We Are Indivisible with Leah Greenberg
What would you do if a Google doc you made went viral, and suddenly groups across the country were implementing your ideas to plan political action in their communities? If you’re Leah Greenberg, you’d found Indivisible—the national nonprofit she started with her husband Ezra Levin after the 2016 election.
Now Leah and Ezra have co-authored a new book about what they learned creating Indivisible and supporting thousands of local Indivisible groups around the country, and how all of us can join the fight for more inclusive democracy. It’s called We are Indivisible, A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump, and it’s just in time to kick you into gear for the 2020 election.
We started off resisting Trump, but we know that Trump’s not the problem. We know that Trump is a symptom, and that if we had a healthy democratic society that valued the lives and equality of all of its people, Donald Trump would never have gotten remotely close to the White House. And so fundamentally we felt like what was crucial for us, and what was crucial for the movement, was that we were moving from resisting Trump to resisting Trumpism, and tackling the kind of fundamental flaws at the heart of democracy that were making our country vulnerable to Trumpism.—Leah Greenberg, co-founder and co-executive director of Indivisible
We talk about:
- What made Leah and Ezra create the Indivisible guide—even though peers warned them it could ruin their careers
- How to put pressure on elected officials, and why working with a community group makes political engagement more successful and more sustainable
- Why it’s crucial to get out of campaign mode and avoid burning staff and volunteers out
- What it’s like to run an organization and write a book with your partner
Plus: It’s our last show of the year! Sara and Katel talk about what they’ll be bringing with them into 2020, what they’ll be leaving behind, and what all of you should listen to while Strong Feelings is off the air this winter.
This episode of Strong Feelings is brought to you by:
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Sara Wachter-Boettcher: 00:00 Thanks to Harvest for supporting Strong Feelings all year long. We are huge fans of Harvest here on the podcast and we’d love for you to check them out. They’ve got time-tracking, they’ve got invoicing, they’ve got project forecasting, and they’ve got a really great team that’s just a delight to work with. So check them out today. Visit getharvest.com/strongfeelings to see how Harvest can help you and your team do your best work with the fewest headaches. And when you’re ready to sign up, that URL is going to give you half off your first month. That’s getharvest.com/strongfeelings. [Theme music fades in and plays for 11 seconds.]
SWB: 00:42 Hey everyone, I’m Sara.
Katel LeDû: 00:43 And I’m Katel.
SWB: 00:44 And this is Strong Feelings, a podcast about work, friendship and feminism, and what happens when you bring them all together. And it’s a very special episode of Strong Feelings because it’s the last show of the year.
KL: 00:55 Last show of the decade!
SWB: 00:57 That makes it sound so definitive [laughter]. But I’m personally super happy to be closing the books on this year because Katel, I’m tired.
KL: 01:05 Sara. I’m so, so tired. Yeah, I think once you said you felt existentially tired. I feel that right now.
SWB: 01:12 I mean this is our fortieth episode this year, and I think something I learned is that that’s too many—too many for us because you know, we do try to think about what we put out in the world. We try to do a lot of preparation. We’re really intentional about who we interview. I mean, you know, it’s not to say that we’ve never messed up on the show, but we do a lot of work to try to make it good. And uh, that takes a lot of time, especially when you have a whole other business to run.
KL: 01:37 Yeah. Oh my gosh. It does. And it’s hard because we love the show. So I think sometimes it can just feel like, tough sometimes to say like, okay, let’s scale it back.
SWB: 01:46 Right? So I think that’s part of practicing what we preach here because we have been talking a lot about taking breaks and burnout, et cetera. So we’re going to take some time off—off off, not just over the holidays, but actually pretty much all winter. We are going to start back up again at the end of February, which maybe that’s good for some of you because I know that some people can’t keep up with a weekly feed anyway. So catch up on all of those old episodes, catch up on everything that you missed and then we’ll be right back.
KL: 02:13 Yeah.
SWB: 02:15 Okay. So with that out of the way, can we talk about today’s guest?
KL: 02:18 Yes. Oh my gosh. So today we’re talking with Leah Greenberg, one of the cofounders of Indivisible, you know, the movement that sprouted up after the 2016 election and then suddenly seem to have chapters everywhere, everywhere. So she has written a new book about building that movement full of advice for anyone who wants to get more politically active.
SWB: 02:38 Yes, it’s definitely a big energy booster for me, which I personally know I needed because we are going to be heading into the 2020 election cycle, which is a lot, already.
