Write a Letter to the Editor About the #TrumpShutdown

Update 1/23/19: New Talking Points from the #DefundHate campaign

The federal government is shut down for very dumb reasons: Namely, so that Trump can avoid looking foolish over his obviously foolish wall, and because Sen. Mitch McConnell won’t allow a vote on something the Senate approved 100-0 just last month.

What can we do? We can support Rep. Lloyd Doggett and other House Dems. They must not cave. They must not offer any funding for the foolish wall, for which Trump is trying to extort $5 billion from American taxpayers even though he said Mexico would pay for it. So far, House Dems are holding strong! Call Rep. Doggett and say thanks, or “@” him on social media.

We can also call Senators Cornyn and Cruz. Cornyn is up for reelection in 2020 and might be more movable on this. Then again, he is a giant crybaby, so who knows. At least is staff is usually nice, so give them a call and a piece of your ear.

The other thing we can do is write letters to the editor. This is especially needed if you are a government worker or contractor affected by the shutdown. 

How to write a letter to the editor

Most papers limit the length of LTEs to 150-250 words. You can usually find the guidelines and a submission portal or email address on the Opinion page of your local paper’s website. If you are feeling very motivated and have a lot to say, consider extending your letter into an op-ed, which has a more generous 600-700 word limit.

Common elements of successful LTEs:

  • Facts to build an argument
  • An emotional hook to pull the reader in
  • A call to action to those in power & our fellow citizens

Read more tips on writing an LTE

Talking points to include

  • Trump says he could keep shutdown going for “months or years.”
  • Responsibility for reopening the government falls squarely on the United States Senate.
  • In December, The Senate voted 100-0 to fund the government through February. Why won’t McConnell allow another vote to the floor? His stated reason is that Trump won’t sign it, but Trump breaks promises all the time.
  • Senators Cruz and Cornyn need to realize:
    • Many federal workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and are struggling to pay bills
    • The shutdown negatively impacts the stock market
    • Contractors generally don’t get back pay after a shutdown
    • Why wasn’t this funding secured during the two years that GOP had complete control of government?

Once, again make your letter personal—how does the shutdown affect you or someone you know? Making it personal will drastically increase the likelihood that your letter is published.

Major Texas publications

Austin American-Statesman


Edited letters typically address a single idea and do not exceed 150 words.

San Antonio Express-News


No hard word limit, but “shorter is better.” More details here:


Houston Chronicle


Max. 250 words. More details here (scroll to the bottom):


Dallas Morning News


Max. 200 words

Fort Worth Star-Telegram


Max. 200 words

El Paso Times


Max. 225 words

McAllen Monitor


Max. 300 words (very generous!)

Corpus Christi Caller-Times


No word limit stated

Waco Tribune-Herald


Max. 300 words

Lubbock Avalanche Journal


Max. 250-300 words

NEW Pocket Guide with 2018 Election Info!

You know those neat little pocket guides we hand out at marches, rallies, and meetups? Now you can print your own!

The pocket guide has been updated for election season! Block walking your neighborhood? Take some with you to hand out to neighbors. The pocket guide now has:

  • contact info for all 6 U.S. Reps and Sens. Cornyn & Cruz
  • NEW state lege and Austin City Council contact info
  • NEW comprehensive voter information for 2018

Download the PDF and print double-sided in black & white

Effective Facebook Use for Indivisible Groups

This informative guide to the ins and outs of Facebook was put together by an Indivisible working group last year: How to Use Facebook Effectively.

94% of Indivisible groups were using Facebook as of April 2017 and that makes sense—68% of Americans adults are on Facebook and 58% use it daily. Facebook is an effective way for activist groups to do outreach and share events (see: The Women’s March), but major problems develop for groups that try to use it as their only communications tool—and those challenges grow as groups grow.

This document gives you the information and guidance you need to make Facebook work for your group, including what functions are better handled on other platforms.

Good organization and communication are so critical to our efforts. If you’re an admin or an active user of an Indivisible Facebook group or page – or if you’re not even sure what the difference is between a “group” and a “page” – then take some time to read this short guide.

And pass it on!

Security Planning for Events: Tips and lessons from past actions

Cross-posted, with permission, from Susan Schorn’s blog

I’m fortunate to live in Austin, Texas, with a rich history of activism and ready access to elected officials. Since the election of November 2016, I’ve protested racists and Neo-NazisIslamophobiamisogynytax fraudracism, and climate change denial; I’ve helped with safety on marchesrallies, lobbying events, and townhalls; I’ve used tactical non-violence skills on campuses, at City Hall, the state Capitol, and the offices of Congressmen. I’ve learned a lot about crowd management, dealing with DPS troopers, and how to use a walkie-talkie. I’ve also learned a great deal about my own strengths and weaknesses in the high-energy, sometimes high-conflict setting of civic activism. I’ve learned that anyone can do this work, but it’s a lot easier if we pool our knowledge. So here, in no specific order, are some tips for others interested in, or already doing, work to keep civic protest as safe and free of violence as possible.


