Indivisible? Well, Maybe.

Now the action starts. With Congress in session and the President-elect in motion, we will start to see what Trump’s Washington means for the rest of us.

I am hearing and seeing two main perspectives on how the new political alignment will play out. The first trusts that Washington’s tendency to muddle itself will slow the Trump Train. It assumes that the President-elect’s inexperience and inexperienced team, his oppositional relationship to his own party, and Democratic resistance will mix with systemic inertia to moderate the impact of a Republican Congress coupled with an angry Republican Administration (Trump may be an unusual Republican, but his team is hard-core Republican).

That’s the insider view.

The second perspective fears the worst for social and community work, distrusts the insider view, and wants to mobilize–marches, learn-ins, social media messaging, political action. It is necessary but not new. It also is a bipartisan, time-tested, and effective approach older than our nation itself.

That’s the outsider view.

The two perspectives are not and should not be either-or, but the two world views tend to conflict in practice. In a sense, that is the story of the Republican Party’s struggles with the Tea Party during the Obama Administration.

The Democrats now face the sort of crisis that Republicans did after the 2012 election, maybe worse. Sanders-Warren populism versus Clinton insider experience. Insiders versus outsiders. THe next two and four years won’t be pretty, predictable, or orderly. But it is worth remembering that the Republican post-mortem of the 2012 elections called for an inclusive, immigration-friendly, racially justice-oriented strategy. That was the only way they thought they could win in 2016. It made sense at the time.

A cadre of former congressional staffers wants to turn the Tea Party tactics back on the Republicans. What started as a shared Google Doc on anti-Trump resistance strategies is emerging as a movement, which you can join online.

The Google Doc has matured into a slick-ish handbook, and it is worth a read because it explains well what worked for the Tea Party. Two cautions: the tactics are time-tested and bipartisan, but the politics are partisan. It calls itself Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.

“The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own [Members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism–and they won.”

It is practical. It starts by detailing what the Tea Party did well–organizing locally and focussing on Congress. Indeed, the Tea Party concentrated on the House of Representatives because it is the most voter-sensitive part of the federal government. It built from there.

The Indivisible guidebook provides sound advice in step-by-step form. It explains what Members of Congress care about, how they try to “manage” upset constituents, and what gets under their skin. Specific examples of what a Member considers a “good outcome” (“Constituent feels happy that their concerns were answered.”) versus a “bad outcome” (“Constituent posts letter on social media saying it didn’t answer their questions…”). The handbook also offers good advice on how to organize locally.

It is worth reading if you are involved in Congressional advocacy on any issue.

Is the nascent Indivisible movement this Congress’s and this President’s Tea Party opposition? Maybe. For Trump’s opponents, it seems necessary but not sufficient.

Opposition and resistance need the counterweight of an affirmative policy agenda, relevant narratives, and relentless, disciplined action. It is easier to oppose than to lead and to mourn than to organize. Opposition and resistance can be a good tactic; organizing and acting is a better strategy if you want to get things done.

The CDFI industry was built on an organizing strategy meant to get things done in ways that bridge partisan, social, cultural, and racial differences. Chuck Matthei, the most influential early voice of the CDFI movement, believed that CDFIs “are forging a kind of new partnership across some very broad divides,” as he envisioned in 1985. “…[W]e need to forge that relationship into an effective alliance, and recognize, over time, its political potential.”

“We are forging a kind of new partnership across some very broad divides. It’s not a partnership without tensions, but it is a partnership that we should nurture. We are trying to forge a partnership, in some measure, between those who advocate very fundamental social change and those who are calling for the private sector to mend the holes in the social safety net. These are groups that don’t normally pass one another’s doorways. They don’t meet at the office. But they are meeting through the operations of our [CDFIs], and we’ve got to forge that relationship into an effective alliance, and recognize, over time, its political potential.”

Community development banks started as community organizing efforts linking organized people to organized money. Some still are organizing. Community development credit unions are organized people with organized money. Community development loan funds and venture funds can be that.

The CDFI industry faces significant challenges in coming months and the next two years. The CDFI Fund will be threatened, as will the Community Reinvestment Act. Many, if not most, community and economic development programs, anti-poverty programs, and equal justice laws will be on their heels, at best.

Resisting and opposing unwelcome changes, advocating for resources and programs, and running a business (such as a CDFI) will require very difficult resource allocation decisions by CDFI leaders.There is no simple, easy, or quick response that amounts to an effective strategy for CDFIs.  CDFIs are in a difficult position. Their successes over the past 20-plus years have made them more important to a larger-than-ever array of people and institutions. Yet they are dependent to a dangerous extent on government programs, and relatively few CDFI leaders have managed through significant political adversity. And their gains have come, at times, as trade-offs for key community allies.

CDFIs and their allies can “win”–thrive even–but they need to know that winning will come at a cost. Business, as well as policy decisions, will have an out-sized influence on their futures. That’s leadership for you.

Next time: How CDFIs Can ‘Win’ in the Trump Era


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