The New Power in DC is Outside the Beltway

There’s a new power in town, and it is Indivisible. From my perch running the legislative team for Public Citizen, a 45 year old organization dedicated to taking on corporate power, the energy of newly engaged citizens taking to the streets, talking to their senators and Members of Congress, and speaking publicly and loudly about their concerns is palpable.

And it’s impactful.

At Public Citizen, our tagline is that we are the people’s lobbyists, working to protect health, safety, and democracy on behalf of Main Street Americans. We represent our membership—regular people who can’t come to Capitol Hill to lobby their representatives to counter the corporate special interests seeking favors, tax breaks, and special treatment for the richest and most powerfuland who depend on us to do so on their behalf. We’re a policy shop in DC, but our legislative efforts work because of who we representvotersand what that means to Members of Congress. Through that lens I can say with absolutely certainty that the charged energy that Indivisible groups have brought into the policy fray is making a difference in our leverage, and in those lobby meetings.

For a Hill observer, it’s obvious that Members of Congress are waking up to the realization that if they don’t support what their voters are calling for, there will be consequences at home. And while we’ve always been able to organize our own members, the bigger momentum that is mobilized and moving nationwide right now feels different, and elected officials know it.

In Ezra’s first blog, he talked about the grassroots pressure Indivisible chapters brought to bear to help save the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) at the beginning of this Congress. Public Citizen has long done the wonky work here in Washington to make the case for the OCE (we were involved with standing it up after the Jack Abramoff scandal), and each Congress we have had to defend the unpopular ethics watchdog from being written out of the new Congress’s rules package. (Unsurprisingly, Members of Congress REALLY don’t like an independent ethics office watching their actions and spurring investigations.)

This year, the GOP was sneakier than in the past, and thought that the distraction of the tumultuous recent election, coupled with calling for more subtle changes (tweaks to the OCE’s power, rather than just writing it out of the rules), would allow them to finally undermine the Office. However, we in DC were on alert, and you in the field were powerful, and that combination caused them to fail. We protected an entity that is sorely needed to drain our swamp, and proved that this sort of inside the beltway/outside DC cooperation is exactly what we need to win. And to keep winning, the partnership between your groups on the ground in states and organizations like ours pushing and prodding lawmakers here in DC needs to grow even stronger.

The synergy between Indivisible groups and DC advocates has made a difference on issues from calling for Trump’s tax returns via the discharge petition forcing a floor vote on the Presidential Tax Transparency Act, to pushing back on the attempt to taking health insurance from millions, to calling for a budget that actually funds critical programs and doesn’t attach poison policy riders to undercut public protections.

Taking that last example, Democratic appropriators were able to keep more than 160 ideological policy provisions that would have undercut the safeguards that protect our air, water, lands, financial system, women’s health choices and more out of this year’s FY17 omnibus budget deal, and they were bolstered and championed to do that by state interactions with constituents during last recess working in partnership with DC public interest lobbyists. The people power of grassroots has moved the needle on all of these debates and made caving to corporate lobbyists really uncomfortable for Members of Congress.

So we can’t let upthe big fights in DC are going to keep on coming, and the power to win will remain with all of you. At Public Citizen we are looking forward to the joint fight (and the wins) ahead!