NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Once The Anti-Trump Resistance, Indivisible Progressives Now Want To Win

Ryan Denham
From left, Indivisible local leaders Susan Cortesi, Kerri Calvert, and Patrick Cortesi.

If there’s a Democratic blue wave in November, the grassroots progressive group Indivisible will get a lot of credit for stirring up the political waters.

The Indivisible movement formed locally and nationally as a resistance to President Donald Trump. In the 18 months since Trump’s election, local Indivisible leaders say their group has evolved—from anti-Trump to a broader focus on accountability of local congressmen and getting their own progressive candidates elected.

Indeed, Nikita Richards, a founding member of Indivisible locally, is now running for McLean County clerk as a Democrat. Indivisible leaders Jill Blair (Illinois House) and Elizabeth Johnston (McLean County Board) are also running for office as Democrats.

“We realized that democracy is not a spectator sport,” said Patrick Cortesi of rural Bloomington, a local Indivisible leader. “Some of us write letters to the editor. Some of us show up and protest. A lot of our members are now running for office.

“They all decided that for the issues that were important to them, the best way to do it would be to run for those offices and change things from the inside,” he added.

Indivisible emerged soon after Trump’s 2016 election, shaped by a handbook (penned by former congressional staffers) called “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” It’s now a national network of 6,000 local Indivisible groups.

Locally, there are around 100 people who regularly show up to Indivisible events, with a 15-person leadership team, Cortesi said. Even more follow the group on social media.

Indivisible was initially split locally, between the two congressional districts (13 and 18). Those two groups have since merged into Indivisible McLean County. They've tried to put pressure on U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis (13th District) and Darin LaHood (18th District), especially for not hosting more public town halls in their districts.

“Because what Darin LaHood does here affects the people in the 13th District. And what Rodney Davis does affects people in the 18th District,” said Susan Cortesi, another Indivisible leader. “We needed to come together. Bigger was better for us.”

Locally, the Indivisible movement is in many ways aligned politically with the McLean County Democratic Party. Patrick Cortesi recently ran unsuccessfully for party chair; he will serve on the party’s executive committee as communications chair.

Cortesi said the local Democratic Party and Indivisible are in sync on issues like diversity, equal rights, and health care. That’s not exactly the case nationally, he said.

“The national Democratic Party hasn’t done a great job lately of relating to the local voter. They’re still focused on national issues. They tend to pick and choose candidates and races. At one point, Howard Dean was promoting a 50-state strategy, that every election is important. I would love to see us get back to that kind of attitude, where every local, state, and congressional race is important. We lost that focus. I loved President Obama but this was not his strong point. I will admit that. We lost a lot of elections and a lot of elected positions. And we’ve got a lot of making up to do,” Cortesi said.

The local Indivisible group isn’t just comprised of the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, Cortesi said. Cortesi says he’s personally more of a moderate centrist, and he supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“We run the gamut,” he said.

Another Indivisible leader, Kerri Calvert of Normal, said there’s value in the space between her group and the Democratic Party.

“We’re not a party. We’re not tied to party lines. That allows us to do things that those who are locked into party structure can’t do,” Calvert said, noting that she could one day support an independent, Green, Republican or other candidate if they aligned with her progressive politics. “Occasionally, you run across a candidate and you’re like, ‘I have to cross party lines to vote for that person.’”

Indivisible McLean County will host a “friendraiser” event June 13 at Normal Public Library, where attendees can volunteer to work on campaigns and meet candidates.

Full segment from GLT.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.