Indivisible Denton members making their voices heard

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Tomas Gonzalez/DRC
Signs such as this have been showing up at recent town hall meetings put on by Republican members of Congress across the country, including this one March 4 by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess in Flower Mound. Indivisible members nationwide, including the Denton group, have been attending these meetings to ensure their voices are heard.<div><br></br></div>

Critics call them disruptive, but members insist they're simply motivated citizens, clawing back their role in a representative democracy that derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.

One thing's for sure: The movement has Republicans on the defensive in areas they're used to considering conservative strongholds. This includes Texas' 26th Congressional District, where the grassroots movement Indivisible Denton has hosted rallies, organized mass phone calls to politicians and visited the Lake Dallas office of U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, every week for almost three months.

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"Our local officials and our national officials, they work for us," Indivisible Denton member Brandon McGee said. "It's our job to let them know what we think; whether or not we voted for these people, these people have to work for us and represent us anyway. And if they don't? That's when we need to get organized and get them out."

Indivisible has gone nationwide with groups organizing on a local level. It began in December when a group of former Democratic congressional staffers wrote and shared the Indivisible Guide on Google Docs. The guide since has been downloaded more than a million times, prompting its writers to apply for nonprofit status to continue to lead the movement.

"Together, we have the power to resist -- and we have the power to win," the authors write in the introduction to the guide.

"We know this because we've seen it before. The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the 'tea party,'" the guide continues. "We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a super majority 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."

The movement actively opposes much of President Donald Trump's agenda, including his executive order implementing travel restrictions on people from six Muslim-majority countries, mass deportation promises and elimination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows unauthorized immigrants who arrived as children to defer deportation.

Indivisible Denton members also have been critical of alleged Russian influence in the Trump administration, his promises to cut environmental protections and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

The guide adopts tea party tactics and details a strategy for the local groups to follow, and Indivisible Denton has been wielding its own copy in full force.

Indivisible members have hijacked a series of Republican town hall meetings across the country in recent months, filling high school gyms and civic centers with hostile crowds the congressmen weren't used to facing.

Which is why when Burgess scheduled a town hall meeting earlier this month in Lewisville, the Tarrant County Republican Party in a statement on its website called on its members to attend the town hall in support of Burgess.

"Do not allow this to be overrun by the left," the statement reads. "This is our home turf. Don't surrender the high ground."

The message was met with consternation by Indivisible Denton members who felt the statement implied district residents and Burgess' constituents were some kind of outside invaders.

"It's my turf, too, sorry to break it to them," Andreana Guerra Tomz said on the group's Facebook page.

Burgess representatives also have tried to de-legitimize the group by accusing members of being "professional protesters" who are pretending to be activists for pay. But Indivisible Denton members continue to repeat their pledge to remain civil.

"I feel proudly that the Denton community has been really respectful at the town hall meeting," Indivisible Denton member Sarah Gamblin said. "Denton distinguishes itself by trying to stay civil but assertive."

Gamblin created the Indivisible Denton Facebook page, which has more than 2,200 members and is still growing since it launched Jan. 7. Rather than being a professional protester, Gambin works her day job at Texas Woman's University, where she teaches dance.

"People are really concerned about what's going to happen to our country, and they feel driven to do something about it," she said. "Some people are feeling despairing, and I think having a group of people come together to be involved makes life seem better."

Gamblin rejects any accusation that she's a radical.

"Being involved in political activity that's democratic in nature, that's really our civic responsibility. It's nothing more radical than that," she said.

Indivisible members have inundated the mailrooms, voicemails and inboxes of members of Congress. They get together for letter writing parties, discuss strategy at weekly meetings and have kept a constant stream of letters to the editor appearing in local newspaper opinion sections.

If they didn't get their preferred candidate elected, they want to make sure the one in office hears what they have to say.

"The House, the Senate, the executive branch are all Republican-controlled, so a lot of us feel that our concerns are not being represented and we want to make sure our voices are heard," Gamblin said.

Samantha Hobson is social director and serves on the immigration committee. She works in admissions for her alma mater, the University of North Texas, and organized the interfaith vigil on Thursday on the Square in downtown Denton for solidarity with those affected by Trump's immigration and refugee policies.

"A group of us decided we wanted to do something -- showing solidarity with our Muslim community and our Latino community in Denton," Hobson said.

McGee, who drives a truck at night and attends graduate school at UNT, has taken a leadership role in the group's "Moral Mondays," which adopts the name of a series of protests in North Carolina.

The North Carolina protesters, led mainly by the NAACP, have been occupying the state Legislature building every Monday to be peacefully arrested in acts of civil disobedience. The grassroots movement arose separately from Indivisible but has also spread to other states.

Members meet every Monday at Burgess' office in Lake Dallas. They pick a topic and host a small rally outside before entering the office to fill out comment cards and speak with a member of the congressman's staff.

"Just after the election, we decided what can we do locally? We can't do a whole lot about what's going on with the national scene, but we can organize locally. That's what's really important to us," McGee said. "We all just need to be involved a little bit. All it takes is a little bit from all of us. I'm just trying to do my part."

McGee said anyone looking to participate in Moral Mondays or join Indivisible Denton can contact the group through its Facebook page or by simply showing up at an event.

"We have new people show up every week, and that's what is great about it. It's really helped generate excitement and help people really learn the ins and outs of the political process, just get their voices heard," he said.

DANIEL BURGESS can be reached at 940-566-6875.

On Twitter:  @DanielKBurgess


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