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By now you’ve seen the coverage of the progressive protests at congressional town halls across the country. Are these protests organic or organized? The answer is a little bit of both. Two organizations are taking the lead in organizing town hall protests. The first is a group of former Democratic congressional staffers calling themselves “Indivisible.” The second is a group founded by Barack Obama from the remnants of his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns called Organzing for Action (OFA).

Both groups look to recreate the success of the Tea Party movement in affecting public policy and elections. Indivisible’s publication, “Indivisble: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” (pdf), is a distillation of the tactics used successfully by the Tea Party to organize opposition to the Obama agenda. When stripped away of some of the wild claims about the motivation of Tea Partiers, it is a strong guide for anyone looking to affect political change, whether on the Right or Left.

While Indivisible stresses the need and effectiveness of small local groups, Organizing for America is coming from a more top-down approach. According to NBC News, the Organizing for America is are expanding its D.C.-centric network to include paid staff in at least 14 states with 2018 Senate races. The group is also expending resources to organize, from the top-down, and is becoming very active in organizing activists to plan opposition at town hall meetings. Here’s how NBC described it.

OFA says more than 1,800 people have applied to its Spring Community Engagement Fellowship, a six-week training program, two-thirds of whom have not previously been involved with OFA.

And the group has teamed up with Indivisible, a buzzy newcomer to the progressive movement, to offer organizing training that began Thursday [February 9, 2017] night with a video conference. A combined 25,000 people have registered to participate in those trainings, OFA said.

The main focus of OFA, and its new Indivisble ally is to stall or blunt the repeal of Obamacare. Given GOP reluctance to move that ball forward, they are having an effect.

What are these groups telling activists to do? For the most part they are trying to copy Tea Party tactics to ensure their goals are met. One of the most notable admissions in Indivisible’s organizing guide is that the Tea Party itself was organic, and was a collection of a small group of people at the local level, not some centralized astroturf organization. Indivisible and OFA, are trying to teach progressive activists how to organize along the same model.

Key points include suggestions to:

  • Organize activities locally, that is make sure that you are organizing on a congressional district level, and make sure that the activists that attend town hall meetings are from the district. These former staffers are correct when they say that members don’t care about people from outside their districts.
  •  Exploit pain points for members. They argue, correctly, that members are always looking to the next election. They try to skate by their two year terms with as little bad press or pain as possible. Pain can be applied by making opposition to a member’s agenda look stronger than it actually is.
  • Spread out when attending town halls to make your presence look larger than it really is.

These are some of the organizing tactics outlined in the group’s publication (pdf), among many others that are a good guide for anyone looking to get more active politically. In and of itself, this guide — aside from its unhinged portrayal of Tea Party activists — is pretty basic activist training.

It is incumbent upon conservatives to remember that just because they believe they won an election, they cannot be silent in the face of this action.

What is concerning, however, is OFA’s role in the process.

As the legacy organization of the Obama campaign, OFA is seemingly the first organization set up by a former president to actively engage in the political process. It has been a longstanding tradition in American politics for the past president to give his successor room to govern. Through OFA, Obama is breaking with that tradition. That, as much as anything Trump has done, is fundamentally changing how American politics work.

The last remaining question is whether these protests are “Astroturf or not” In other words, are people going on their own or are they being paid, or compensated in some way? That is hard to prove, but it is well documented that left-wing advocacy groups have paid for this sort of action in the past. Unions routinely pay members to attend political events. Who can forget the video of the union members who were voting for Scott Brown, but holding Martha Coakley signs because they were paid in January of 2010!

There are undoubtedly some attendees and organizers who are being paid to attend these meetings. However, many are everyday Americans who through social media found out about the meetings and decided to attend.

It is incumbent upon conservatives to remember that just because they believe they won an election, they cannot be silent in the face of this action. It is just as important for them to attend these town halls and make sure the voices of the majority of people in their districts are heard.

As we move into the spring and summer recesses, expect the organizing power of the Left to grow and intensify.

Robert Eno Bio Graphic