KL: 02:48 It is a lot. And I mean, I totally feel that. I think we all need that.
SWB: 02:52 Yes. So before we get to Leah, let’s close the books on our 2019.
KL: 02:57 Let’s do it.
SWB: 02:57 Okay. I have a question for you, then. If you had to pick one thing you learned from a guest this year that you want to take with you into 2020, what would it be?
KL: 03:04 Mmmm. All right. I mean, I know it’s very cliche, but I have loved talking to every one of our guests.
SWB: 03:11 So you love all your children equally.
KL: 03:13 [Laughter] I do! And I feel, for real, like I have learned something from every conversation we’ve had. But I think one conversation I’ve thought a lot about lately is the one we had with Liana Finck. And I just really loved how she talked about herself as a shy person, as an introvert and even as a little weird. And I don’t hear that very often. And I identified with it a lot. And listening to her describe herself, how those things influence her art and also how her art helps her connect to who she is, made me see them as a power. And she embraces it all and it is her power. So I want to embrace that in myself a little more and I want to embrace my quietness and my stillness and my softness and kind of reform how I embody all of that, because I think I’ve spent too much of my life just worrying that they’re not a source of power, but they are.
SWB: 04:04 Yes! Oh gosh. I love that so much.
KL: 04:07 Yeah. Okay. How about you? What are you taking into 2020?
SWB: 04:11 Okay, so I actually want to go all the way back to the very first episode of the year with Heather Havrilesky. Because I think she sort of inadvertently teed up a lot of things we spent the whole year unpacking and kind of working through. Specifically, she said to us, “we really stick with this notion of ourselves as little machines that need to be productive all the time. And the more productive we are, the better we are.” And she then she goes on to say, “but that’s not how it feels to be happy.” Yeah. And so I think we’ve really been chewing on that all year. Like with all of these topics about burnout and overwork culture and sort of breaking free of that and all the way up through last week when we started talking about how so many of the workplace practices we see day to day, like productivity optimization, come from plantations and how they were managed during slavery. And so I feel like it’s just this like through line all the way through the year. So for 2020 I want to keep breaking free of this idea that we can or should be little productivity machines. I want to share more examples of people doing things differently, and maybe most of all I want to keep interrogating my own relationship to work, my own productivity, and really challenge myself to work in new ways, even when it’s hard or feels scary, and not just talk about it.
KL: 05:25 I love that too. And how cool to look back at that.
SWB: 05:28 Absolutely. And just to see that theme really stick out so clearly.
KL: 05:32 Yeah.
SWB: 05:33 Okay. So second question. In the annual review. We know we did too much this year. What’s a one thing you really want to change about how we work next year?
KL: 05:42 Mm, I mean personally, and I think, maybe both of us, I definitely want to spend some time on boundary setting. Like I want to practice it more, but I think I need to actually maybe back up even one more step and kind of do an audit.
SWB: 05:54 Mmmhmm, Mmmhmm. The thing is, you’re supposed to be taking a break, and when you say you’re going to do an audit, I’m worried that you’re just like building out spreadsheets and like devoting a lot of time to this.
KL: 06:04 No, I promise. I’m just going to think about it a little. But yeah, I want to look at where I am successfully setting and keeping boundaries, and where I have not and kind of figure out if those need to change. I think I’m probably doing half an okay job in a bunch of places, but that’s not really working, and ultimately I also want to do a better job of modeling it for folks I work with.
SWB: 06:23 Yes, absolutely.
KL: 06:24 What are you thinking about changing?
SWB: 06:26 Okay, so there’s a few things on my mind, but the one I want to commit to right now on the air is something that came up a couple of weeks ago when we were talking with GirlTrek, which is the company offseason. Yeah. So I want to say right now, we’re not working in July. No, don’t laugh. I mean it, I mean it. Because we have to say it now and we have to plan for it now, and it just has to be built in that we don’t work in July or we’re going to work in July and it’s not just the podcast. It’s also we can’t be putting on all of these other sidegiggy things we keep doing, like hosting more workshops. We can’t be, you know, doing guest outreach and doing all of the research. It’s not just, we’re not publishing podcast episodes in July. I mean like we’re actually not working on it in July. Yeah, that’s true. I like it. Like it means auto-responder on the email in July.
KL: 07:12 Yeah.
SWB: 07:12 Okay. We are half European already [KL laughs], so this summer we’ve got to go full European.
KL: 07:18 Oui, ça c’est bien.
