Turning Tea Party tactics on Trump: National organizer gives pep talk to Greater Morristown crowd

Audience gives symbolic wave to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Audience gives symbolic wave to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
2
Audience gives symbolic wave to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Audience gives symbolic wave to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier

By Kevin Coughlin

The Tea Party was mean-spirited, regressive…and highly effective.

Those conclusions, by a few former congressional staffers “going through the stages of grief” after Donald Trump’s election, have seeded an ad hoc opposition movement that can win using battle-tested Tea Party tactics, one of those Capitol Hill veterans told grassroots groups in Morris Township on Sunday.

“Things are dark now…but we do have constituent power. And that power is really real. And it changes minds,” said Ezra Levin, who co-authored Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda  in the days after Trump won the presidency.

Speaking via an internet video link, Levin gave a pep talk  to hundreds who jammed the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship. 

They came to discuss a campaign by NJ 11th for Change to press concerns about President Trump’s agenda to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), who so far has declined to meet with the group.

Ezra Levin addresses Morris Township crowd via Internet link, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Ezra Levin addresses Morris Township crowd via Internet link, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier

Indivisible has become the playbook for NJ 11th for Change and similar organizations nationwide, with 1.5 million downloads so far, according to Levin, a 31-year-old former aide to Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat in central Texas.

The guide got a boost when former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Star Trek actors George Takei and Wil Wheaton shared it with their large online followings.

But this struggle is not about Tweets, Facebook posts or email lists, Levin said.

“We care about action, about people actually doing stuff. What’s really exciting in the last few weeks is what you all are doing, and it’s not just you. It’s in every single congressional district in the country,” Levin told the overflow crowd, which cheered him and asked for organizing tips.

Slideshow photos by Bill Lescohier

Audience gives symbolic wave to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Man asks question at NJ 11th for Change meeting in Morris Township, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Ezra Levin addresses Morris Township crowd via Internet link, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Debra Caplan of NJ 11th for Change at Morris Township meeting, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Audience at NJ 11th for Change meeting in Morris Township, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Statement by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen about his public meetings. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Elizabeth Juviler of NJ 11th for Change at Morris Township meeting, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Jonathan Bellack of NJ 11th for Change at Morris Township meeting, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Karol Ruiz of Wind of the Spirit at NJ 11th for Change at Morris Township meeting, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Marion Jacobsen of NJ 11th for Change at Morris Township meeting, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Tom Wyka, who ran against Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen twice, at Morris Township meeting, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

Levin and colleagues in Washington saw first-hand how the conservative Tea Party swayed officials with aggressive opposition to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act during the August 2009 congressional recess.

Opponents of the act, also known as Obamacare, phoned elected officials and thronged congressional offices, town hall meetings and events.

“We didn’t like the really nasty…sometimes violent tactics they engaged in. We didn’t like their 19th-century policy agenda. But we did respect their strategy,” said Levin, a Washington DC resident with a graduate degree from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Congress has a recess this month, and NJ 11th for Change plans a series of town halls–with or without Frelinghuysen. Online registration is requested:

Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017 at 3 PM
Sussex County Community Forum
Sparta VFW
66 Main St., Sparta

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 7 PM
Morris County Community Forum
Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center
110 Harrison St., Boonton

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 7 PM
Passaic County Community Forum
United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 464A Hall
245 Paterson Ave., Little Falls

Thursday, Feb. 23, 7 PM
Essex County Community Forum
Liberty Middle School
1 Kelly Drive, West Orange

“Fridays with Frelinghuysen,” lunchtime demonstrations that began last month at the Congressman’s Morristown office on Schuyler Place, will continue on Feb. 10, said Lauren DeVito Caiella of NJ 11th for Change, which has collected nearly 2,500 petition signatures requesting a town hall meeting.

Organizers claim members include Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

Levin said their goals are best served by remaining courteous to the Congressman and his staff — and by scrupulously avoiding violence, and infiltration by groups like the anarchists who trashed the University of California Berkeley campus last week to prevent a speech by a right-wing commentator.

Grass roots efforts already have made an impact during these early days of the Trump administration, Levin said. Public outrage caused House Republicans to shelve their plans to scrap the Congressional Ethics Office, and has prompted pushback on the President’s controversial cabinet nominations, he said.

Man asks question at NJ 11th for Change meeting in Morris Township, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Man asks question at NJ 11th for Change meeting in Morris Township, Feb. 5, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier

With the GOP controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, Levin said, opponents must remind the minority party to stand up.

“For us to succeed, Democrats need to find their spines,” he said.

“We don’t want Democrats voting for any of Trump’s priorities that undermine our basic values or represent threats to American democracy… In the last week or so, all these Democrats are coming around to that idea, realizing there is power in standing up to this wannabe tyrant.”

There is a circular quality to the evolving rules of engagement.

The Tea Party actually drew its inspiration from the left, from Rules for Radicals by pioneering community organizer Saul Alinsky, reported the New York Times.

On Sunday in Morris Township, an audience member asked Levin whether it was better to work to defeat Frelinghuysen, who handily won a 12th term last fall, than to nudge him towards the center.

“If the results of your efforts are that Rodney becomes a moderate,” Levin replied, “I think that’s a victory.”

[interactive_copyright_notice float='left']
[icopyright_horizontal_toolbar float='right']

2 COMMENTS

  1. So good to see efforts that are solidly based on respectful courtesy and transparency. Letting other’s who feel threatened by views different from their own see that democracy works best when we gently and sincerely share our hopes, values, and opinions in a safe public environment. Revealing our ideas in a calm and respectful manner by an open exchange of experience and insights enables free speech to remain strong as one of the foundational elements of our democracy.

LEAVE A REPLY