MORRISTOWN, N.J. — For weeks, a swelling group has been showing up every Friday here at the local office of Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen to demand that he hold a town-hall meeting to answer its concerns about his fellow Republicans’ plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
After weeks without an answer, the congressman’s staff replied that he would be too busy, that such gatherings took considerable planning and that just finding a meeting place could be tough.
So the group, NJ 11th for Change, secured venues in all four counties that Mr. Frelinghuysen represents for times during the congressional recess this month — and constituents plan to show up even if he does not.
With congressional phone lines overloaded and district offices mobbed across the country, it’s beginning to look a lot like 2009.Continue reading the main story
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That year, horrified by a new president they saw as a radical, activists took to the streets under the Tea Party banner to protest government bailouts, then stormed forums held by congressional Democrats to fight legislation that would become the Affordable Care Act.
With methodical door-to-door campaigns in the next year’s midterm elections, the Tea Party ended the careers of some of the nation’s most senior lawmakers. It pushed the Republican Party to the right, stymied the Obama agenda and ultimately paved the way for an outsider to win the White House.
This year, it is that new president, Donald J. Trump, who is cast as a radical. And as the resistance to him on the left tries to turn the massive protest rallies of the last two weeks into political power, it is borrowing explicitly from the Tea Party playbook. The early result has been the biggest outpouring of constituent anger on members of Congress since the Tea Party’s rise.Continue reading the main story
“We borrowed the organizing and taking to the streets from the left. They’re borrowing the showing up outside offices and doing legislative contact from us,” said Brendan Steinhauser, who helped organize and train Tea Partyers as a staff member of FreedomWorks, a libertarian group in Washington.
Many of the new groups are embracing as their bible “Indivisible,” a 27-page guide written by former congressional staff members that advises Tea Party-like tactics “to resist the Trump agenda.” Just as groups like FreedomWorks used Google maps to help expand local Tea Party groups, the website for the guide helps Trump resisters find Indivisible groups near them.
Last week, groups that organized the nationwide women’s marches in January announced local “Next-Up Huddles” to plan more local political actions, starting with crowds at town forums during the congressional recess beginning Feb. 20. And another group, the Town Hall Project 2018, is keeping a list of where members of Congress will hold meetings that week, encouraging constituents to show up the way Tea Partyers did in the summer of 2009.
“I want to take our country back,” said Katie Farnan, a member of Indivisible Front Range Resistance, which is among the groups calling, writing and showing up weekly with bagels and protest signs at Senator Cory Gardner’s district offices to urge the Colorado Republican to hold town meetings. “I hate to say that because it’s so Tea Party-ish, but it feels like we’ve lost it.”
“I don’t embrace the tactics so much that I want to say let’s go to the extreme,” Ms. Farnan added. “But I do embrace the idea that if your congressman wakes up worrying that he’s not going to be re-elected, it’s a good thing. I want him to wake up worried.”
The goal is to shake Republicans away from voting the party line for Mr. Trump’s agenda, and to stiffen the spines of Democrats who might be inclined to go along with it. In Missouri, members of the new Indivisible group have been showing up every Tuesday at the office of Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, as well as her Republican counterpart, Roy Blunt. In New York, they have mobbed the district offices of Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democrats’ leader, and even demonstrated outside his Brooklyn home.
There’s some circularity here: The Tea Party loudly borrowed from the left, using as its guide “Rules for Radicals,” by Saul Alinsky, considered the father of modern community organizing. It urged followers to adopt the Alinsky playbook to block health care reform at the town halls of 2009: “freeze it, attack it, personalize it, polarize it,” as one widely circulated email advised.
Like many of the initial Tea Partyers, many of the resisters on the left say they had never been involved in politics. They simply got frustrated yelling at their televisions.Continue reading the main story
Now, they organize on social media, and download apps, like Countable, that allow them to track lawmakers’ votes and to contact them. Some are running for long-vacant Democratic precinct leadership positions as a way to gain access to voter information that they plan to use in door-to-door canvassing.
And just like many Tea Partyers, the resisters of 2017 are getting what Elaine Patterson, a constituent marching on Mr. Frelinghuysen’s office, called “a big civics lesson.”
“A friend asked me, ‘Does Congress have any say in the president’s appointees?’” Ms. Patterson recalled. “I didn’t know. I learned it was the Senate.”
The resisters insist theirs are more polite protests. “We send thank-you notes to members of Congress after we show up,” said Hillary Shields, a paralegal who helped start Indivisible Kansas City. But the Tea Partyers say they did the same thing.
And like the Tea Partyers, members of the resistance declare that the very soul of the nation is at stake.
Having watched the results of the presidential election with mounting gloom, Ms. Farnan, in Colorado, said she had to act, for her children. “I don’t want them to say, ‘What did you do when this happened?’” she said. “I’m making a paper trail. You’re going to see we did stuff.”
But while it took the Tea Party months to register as serious opposition, the resistance on the left has already rattled Capitol Hill. Congressional offices report being overwhelmed by calls, letters and faxes about Mr. Trump’s cabinet appointees. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a Republican, said she had been persuaded by calls from constituents when she announced she would vote against Mr. Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.
“The women are in my grille no matter where I go,” Representative Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican, told an audience last week. “They come up, ‘When is your next town hall?’ And believe me, it’s not to give positive input.”Continue reading the main story
Mr. Brat well knows the power of the Tea Party, having harnessed it in 2014 to unseat Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, whom he characterized as out of touch with his constituents.
A vast chasm separates the parties when it comes to the issues, but in protesting the other side there appears to be some common ground.
As Mr. Steinhauser, the Tea Party activist, planned rallies in Washington in 2010, he cited as one of his heroes Bayard Rustin, for his persistence in organizing blacks for the March on Washington in 1963.
“For the right, Barack Obama represented an existential threat to the American way of life. And for the left, Donald Trump represents an existential threat to the American way of life,” Mr. Steinhauser said. “And I take the current protesters at their word that they’re that afraid and concerned about the changes Trump is going to make very quickly.”
But he questioned whether the left could stick to one of the Tea Party’s most successful strategies, which was to purposefully — if not entirely successfully — steer away from divisive social issues and talk about economic issues instead.
Resisters want nothing to do with the uglier elements of the Tea Party — the rallies where politicians were burned in effigy. But they are eager to model its electoral tactics.
“That whole strategy, most of it was legitimate,” said Michele DeVoe Lussky, a small-business owner who recently helped organize Indivisible West Michigan.
Ms. Shields, in Kansas City, said: “They call it resistance, but really it’s just being a good citizen, showing up at town halls, paying attention to legislation, calling your representative. That’s just civics.”