by Catherine Walthers
Democracy is not a spectator sport.
Remembering that they too were regular voters before 2016, not political activists, motivates the leadership team at Greater Andover Indivisible.
“I wasn’t the only one that was a newcomer to political activism – in fact most of us were,” says group co-leader Pam Poindexter of Andover.
“We’ve kind of evolved based on what members needed. It’s become an organization that is a tool for teaching people how to engage. So much of it is demystifying the different processes, and with that comes some handholding, patience, and a lot of meeting people where they’re most comfortable.”
That was the idea behind “Demystifiying the Legislative Process at the State House” an event held pre-Covid. Members learned about how bills wind through the State House and heard from newly elected progressive State Rep. Tram Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to office in MA. Members were thrilled with Nguyen’s 2018 win over 4-term Republican State Rep Jim Lyons, calling it “a sweet victory.”
Key is the group’s weekly newsletter, reaching 1,300 people from Andover, as well as nearby towns. Along with event listings or legislative updates, it lists actions – texting, phonebanks, postcard pickups, donations, and often “more actions.” Each item gives all relevant info, but is often sparsely written, with links. “We’re in the brevity is beautiful phase,” laughs Molly Beams, the group founder.
The group puts a premium on action, as many Indivisibles do. “Our members actually sort of demanded this from us,” says Beams, a mom and tech sector analyst. “Our members would say, this is all fine and good, but what are we going to do about it. So no matter if we did an educational event or just a social hour where people could vent a little, there was always something to do.”
The leadership team meets each and every Monday night. Molly and Pam are joined by April Nichols, Esther Friedman, and Judy Eskin, who produces the newsletter. “There’s basically been five people always to help share the burden,” says Molly. They package actions and plan events, and do as much vetting as possible and interacting with other successful Indivisible groups. “We’re constantly trying to feel like whatever we are offering is doable – it’s not this huge hurdle to leap over,” she adds.
When their texting experiences in 2018 weren’t quite right they formed an ad hoc texting committee, which included member David Kronman, for the 2020 elections and delved into identifying the easy-to-use platforms and better training processes. Their texting efforts were so successful, Kronman, who also served on the Andover leadership team until Feb. 2020, went on to train many of us around the state, and is continuing as a volunteer text leader with MoveOn and helping the Indivisible Mass Coalition texting team develop 2021 goals.
During the 2018 midterms when the congressional seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas (CD3) opened up, thirteen primary candidates stepped up, including Lori Trahan, who eventually won the seat. “We decided to have candidate forums – nobody in our area was doing it,” says Molly. “It was really successful and we made a name for ourselves. ”Trahan now holds a monthly call with the leaders of Andover and other Indivisible groups in her district and will hold an Indivisible Town Hall for Andover group members on April 14.
To build membership and raise visibility of Indivisible, members have handed out business cards and done sign-ups at events and protests.
“What we found very early on, and it’s true to this day, is that we’re not just providing a service to fix what’s wrong with the political system and to get the right people elected, we felt like we were providing people a home to go to to feel a sense of some community,” says Pam, a trust manager for a law firm. “For me, it’s been a rare opportunity for personal growth. I never thought I’d be the one organizing a town hall with Lori Trahan or hosting an evening with Ed Markey.”
Molly agrees, although it often amounts to a second job. “I’d be in a padded room if I didn’t have a group like this.”
“I really believe the work that we do matters,” Pam adds. “One lesson we’ve learned over the past 4 years is that democracy is truly not a spectator sport.”