To subscribe to the monthly C&E email newsletter and event announcements click here.
The House Freedom Caucus got most of the press for stopping the bill that came to be known as Trumpcare, but killing it took an online village. The Democrats didn't flinch, for once, so Republicans couldn’t lose more than a vote or two in the Senate, which they promptly did when the CBO produced a disastrous score for the bill.
Meanwhile in the House, every concession demanded by the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus pushed more swing-district Republicans toward the door. Paul Ryan couldn't do a thing to stop them. When a Republican Speaker loses the vote of the Republican Appropriations Committee chair, he's in trouble.
But how did Democrats stick together, and why did enough Republicans join them to doom the bill at least for now? The CBO score gave them all ammunition, but their constituents gave them backbone. They flooded legislators' offices with calls, emails, tweets, letters and in-person visits.
In Democratic and swing states and districts, Obamacare supporters dramatically outnumbered people calling for tis repeal, shutting down Congressional switchboards and filling up voicemail boxes.
With activists in such a fever, many thousands of people would have rushed to the barricades on their own. But as the fight developed, a network of organizations on the Left worked together to create a digital infrastructure to help local activists make their voices heard, and loudly.
As we discussed back in March, the first wave of the Trump resistance did not have to invent a digital infrastructure from scratch, since it could draw on on tools created years before. For example, Action Network is an online platform that combines petitions, online actions, event signups, bulk email and social media to help activists rally their friends and family, and it's free for local progressive organizers.
It scales well, and planners of the January Women's March relied on it to fill the streets with protesters in D.C. and across the country. While Facebook outreach spread the word and created media coverage, much of the actual organizing happened via Action Network emails landing in activists' inboxes.
Many of the organizations working to stop Trumpcare had long advocacy pedigrees, too. For example, the People's Action teamed with Indivisible, MoveOn and the Working Families Party to create an online toolkit for local groups pressuring their own members of Congress during the February recess.
Collaborating through Indivisible groups, Action Network, an existing MoveOn event-scheduling app, social media and other channels, activists made in-district town hall meetings a place of dread for Republicans. When representatives responded by skipping out on constituent meetings, Obamacare supporters happily created media-friendly "town halls" of their own, in one case with a live chicken standing in for the congressmember in question.
Besides packaging the tools, these national groups seeded local efforts, steering their members to activist networks in their communities. They also amplified individual actions, helping local events play on a national stage. For example, when a People's Action affiliate brought 300-plus people to protest at a Paul Ryan district office in a blizzard, the national office encouraged them to stream it via Facebook Live. People's Action, Working Families Party and People for Bernie then shared the video to their own pages and blasted it out to the media. Eventually, the livestream caught the attention of Washington Post editors, who sent a Wisconsin stringer to cover the protest, which then became a part of national news stories about Obamacare repeal. All told, the livestream was viewed over 200,00 times and provided solid fodder for follow-up actions.
This particular moment illustrates a vital lesson. Digital tools are most powerful when they aren't just digital. Email, social media, text messaging and mobile apps reach their full potential when they help people organize on the ground and amplify their work to bring it to a potentially unlimited audience.
Another lesson :sometimes the old tools just need new friends. We sometimes look for a "killer app" to revolutionize politics, but the real power seems to lie in combining basic technologies to realize their true strengths. Email and text messages are good for logistics and mobilization, but they don't necessarily shine as amplifiers. Facebook and Twitter are good for peer-to-peer and getting public attention, but they rarely work as well for mobilization. But when you combine tools like these with the passion of grassroots activists and the guidance of experienced organizers, boom.
The Trump resistance is inspiring some new technologies, often mobile-focused. Blue State Digital's CallOut tool combines text messaging, click-to-call and a tweet-Congress feature to put activism on people's phones.
Similarly, the Revolution Messaging-powered Daily Action sends subscribers a link via text to a call-Congress action every day. EveryAction's Resistance Toolkit repurposes the MiniVAN mobile canvassing app for event signups, integrating it with social sharing, online fundraising, social advocacy and click-to-call-or-tweet to create an organizing Swiss Army Knife. As EveryAction's Mike Liddell says, "you can't just do one thing."
The only thing more important that the right tools? The passion to do something with them. And at least for now, the protesters definitely have the passion, plus the occasional chicken.
Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning Epolitics.com, a twenty-year veteran of online politics and a perpetual skeptic. See something interesting? Send him a pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org