intended to be equally useful for stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.
We believe that the next four years depend on Americans across the country standing indivisible against the Trump agenda. We believe that buying into false promises or accepting partial concessions will only further empower Trump to victimize us and our neighbors. We hope that this guide will provide those who share that belief useful tools to make Congress listen.
Here’s the quick and dirty summary of this document. While this page summarizes top-level takeaways, the full document describes how to actually carry out these activities.
How grassroots advocacy worked to stop President Obama. We examine lessons from the Tea Party’s rise and recommend two key strategic components:
1. A local strategy targeting individual Members of Congress (MoCs).
2. A defensive approach purely focused on stopping Trump from implementing an agenda built on racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.
How your MoC thinks — reelection, reelection, reelection — and how to use that to save democracy. MoCs want their constituents to think well of them and they want good, local press. They hate surprises, wasted time, and most of all, bad press that makes them look weak, unlikable, and vulnerable. You will use these interests to make them listen and act.
Identify or organize your local group. Is there an existing local group or network you can join? Or do you need to start your own? We suggest steps to help mobilize your fellow constituents locally and start organizing for action.
Four local advocacy tactics that actually work. Most of you have three MoCs — two Senators and one Representative. Whether you like it or not, they are your voices in Washington. Your job is to make sure they are, in fact, speaking for you. We’ve identified four key opportunity areas that just a handful of local constituents can use to great effect. Always record encounters on video, prepare questions ahead of time, coordinate with your group, and report back to local media:
1. Town halls. MoCs regularly hold public in-district events to show that they are listening to constituents. Make them listen to you, and report out when they don’t.
2. Non-town hall events. MoCs love cutting ribbons and kissing babies back home. Don’t let them get photo-ops without questions about racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.
3. District office sit-ins/meetings. Every MoC has one or several district offices.
Go there. Demand a meeting with the MoC. Report to the world if they refuse
4. Coordinated calls. Calls are a light lift but can have an impact. Organize your local group to barrage your MoCs at an opportune moment about and on a specific issue.
Like us, you probably deeply disagree with the principles and positions of the Tea Party. But we can all learn from their success in influencing the national debate and the behavior of national policymakers. To their credit, they thought thoroughly about advocacy tactics, as the leaked “Town Hall Action Memo” demonstrates.
This chapter draws on both research and our own experiences as former congressional staffers to illustrate the strengths of the Tea Party movement and to provide lessons to leverage in the fight against Trump’s racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.
The Tea Party’s two key strategic choices
The Tea Party’s success came down to two critical strategic elements:
1. They were locally focused. The Tea Party started as an organic movement built on small local groups of dedicated conservatives. Yes, they received some support/coordination from above, but fundamentally all the hubbub was caused by a relatively small number of conservatives working together.
» Groups started as disaffected conservatives talking to each other online. In response to the 2008 bank bailouts and President Obama’s election, groups began forming to discuss their anger and what could be done. They eventually realized that the locally-based discussion groups themselves could be a powerful tool.
» Groups were small, local, and dedicated. Tea Party groups could be fewer than 10 people, but they were highly localized and dedicated significant personal time and resources. Members communicated with each other regularly, tracked developments in Washington, and coordinated advocacy efforts together.
» Groups were relatively few in number. The Tea Party was not hundreds of thousands of people spending every waking hour focused on advocacy. Rather, the efforts were somewhat modest. Only 1 in 5 self-identified Tea Partiers contributed money or attended events. On any given day in 2009 or 2010, only twenty local events — meetings, trainings, town halls, etc. — were scheduled nationwide. In short, a relatively small number of groups were having a big impact on the national debate.