SWB: 07:18 Na klar. Okay, so on that note, I’m feeling excited for next year, especially with folks like Leah guiding us through this upcoming election. So maybe we should listen to her. [short transition music plays]
Interview: Leah Greenberg
KL: 07:33 Leah Greenberg is the cofounder of Indivisible, the grassroots activist organization with thousands of chapters around the United States. She’s been named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2019, and one of GQ’s 50 most powerful people in Trump’s Washington. Now she has a new book written with her cofounder, Ezra Levin: We are Indivisible, A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump. Leah, welcome to Strong Feelings.
Leah Greenberg: 07:56 Thank you. It’s great to be here.
SWB: 07:58 I’m really excited to talk with you. And first up, I’d love for you to start with the founding of Indivisible, because not everybody is going to be as familiar with the organization. So can you take us back to 2016, just after the presidential election: people are grieving—I personally definitely was one of those people who cried on the street. What happened that kind of pulled you out of despair and into action, and how did you end up creating the first version of what would become Indivisible?
LG: 08:23 Let me start by actually going back a little bit further into the past. I am a former congressional staffer, as is my husband Ezra. We both got our start on Capitol Hill relatively early in the Obama administration where we spent a lot of time, by virtue of our roles, interacting with the Tea Party and everything from fielding Tea Party calls to hosting events where there were major protests to having people refuse to leave our office to giving Capitol tours to members of the Tea Party because it was totally normal for people to come protest us in the morning and then come back in the afternoon and be like, where’s my tour of Congress? So that was kind of one of my early career experiences and I kind of thought it was a closed chapter in my life until 2016, right after the election, when like a lot of people, we were going through the stages of grief, we were trying to figure out what on earth we could do, and we were seeing this major surge of energy all around us, that people who had not previously been political were suddenly getting excited, getting involved, looking for ways they could make a difference. And we had this—when I’m saying we, I’m saying me and my husband—we had this moment in Thanksgiving of 2016 when we were home with his family in Austin, Texas. And we were out at a bar with a friend who had not previously been political, but was suddenly managing a Facebook group for about 3,000 people in the Austin area called “Dumbledore’s Army,” for those of you who get the Harry Potter reference, dedicated to resisting Donald Trump. And what she said was, all these folks were getting really frustrated. And it’d been a few weeks since the election. They felt like they were hitting a wall. They were writing postcards and showing up to protests and calling the electors to try and get the electoral college to rule against him. They didn’t know what any of this was actually contributing to. They didn’t really feel like they were actually making a difference. And Ezra and I, because we had seen the Tea Party in action, we had a very real playbook for how local organizing could make an enormous difference on the national political sphere. And so what we said was, hey, maybe we could just take what we know and take our experiences on Capitol Hill, take what we know about how Congress works and how members of Congress are vulnerable to pressure, turn it into a how-to guide, and just make it available to everyone. And so that’s what we did. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we wrote a, just a simple Google doc called Indivisible: A Practical Guide to Resisting the Trump Administration, with a lot of advice about forming a local group of like-minded folks in order to pressure your elected officials to resist Donald Trump. Put it on the internet in December of 2017, and first it went viral, and then suddenly we were getting people who not only had read the guide, but who were actually organizing what they were now calling “Indivisible groups” in order to put the strategy into action. And so we sort of found ourselves catapulted into the center of this organic social movement that was happening in the wake of Trump’s election. And we found that folks had questions, they had things that they needed to do. They were trying to figure out how to both be effective locally and coordinated nationally. They had all the questions that you might expect in a moment when you’re organizing and everything is under threat. And also you need to find, you know, meeting space for your next meeting and you need to build an agenda and all these things. And there wasn’t really an organization that was set up to support a mass movement of decentralized hyperlocal activists. And so we started to build out an organization that was actually had that goal and was with that aim. And that became Indivisible.
KL: 11:33 So, I mean, it sounds like you were clearly feeding a hungry audience, but you know, in the meantime, your colleagues told you that publishing a guide like this would end your career, you know, that the establishment Democrats would basically disown you. What gave you the courage to put your name on this anyway? And how much were you thinking about your careers at the time?
