You Say You Want a Revolution? Can’t Tell Md. Players Without a Scorecard
By Bob Guldin
There’s a new political movement in Maryland. Some might call it a resistance. It’s a loose coalition of progressive and left-leaning groups, from all across the state, organizing to roll back the Trump agenda at the national, state and local levels.
Some of these groups are better known — Indivisible and Our Revolution. Others like Do The Most Good, Together We Will and J Walkers have largely escaped media attention.
All of them were spurred into action by Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential victory in 2016.
As Baltimore County progressive Democrat Sheila Ruth explained, “These new groups were so horrified by Trump’s election that they were determined to jump in and do something.”
Local groups called for mass organizing meetings and were surprised by the large turnouts. Takoma Park Mobilization had 600 people at its first rally. Others groups had enthusiastic beginnings, but became quieter over the summer. Now they are revving up again in hopes of having an impact on state races in 2018.
Here’s a brief look at some these organizations:
Perhaps the biggest of these organizations is Indivisible, which started very small with a call by three Democratic congressional staffers posted on Google Documents. They wrote a playbook of instructions on how to lobby Congress, which soon got nationwide attention. Their most surprising recommendation – learn from the tea party how to disrupt politics as usual. Indivisible now has thousands of affiliated groups across the United States.
Chris Pickett, executive director of Indivisible Montgomery, says Indivisible does not expect to endorse candidates in the Maryland Democratic primaries but will be working the phones and getting out the vote for progressive candidates in the general election. Pickett estimated that Indivisible has about 140 groups in Maryland.
Our Revolution grew out of Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and Rekha Rapaka, a leader of the group in Baltimore city and county, said “Bernie is still our advocate and ally and main guy.”
But Rapaka said, “We’re not just a resistance movement; we have a progressive agenda, including the fight for a $15 minimum wage and health care.”
Our Revolution “is interested in transforming the Democratic Party into a people’s party,” she said. While it’s officially nonpartisan, in practice it’s close to the Democrats. Like most of the new resistance groups, it works with a range of progressive organizations.
Our Revolution expects to endorse candidates in the primaries. Its members plan to spend much of the first quarter of 2018 interviewing and scrutinizing candidates. However, Our Revolution has already endorsed Democrat Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, in the Maryland race for governor. Jealous also had earlier received support from Sanders.
Together We Will
Together We Will, a national organization, was started by Hillary Clinton supporters who had formed a Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. The group has a strong presence in the Baltimore area, with 4,300 local followers on Facebook. It combines feminism with a range of other progressive issues, and supports groups such as Indivisible.
TWW, as it prefers to be known, is unusual in placing a high priority on Maryland issues. “We see the Maryland legislature as the place we can best resist Trump,” organizer Edward Johnson said.
Do the Most Good
Named after a slogan in the Hillary Clinton campaign, Do the Most Good is a Maryland organization with its strongest base in northern Montgomery County. Its focus is on mobilizing voters. Do the Most Good put a massive effort into supporting Democrat Ralph Northam for governor in Virginia, and then phone-banking for Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race. Victories in those two states were a major morale boost for the group.
So why don’t these Democrats simply work within the Democratic Party structure? Do the Most Good leader Barbara Nouveau said it is because “the party has some credibility issues and wounds. We want the biggest tent we can have.” Nouveau said the organization won’t endorse candidates in the primaries, “but we plan to work our butts off for the Democratic candidates.”
Nouveau said her group’s demographics are interesting: a large majority of activists are older white women. Some observers suggest that Trump’s policies and personal demeanor may drive the women into oppositional politics.
The groups mentioned above are but a few of this new resistance movement. J Walkers, based in Bethesda, is small but has conducted sophisticated get-out-the-vote research that it shares with larger groups like Indivisible and Do the Most Good. J Walkers made thousands of phone calls to Alabama voters in the fall.
Other organizations — Progressive Maryland, Unleash Your Activist, United for Maryland, Takoma Park Mobilization and WISE — see themselves as parts of a broad resistance movement and frequently work together.
Democrats Look Left?
When the Sanders’ presidential campaign ended in 2016, Baltimore area activist Sheila Ruth wasn’t ready to quit the game. Instead, she founded the Baltimore County Progressive Democratic Club, and has been working since then to create a leftish opening within the Maryland Democratic Party.
She said Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews was open to the idea. In fact, Matthews has established a new group for progressive Democrats within the party’s Diversity Leadership Council. That’s the first time a political tendency has been recognized within the diversity council.
“Progressive politics is clearly the center of gravity of the Democratic Party,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
The upsurge in what the congressman calls “pop-up resistance groups” after Trump’s victory has renewed his faith in America. “The Women’s March, or the spontaneous airport demonstrations, never could have been organized by the DNC,” Raskin said “These are the product of mass organizing.”
As for what the future holds for these groups, Jonathan Haskett, a leading activist in Our Revolution in Prince George’s County, says 2018 is the time for “a monomaniacal focus on the election.”
He said building a broad coalition and winning the U.S. House and the Senate is most important.
“After that, we can go back to shouting at each other,” Haskett said.
Bob Guldin is a freelance writer in Takoma Park.