After the election of Donald Trump as president, Yonkers resident Eileen O’Connor and her spouse were “despondent,” she said. She sent out emails to friends, asking what were they going to do and how could they supported each other, and got a few responses. She learned of an online document titled “Indivisible: A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda.”
The emails, she said, read simply, ‘Please come to our house and let’s talk about how to organize.” On Jan. 7, 50 people showed up for the first meeting, O’Connor said in a telephone interview. She co-founded the chapter with Elizabeth de Bethune.
Two months later, New York Congressional District 16-Indivisible—or NYCD16-Indivisible—has 500 members and a Riverdale group of 50 members, who will focus on issues and elected officials in the area.
Riverdalians Elizabeth Manning, Jean Tyson and Eve Weiss, who all live in the same apartment building, are members of the local cohort. They spoke with The Press on why they joined and what they want to accomplish.
“About a week after the election, I started seeing things on Facebook and online… and I thought it was a brilliant idea. If the Tea Party could use those strategies and win, I thought that we would be able to do the same thing,” Weiss, 60, said in a telephone interview.
Weiss, who said she has always been politically active, recalled handing out flyers on Riverdale Avenue for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972, when she was 12, and marching against the Vietnam War at the monument. She also attended the Jan. 21 Women’s March.
Tyson, 67, said that she, too, was looking for a way to stay involved and push back against Trump’s agenda after the Women’s March. Before Indivisible, Tyson worked with Planned Parenthood. She had also been involved with the Vietnam anti-war movement.
“If we can, through things like Indivisible, force people to be accountable, then maybe we have a chance of toning down the impact of what [Trump] wants to do… and what Bannon, in particular, wants to do,“ she said.
For Manning, the Women’s March was the first foray into political activity. The day was “very inspiring,” she said, and now she enjoys learning how the political process works. To that end, she attended Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Town Hall meeting on Feb. 21 to learn more about the government and to listen to the concerns of fellow Riverdalians.
“I’d like to wake up every day and say, ‘This is not our president,’ but [Trump] is. When I wake up every day, I am thinking what am I going to do today. There is a huge amount of momentum… It feels important and, like, it needs to be done.”
Each of the women, as well as other members of the group, has her own concerns that she views as the most pressing.
“I have family members who are gay. I know what that’s like not to have gay rights. I have disabled family members who depend on services that are being threatened to be cut,” Tyson said about the issues that matter most to her.
For Weiss, it is civil rights and freedom of the press, which she said go hand-in-hand.
“Without freedom of the press, we don’t get the real information as to what is going on. Civil rights—because everybody deserves to be safe in their own home. Everybody deserves freedom to say what they want to say and act how they want to act without hurting another person,” Weiss said.
“We grew up with the Civil Rights Movement. We grew up when abortion was illegal. And I think we are seeing that we are horrified that all the gains we made are being taken away from us… More than that, it is affecting the younger generation, [which doesn’t] know what it’s like not to have those rights,” added Weiss.
Manning, 55, said the Riverdale cohort is focusing on the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and its leader state Sen. Jeffrey Klein. She added that the Indivisible guide emphasizes working on the state level and will focus on Klein to “get him back with mainstream Democrats.”
“He needs to be accountable to the Democrats and the state and not be voting with the Republicans. New York is a liberal state and generally has a progressive bend, and that is not the way Republicans are voting,” Manning said. “The Democrats lost their majority because of the IDC.”
Democrats hold 31 out of the Senate’s 63 seats, but one of the Democrats, state Sen. Simcha Felder from Brooklyn, conferences with Republicans. This means that Republicans hold a majority vote in the state Senate. Given that, maintaining the IDC’s coalition with Republicans, Klein has said, offered a way for Democrats to “get things done.”
Indivisible’s Riverdale group is already at work. During the group’s Feb. 12 meeting, members said they would urge Klein’s constituents to call his office to get him to support a bill known among its supporters as the “New York State Liberty Act,” according to the meeting’s minutes.
The bill would prohibit state and local law enforcement officers from stopping or questioning individuals based on suspected immigration status and would introduce restrictions on collecting data on immigration status from people seeking state or local services, or reporting accidents. The bill has passed the state Assembly and is currently in a Senate committee.
Riverdale’s caucus leader Andrew Mutnick reached out to other Bronx Indivisible chapters to seek their support and to ask them to demand answers from Klein, the group said.
An aide to Klein said the senator’s office has not received any calls from Indivisible, nor has he met with the group. He does, however, support the Liberty Act, the aide said. Klein has also recently allocated $250,000 to support a legal help program, run by the Vera Institute of Justice, for immigrants facing deportation.
But the Liberty Act needs 32 votes to pass, but the aide expressed doubt the bill would garner all 31 Democratic votes in the Senate, with some of the Democrats taking a tougher stand on immigration, the aide said.
NYCD16-Indivisible has also worked with U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel, in what O’Connor described as a “good relationship.”
“We got a petition, with 190 people signing, asking him to boycott the inauguration and stand with [Congressman] John Lewis,” she said.
The group has also created a petition and garnered nearly 200 signatures asking Engel not to shake President Trump’s hand during his speech to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, according to the meeting’s minutes. Engel did not take a center aisle seat—usually a coveted spot for the president’s joint congressional address—this year. O’Connor said that her group had not been aware of Engel’s plan in advance, but hopes the petition might have had played a part.
And in one of the major local actions so far, NYCD16-Indivisible helped organize Engel’s Town Hall meeting on March 5.
O’Connor said the group was still setting up its infrastructure. Participants want to bring more young people into the group, and plan to contact local colleges and work with other chapters.
Written by former Democratic congressional staff members, “Indivisible: A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda” began as a Google document that has now been downloaded more than a million times. More than 4,500 groups have formed nationwide, according to the Indivisible website. The document details successful practices for making Congress listen to its constituents, as well as how-to instructions on matters such as how to conduct a group meeting or how to visit the local office of a congressional representative.
Other Indivisible groups in the neighborhood include Ethics in Action at the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture, and Northwest Bronx Indivisible Resisting Trump, according to the Indivisible website.
“It’s about the basic tenets of our country, really,” O’Connor said. “I think that people are feeling it. And, it’s really shaken us to the core and that’s what getting people energized.”