LG: 11:54 Well, we were both totally scared and also in a moment when we felt like this was what we needed to do and we would just let the chips fall where they may. I was working for a philanthropic organization managing a public-private partnership with the federal government on human trafficking and on the experiences of human trafficking survivors interacting with federal services. And I had gone in the day after the election and told my boss I did not think we should have a public-private partnership with this incoming administration on human trafficking. Where are we going to really continue to maintain this with a White House that was led by a man who had himself committed sexual assault? And you know, for both of us it was this moment of, “we believe this is what needs to happen. We’re going to go ahead and put this online and see what happens, and it is possible that it has an impact on our careers, and we’re just going to take that risk.” We actually had about a dozen people who contributed to the guide in one way or another, and we offered them all co-authorship status if they wanted to have their name on it. And only a few people took us up on it, because most people were very scared that this would actually have a negative impact on their careers.
SWB: 12:57 Yeah. But it ended up definitely taking your career in another direction, but maybe not having a negative impact because it did blow up. You mentioned that it went viral and all of these people started setting up these Indivisible groups and all of these different cities all across the country. And you mentioned earlier that a lot of these folks hadn’t necessarily been previously very political. And I think I saw this too. A lot of people showing up after the election, you know, they wanted to do something, they wanted to do anything that felt like it mattered—and that’s great. But I’m really curious. There are a lot of experienced organizers who also found that this new mass of people showing up and having really good intentions but not necessarily a lot of preparation, a lot of education—that sometimes was kind of difficult to work with. How did you handle that at Indivisible? This idea of all of this large mass of people showing up all of a sudden and trying to get them up to speed and out there operating in a way that was going to be helpful and it wasn’t going to necessarily get in the way of marginalized folks who’ve been doing this work for a long time.
LG: 13:53 It’s a great question. And I think what we saw in early 2017 was, there were so many people who were looking for a way to show up in a way to get engaged that it almost—it overwhelmed a lot of folks across the movement. And I remember going to a session for practitioners early on that was sort of, I think the title was, “Where Did All These People Come From,” and it was about literally how to cope with a big bunch of people flooding in. In our case, because what we were asking people to do originally was really form just a local community and focus on almost entirely on congressional defensive pressure—so focus on pressuring your elected officials to resist the Trump administration—focusing on whatever is moving through Congress right now—there was a period of time where we were kind of talking to people both about what that strategy was, and also what are the nuts and bolts of organizing. And that was everything from how do you have a meeting and get an attendee list so that you’re actually capturing everybody who’s coming in, to how do you work with people who have already been doing the work for a long time? One of the key things that Indivisible as an organization prioritized from pretty early on was building partnerships, and training and education around building strong partnerships locally, especially in cases where we recognize that fundamentally there are other people who’ve been in this fight for a really long time and it’s about taking their leadership, and not sort of showing up and being in the center of the fight. At the national level, we were really lucky, because in the set of people who started Indivisible in our initial group of folks, we actually had really tight ties to a really crucial organization in the immigrant rights space, National Immigration Law Center. The person who would become our policy director was a NILC employee. Marielena Hincapié, who is the head of National Immigration Law Center, was one of the very first people in Washington to understand what was going on with Indivisible and to provide a lot of support to us as we were getting up and running as an organization and they were like a leading organization within the fight on the refugee and Muslim ban. So when that was one of the very first things that was happening, we were able to be very tightly linked up with them and their guidance around what was most useful as we were communicating out to a national community. And that’s the approach that we’ve tried to take repeatedly. Whenever we’re working on an issue, we’re trying to signal from the national level that we’re not showing up and dominating, we’re taking the leadership of the people who are directly impacted.
SWB: 16:03 Yeah, I love that so much. And you mentioned one of the first things that Indivisible was really showing up for was immigrant and refugee issues and particularly around the Muslim ban. And I’m curious if you can just talk about what that was like getting Indivisible involved in one of those very first efforts.
LG: 16:16 Well, in the very beginning it was really just sort of a throwing everything at the wall experience, right? So nationally for the first couple of months, we were literally a volunteer collective. The week after the guide went live, we had pulled everyone we knew to our house and basically started building out of a volunteer skeleton that was capable of responding to everything that was happening. So a volunteer field team building out a team that could make a website and register Indivisible groups across the country. A press team that was connecting all of these stories that were coming in with us out from the field with us to national reporters, a legal team that was verifying that we did not in fact tell people to do anything illegal, and making sure that people who are in need of legal support were getting connected with it. And a policy team that was really starting to connect as early as possible with the rest of the progressive community and make sure that we were aligned on strategy and on guidance as we were taking on these national fights. And so for example, with the refugee ban, what we were able to do was work pretty closely with a set of the organizations that were leading the legal charge and try to think through, what was the congressional ask associated with it? And in a lot of these cases, you know, when it’s an administrative action, you don’t necessarily have—Congress doesn’t get to do an up or down vote on it. But you can be asking people to be on the record. You can be asking people to try and use whatever procedural leverage they have. You can be coming up with different ways of saying, “we should not be doing business as usual in Congress while this is happening.” And that’s really just designed to raise the temperature and be in support of whatever the legal strategy is. And so in that case, we had a national call, about 35,000 people on the line, and we asked a set of folks from NILC, from the International Refugee Assistance Project, from Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and I believe from the ACLU, to brief all those activists on what was the strategy and what was the focus in challenging the ban. And then what were the congressional asks associated with that so that they could be doing local activism that was targeted, but that was in line with that national strategy. And we felt like that was a real…it was a benefit as we could provide as a platform where folks were hearing directly from the experts who are leading the charge on that and then putting it into action around the country.
