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The Indivisible Guide to Activism Smarts

As we contemplate the so-called ‘filter bubble’ – our hermetic audiences of like-minded people – and how it has recently had such inordinate impact on our political and social culture in the election cycle of 2016, people (meaning us, creatures who seek ease in our digital lives) are tempted to adopt software fixes and tweaks to our Facebook community.

“Some Americans are interested in peeking outside their filter bubbles right now, which gives tech companies an incentive to cater to their desires.”*

Escape Your Bubble is a plug-in (by Google) that brings alternative political views to your Facebook newsfeed:

“Each story appears with a pink heart icon and a banner that says: ‘Happily inserted by your EscapeYourBubble Chrome Extension :)’ ” *

*https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/arts/the-battle-over-your-political-bubble

Other folks are interested in how to make their bubble more tangible, more real, an actual community. Continual protests large and small in major cities are translating this interest into mass spectacle. But after the photos are tagged on Facebook and the crowds disperse, is there any lasting effect? Has community occurred?

Enter the Indivisible Guide, an entity whose purpose is to help organize citizen resistance to the agenda of the Trump administration. It presents a web based interface that allows individuals to grapple with the complex process of political reaction, and offers to contextualize that engagement as group activity. Its capitalizes on feelings needful of assuagement – the depression and dismay of Democrat voters (‘what do I do?’) – and its simplicity accommodates the attention deficit of the general public (‘how do I do it easily?’). Its single-minded messages

  • Members of Congress are motivated only by reelection
  • Members of Congress are influenced by citizen pressure 

can be seen as a model for reframing virtual engagement (the Facebook bubble) into physical community (actual people, albeit still inbubbled with their likeminded peers).

Epistemology

Indivisible Guide is a signature bundle of ‘products’ which includes

  • A simple website to offer mission, history and email registration (what, why, who)
  • A consumer guide (how)
  • A map to find local groups (where)
  • Resources for starting local groups

Smartness – door number One:  Download the Guide

What to do: read the Guide (online, offline, English, Spanish), to gain intelligence.

The methodology in the Guide has its roots in the proven effectiveness of Tea Party activism.

The Guide provides some historical context, in that the Tea Party methodology (“freeze it, attack it, personalize it, polarize it”) stems directly from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, the ‘60s guide for protesting the war in Vietnam. On the one hand this may give a sense of historical balance – stoic acknowledgment of how radical opinion swings back and forth from one era to the next. On the other hand, for the audience the Guide is intended for – blue, largely urban and coastal – this history comes with a comforting dollop of ironic knowingness:

 “any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.”  -Saul Alinsky


Smartness – door number Two: Take Action Locally

Where to go: suit your locale, time or affinity –find or create a community.

There are over 50 groups local to NYC that are registered with the Guide.

An individual joining or creating a local group is a big step in the direct action purpose of the Guide, as opposed to an individual’s passive participation in just registering their email, or even donating. These of course have value to IndivisibleGuide but not to its goal of leveraging direct citizen action, nor to the social side effect of creating real world community in local groups.


Execution – the IndivisibleGuide is well formulated for leveraging ‘the tenor of the times.’ According to one of its authors, Billy Fleming,

“Today, indivisibleguide.com has been viewed 17 million times.

The original Guide has been downloaded over 2 millions times.
1,520 events registered and 27,000 RSVPs (in the last 2 weeks).”

Note that the Guide does not create local groups.
But it can mark as a success, the sprouting of hundreds of local groups across the US.


Weaknesses

The core value of direct engagement with each citizen’s 2 Senators and 1 Representative is very much a realpolitik approach to change. This working within the system can be viewed by some as an unacceptable compromise of the sort that put Hillary Clinton ahead of Bernie Sanders and lost the Electoral College.

Messiness is endemic to organically arising communities – there is tension between leadership and membership, a tendency towards chaos, difficulties with priorities, concern about failure to progress or the seeming failure to progress, and drop-off, burnout and fatigue among members. Furthermore, a host of affinity issues clamors for the attention and direction of members and their local groups, and emotions are strongly stoked by the sitting administration’s media tactics. Not to mention fear of infiltration, and for the future.

But these are the messes of real-world organizing. Summing up in terms of urbane and spatial intelligences, the Indivisible site and Guide are simple and effective digital interfaces for enhancing smart citizenry and physical community.

– Jeffrey Marino




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