SWB: 18:22 Wow. I’m imagining a 35,000 person conference call [laughter].
LG: 18:24 It starts with mute. Everybody on mute.
KL: 18:30 It’s like a golden rule. So what made you want to go from running Indivisible, the organization, to writing this book, and what are you hoping people take away from it?
LG: 18:40 Well, so we had been getting book offers from basically the beginning of the Indivisible guide going live, and had turned them all down until 2018 because we were busy, we were building this organization, we were working with so many people. There was simply not enough hours in the day, and it didn’t really feel like we’d reached an inflection point in the story where it made sense to tell it. And you know, we started to rethink that after the 2018 election, where we felt like both we had reached this pivot point in the movement. So much of the energy had been dedicated towards 2018, towards building a blue wave, towards trying to reclaim at least some part of the federal government. And there was kind of this, what comes next? And are we in it for the long haul moment? And we were simultaneously making this pivot internally that was really designed to answer that question, which was, okay, so we started off resisting Trump, but we know that Trump’s not the problem. We know that Trump is a symptom, and that if we had a healthy democratic society that valued the lives and equality of all of its people, Donald Trump would never have gotten remotely close to the White House. And so fundamentally we felt like what was crucial for us, and what was crucial for the movement, was that we were moving from resisting Trump to resisting Trumpism, and tackling the kind of fundamental flaws at the heart of democracy that were making our country vulnerable to Trumpism. And what kind of came to the fore in doing that and in talking to Indivisible groups all over the country, was that this movement, this moment of resistance to Trump, was actually really a movement for an inclusive democracy. That folks really understood that the system, the rules of the game, had gone wrong, that they had been rigged. They had been rigged by people who are intentionally attempting to keep a white, rich minority in power at the exclusion of everyone else. And that if we were going to change the system, if we were going to prevent the next Trump, it depended on changing the rules so that we actually had that inclusive democracy. And so to get back to why we wrote the book, we felt like we could bring these two threads together. We could talk about where this movement had been for the last two years. We could talk about the stories of people who had been organizing locally and the impact that it had and the lessons that we and they had learned from these fights, and we did also talk about where we were going, which was this broader fight for inclusive democracy, and again, moving beyond to fighting the things that allowed Trump to rise.
KL: 20:50 Yeah. One of the biggest concepts in the book is this idea of constituent power and I would love for you to talk about what that means.
LG: 20:59 So, a lot of our basic theory of change, especially when it comes to advocacy, is that elected officials do basically everything out of their desire to get reelected. Most of what they do…they kind of have two jobs. One is doing their job, and the other is performing their job in public, and that is because fundamentally the way they get reelected is by cultivating a strong image, and especially a strong local image. You as somebody who lives in their district or who is represented by them, have a whole set of tools to actually affect their image and thus their incentives and to really shape what they consider politically possible. The reason that you have that is because you are their constituent, because you can vote, because you live in their district, because they are required to represent you. I should note this is not dependent on citizenship status. You deserve representation whether you are a citizen, whether you can vote, whether you are of age, all of these things. You are still represented by that elected official. And so fundamentally what we are talking about when we talk about constituent power is bringing people together to leverage that representative relationship that you have with your elected officials in order to demand that they represent you in the ways that you want to see, or to create political costs for failing to do so.
SWB: 22:07 Yeah, I really love that. I mean I’ve definitely been at a number of events at Senator Toomey’s office here in Philadelphia. He’s never been there, but that’s another story. So I love you kind of talking about the way that we can sort of show up and be part of the conversation with our Congresspeople and the kind of power we can and should have as constituents. What I would love to hear is, is there anything particular you would pick out a sort of like a good place for people to start?
LG: 22:34 So I think that the first steps can be really simple. They can be something like calling your elected officials and telling them your position on an issue, showing up to a meeting that an elected official is having and letting them know how you feel. They can also be getting set up and hooked into a community. So a big part of what we talk about in the book, and why we feel really passionately about Indivisible, is that we don’t think that we as a nonprofit world ever get to the kind of scale of progressive power that we need if we’re depending on just purely a nonprofit professional model. We believe that we actually need to have communities all over the country of people who believe that they have a role to play in political engagement who hold each other up and engage each other and challenge each other to play that role and to stay engaged. And so I would say, I think a lot of the first steps can be things like calling your elected official, but if you really want to make your activism sustainable, I would encourage you to find a local group. It could be Indivisible, it could be another community group, where you can start to build real relationships, plug into ongoing long-term strategies and campaigns, and figure out what contribution you can make that way.
KL: 23:39 So Indivisible started as a Google doc and now it’s a pretty massive undertaking it seems. And you have staff members, a lot of local group organizers. What have you learned from scaling the organization?
LG: 23:53 Well, I’ve learned a lot. What’s really striking is that we had to think through all of the elements of building up a nonprofit at the same time that we were trying to be responsive in a moment when everything was in crisis and everything was under threat, and you know, a lot of people have a startup. Not a lot of people have kind of a surprise startup. [Laughter] So that was the position we were in, we did not intend to start an organization. We originally certainly had no idea how significant a size we would be able to scale to. All we knew was that we were trying to be responsive to this moment in this explosive growth around the country in the best and most effective ways possible. I think there are a ton of lessons within that. A lot of the frameworks that we were able to pull from just for that kind of rapid growth were not frameworks that are designed to be sustainable, right? So many early staff came in from campaigns. We had very much a campaign atmosphere for our own organization for the first year plus, and we also really had to consciously recognize that we’re not a campaign. Campaigns have an end date, you win or you lose. This has to be a sustainable effort. People have to be able to step away, have lives, and be able to come back and engage. And also balancing that we are working with a volunteer network, and for them the work has to be sustainable too, right? We can’t burn all the volunteers out and then not be able to go on over a sustained period of time. More generally, certainly for me it was a really rapid lesson in moving into leadership. I was a mid-level manager of a public-private partnership as of 2016, and then suddenly within a couple of months I was the co-executive director of an organization. And I personally was super hesitant about stepping into that leadership. I kind of had to be dragged into it by a lot of people within our organization. And not because I was ambivalent about being a public figure. I was ambivalent about my own role in my own leadership. And it really took me some time to realize and believe that I brought something important to the fight and that I was in the right role.
SWB: 25:47 That’s relatable to think, gosh, am I really ready for this, and do I want to be in the public eye? It’s not always easy when women get thrust into the public eye, as I’m sure you know and know even better now.
LG: 25:58 So the way that this all shook out was that I was the policy director for a campaign in early 2017. I ended up realizing I couldn’t do that and this at the same time. I quit. And my spouse, Ezra, was never very—it was never unclear about whether I needed to be co-executive director. He actually literally got a consultant to come in and commission and study, ask everyone on our team to do like interviews about how we were working. And they came back with a recommendation that I needed to be the co-executive director. So he was always very clear and helped push me into that role in a way that I’m really grateful for.
SWB: 26:29 Yeah. And so now that you’ve been in that role for a while and as the organization has sort of, I don’t know, hopefully stabilized a bit, right? Moving out of campaign mode and kind of thinking about it as a sustainable org, I’m also really curious about what you do with all of these excited and local groups. Because it’s great to have all these people in all these places excited about what you do and ready to disseminate the message. But also, like you said, it’s a lot of volunteers, which means there’s a level of letting go that has to happen, right? Like you can’t perfectly control the message or can’t perfectly control how the Indivisible name is used. All these things that you probably have to let go of. How have you handled that and what’s that been like to kind of navigate?
LG: 27:05 Well, I think it helps that we never started with any expectations that we’d be able to control those things. Right? We put a guide online. We found that people were using the word “indivisible” and organizing under that framework. We were always really rooted in the recognition that these were like leaders around the country who are building out their own work, who knew what their local context was and were attempting to navigate that and to decide what was the most effective ways for them to engage. And so we had power as a national network, but that power was fundamentally rooted in that local leadership and those communities that were being built. And so we never really had the sense of brand protection that I think you would have if you started as a nonprofit, and then tried to create a decentralized network. We started with the network and the beauty of it was always that there was spin on the brand. If you Google “Indivisible logo,” you will see our logo, which you know we are very proud of and we like a lot. But that logo came, you know, six to nine months after everybody had come up with their own local Indivisible logo. And so if you keep scrolling, you see hundreds and thousands of local logos from all over the country with enormous regional variation and creativity and all of these things. And that’s really the appeal and the beauty of the thing for me, is that if you give people kind of a top-down directive, then they might do that top-down directive. If you say we’re part of a movement, we’re kind of trying to push in the same direction and in line with our allies and here’s how we think we can do that. But fundamentally we’re also going to be figuring a lot of this out as we go, and you’re going to be figuring out what’s right for you. You’re tapping into so much more creativity and passion and local knowledge and expertise than you could possibly have if you were just a top-down, cookie cutter, “here is what we’re all doing this week. That’s it,” kind of experiment.
SWB: 28:48 Yeah, I really love that sort of looseness of it and that kind of…embrace the messiness of it. So, okay. I want to ask a little bit about the relationship that you have with Ezra, your cofounder, your coauthor, your partner, right? Because you two met, I think I read way back in like 2008 when you were roommates and also working for Congress people, right?
LG: 29:09 Yes.
SWB: 29:09 And then you were dating and then you’re married and you’re running Indivisible together and you’re writing a book together. [Laughter] That’s a lot of stuff. And I’m curious how you make that work, and if you’ve learned anything about working with your partner.
LG: 29:20 So I think that one thing that’s become really clear to me about being a co-executive director for the last three years is that I have no idea how anybody is an executive director on their own. I think it’s an incredibly stressful job. It’s an incredibly lonely job. There are literally not enough hours in the day to do it. And I also don’t understand how anybody is a co-executive director with somebody that they’re not required to love unconditionally. [All laugh] You need that level of trust in order to work through all of the tough moments and all of the, all of the stuff that comes up from the internal to the external to everything in between. And you know, I think fundamentally, Ezra and my partnership has always really been rooted in a recognition that we have really, really different strengths that we bring to this. He’s a “full speed ahead, guns blazing” kind of guy. Sometimes I’m a, “have we considered all the angles, have we talked to everybody? Do we know what we’re jumping into” kind of person. He is often really dedicated to getting all the details right. I’m really dedicated to kind of the overarching strategy and like the big picture pieces and why are we doing this and not that. And between the two of us, we think we’ve usually land in the right place and we think that usually we would not get there if it was just one of us. So that I think is really crucial for our partnership. I think the other thing is just that there’s a lot of overlap really between what makes a good relationship in your life and what makes good relationships at work. Rooting them in, you know, trust and caring and really deep support for each other, and also in candor and clear communication and not letting things fester. All of these are, you know, they’re helpful in work and they’re helpful in life, and so we were really lucky that we were able to start with a lot of those patterns for ourselves. And what we didn’t have at the beginning, we had to learn along the way.
SWB: 31:03 Kind of going along in that vein, not only do you work with your partner, but also you are heading up an organization that’s trying to do activist work at a time when kind of everything feels scary and urgent. And I’m curious how you handle feeling like there’s always more to do, and feeling like everything is pressing all the time, which I think a lot of us are feeling. And then also, you know, you go home and you’re still hanging out with your colleague who’s also your partner. How do you set boundaries for yourself and avoid burning out when, like you said, this isn’t a campaign, there’s not just this one date we’re looking at.
LG: 31:38 That’s a great question and if somebody has a good answer, please let me know. I guess the short answer is, I think we’ve had to get over time clearer about what we are doing and what we aren’t doing and where we’re showing up, where we’re supporting, and the fact that if we were to try and fight everything all the time, we would burn ourselves out in a way that actually wouldn’t work. And also, what does it mean that we’re not able to do that? And just really, it’s the strain and the struggle that everybody in this moment is dealing with, which is that everything is under threat. This administration is going after particularly the most marginalized first, and it is a multi-front attack, and you’re trying to both respond and you’re also trying to build out the long-term strategies for how do we not end up in this situation again. And I think that if we were to kind of make peace with the fact that we can’t do everything, then that would actually be a bad thing. That would be having given up or having like become softened to or having having become inured to how much suffering this administration is inflicting. In terms of sort of how draw our own boundaries, oh yeah, I’ll be honest. Like we’re not the most boundaries-oriented people. I think both of us have always had careers where we work pretty much all the time. I think it’s actually great that the two of us are working on the same thing because if we weren’t, we’d be talking about it to each other anyways. We had a brief period of time where we had a rule that we didn’t talk about work when we walked the dog. Then we ended up talking about work when we walked the dog. But you know also fundamentally, we think we’re in a pretty rare moment and we have a pretty rare opportunity and responsibility with Indivisible, and we are prepared to do what we need to do for the next few years in order to make that as significant as possible. And you know, it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment for us personally. Now I think what’s also important is we don’t actually want everyone else to act like that. When we are kind of like, not operating with proper work-life boundaries, we actually do really want everybody else in our workplace to have them and to be able to have lives and take chances and be in the world and enjoy themselves. And also, you know, starting a startup is just an all-encompassing thing for founders and that’s normal and we just embrace it to some extent.
KL: 33:48 I love that we are just about out of time, but before we go, I want to ask about something pretty cool you’re doing with this book. I’ve read that all the proceeds are going to Indivisible’s Save Democracy Fund, that you’re not taking any of the profits. Can you just tell us a little bit about that?
LG: 34:02 Absolutely. Well, the other reason that we really wanted to write this book was because you know, we have had this incredible surge of activism in the last couple of years, and also the vast majority of people are not civically engaged right now. And that cuts across all lines of difference. We just still have so many more people who, you know, they are upset about what is happening and they are not engaged in and hooked into a community and taking action on a regular basis and feeling their own power and potential. And so part of the goal with writing the book was to raise awareness both for people at the Indivisible movement, and of the opportunities that they have to be civically engaged and to build their own power. And it was really important that as we were doing that for us, that that not be the Ezra and Leah show, that that be really rooted in the movement, that it be a book for the movement, that it be a book about how you get involved in the movement, and that it not be, you know, sort of centrally about us in any way. And part of that was that we’d not take any money from it. We don’t want this to be promoting us. Unfortunately, one part of writing a book is that your name is on the cover and you go on the book tour and all these things. But fundamentally this is a story of a lot of people who’ve stood up and done the work. And so it was just obvious to us that this could not be a personal profit.
KL: 35:12 Well, that’s awesome and we really love that you’re doing that. Leah, thank you so much for being on the show. We are Indivisible is out now and available everywhere. Where can folks find out more about the book and about Indivisible?
LG: 35:25 They can go to indivisible.book.org if they’d like to learn more about the book, and they can go to indivisible.org, sign up for our email list. We send out a convenient list of four to five weekly actions that you can take to impact federal politics and a lot of announcements about how you can get involved locally. So please be sure to sign up there.
LG: 35:44 Awesome. Thank you so much.
KL: 35:45 Thank you. [short transition music plays]
KL: 35:49 All right, Sara, do you have a final fuck yeah for us this time?
SWB: 35:53 Oh I do. It’s perfect for the winter and it’s perfect for us going off the air for a little while. That’s fuck yeah to our friends, Aurora and Kelly here in Philly, who just launched their podcast this fall called the Opt In. This is not a sponsored Fuck Yeah, we just love them. I met up with them back early in 2019 when they were just talking about starting a show, and it’s so great to see it out in the world and it’s really well done.
KL: 36:15 Oh my gosh, it’s so cool. So Aurora and Kelly are best friends, so sounds familiar. Right? But Aurora is a Blatina as she puts it and Kelly is white and they are all about having uncomfortable and messy conversations about race, culture, and how we can all do better.
SWB: 36:32 Oh yes. Okay. So when you run out of Strong Feelings in your queue, definitely check out their episode with Robin DiAngelo, who’s the author of White Fragility, talking about why it’s so hard for white people to talk about race.
KL: 36:43 Ahhh yeah. Okay. Also, I really love their episode with Caverly Morgan, a white woman who became a Zen Buddhist monk for eight years. And they talk about how spirituality intersects with racism. It is such a good conversation. I really highly recommend listening.
SWB: 36:57 Okay, so fuck yeah to Aurora and Kelly and fuck yeah to the new Opt-In podcast, and fuck you taking a break.
KL: 37:03 Fuck yeah.
SWB: 37:04 All right, well that is it for us this week, slash this decade. Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by stuff Colbourn from edit audio. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed” by Blowdryer. Check them out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. Thank you to Leah Greenberg for being our guest today, and thank you for listening to us this year. If you like our show, please, please make sure to give us a rating or even a review wherever it is you listen to podcasts. And you can get some Strong Feelings right in your inbox. Get our monthly newsletter at strongfeelings.co. See you in 2020! Bye.
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