If you agree to be the “security person” for an event, connect early and often with the lead organizers. Questions to ask:

  • Is this a march or rally or both? (a planned march may have to become a rally if march permits can’t be secured). You’ll need to plan a little differently for static versus moving phases of an event.
  • If it’s a march, what is the route? Will streets be blocked, and will there be a police escort?
  • Do we have approval from city or other authorities as needed? Verify that venue reservation and permitting processes are on track and will be complete well in advance of the event.
  • Is there any codified information about use of the venue? Ask especially for documents that say, “You cannot block these areas. Pedicabs can’t go here. Buses should avoid these streets. Pedestrians must stay out of these areas.” Etc. Maps of any areas with special restrictions are awesome. If the venue doesn’t provide one, you can sketch one out and ask their people if you have the restricted zones accurately marked.
  • Basically, any time anyone tells you, “You CANNOT . . .” or “You MUST . . . ,” try to get that statement in writing (email is fine).
  • If we are protesting without permits, how do we expect authorities to react?
  • Which agencies (law enforcement, venue, and other) will we be interacting with, and who is the contact person/info for each? For each contact person, know that person’s position in the chain of command for their agency. Know how agencies work together. At the Texas State Capitol, for example, many decisions are made by the State Preservation Board representative. They may ask DPS Troopers to remove people or stop behaviors they deem inappropriate, whereas direct requests from event organizers to DPS for such actions are usually ignored.
  • Do we have legal observers lined up (ACLU, Lawyers Guild, other)? Is there a number for people to call if they are arrested?
  • Have the expectations for non-violence been made plain to all participants? (MoveOn, for example, typically includes a statement about this on their event RSVP pages.)
  • How will event volunteers be identified (armbands, ribbons, hats, shirts)? I like to give the safety team their own armband or bandana in a special color so they can identify each other and so others can locate them when needed.
  • Who is the first aid team? Where will they be located?
  • Who is bringing water? Where will it be available?
  • Do we have a communications system for security? (If your group doesn’t have walkie-talkies, consider buying a set. They are relatively inexpensive on Amazon. Or, connect with other groups to co-purchase or share communications equipment)
  • If using walkie-talkies, have we clarified with other security personnel at the event which channels are clear to use?
  • Do we expect counter-protest or disruption? Who is tracking this? Who is communicating with law enforcement about it?
  • Is this a strictly local event, or is it connected to a national effort?
  • How is fundraising being handled, and what will funds be used for (most often, it’s for permits, renting port-a-potties, and first aid supplies/water)?
  • What is the “run of show”? Usually the list of speakers for an event will be sketchy until just beforehand, but organizers should have a schedule laid out indicating when the crowd will assemble, who will serve as MC, how long is anticipated for music, pledge/anthem, speakers, etc.
  • Amplification: what is the policy or law, who will enforce it?

Procuring and training safety volunteers:

I only handle event security if the lead organizers provide a list of volunteers who are committed to show up in advance for training and stay for the duration of the event. It’s fine if you can call in some people you already know and have worked with, but organizers should treat security as an integral part of their event, not something that can be outsourced. Every attendee at the event will ultimately be responsible for helping to keep the event safe.

Virtually anyone who is mature enough to act responsibly under pressure can be an effective peacekeeper at an action, but people should have some basic training in emotional grounding and other simple tactics. Diversity in your volunteer pool is a strength; adults of all ages, genders, sizes, strengths, and abilities can be effective peacekeepers and de-escalators.

The Protest Safety Training Handbook contains a complete short workshop plan for training volunteers.

I also provide a day-of handout for volunteers. I ask them to meet early at the event site, so we can explain the plan for the day and review skills. I provide the same handout to law enforcement, before and at the event, so they have some understanding of what our volunteers will be doing (I have been detained and lectured by law enforcement for de-escalating attendees at a rally who were yelling at a counter-protester–the officer interpreted our intervention as “interfering with his [the counter-protester’s] First Amendment rights”). Here’s a sample day-of handout.

At the event:

Have a plan for deploying your volunteers. You might want some volunteers in static positions (stationed at every intersection on a march route, for example) and some mingling with the crowd. In a large space, I’ll often set up zones and assign people to cover specific areas. You want volunteers to be present throughout your event space, but you also need them to be free to move to where the problems are. For a march, it often works well to have safety volunteers walk along the sides of the marching bloc, so they can intervene between marchers and bystanders should the bystanders prove hostile.

Handling disruptive counter-protesters will be covered in more detail in a subsequent post. Generally, however, friction develops at certain boundaries: near the edge of a stage area, or along the sides of a march as marchers draw the attention of people on the sidewalk.

I have my volunteers check in 30-60 minutes early, either at the main volunteer area or just with me, but I keep my own check-in list of names. This helps me introduce volunteers to one another. We have a brief orientation where we

  • Hand out walkie-talkies and bandanas
  • Assign people to their zones or areas
  • Go over the day of handout
  • Go through the “run of show”
  • Point out where first aid, water, and restrooms are
  • Go over any last-minute details on expected counter-protest, law enforcement communication, etc.
  • Review grounding and de-escalation skills
  • Establish a debriefing location where we will meet up after the event if there is any violence or other problems. Usually we do this in a nearby bar, and I buy everyone a beer. It allows us to talk over our experiences and also provides a safer way to disperse if there is any concern about being followed by hostile counter-protesters.

Finally, I encourage friendly, or at least respectful, interaction with law enforcement. Get to know specific LE officers and develop working relationships as is appropriate, but keep in mind LE often uses information gained informally to target innocent and vulnerable people. Don’t be too trusting. I’m also working on a more detailed post about interacting with law enforcement.

More resources:

There are tons of other good resources on protest organization out there; here are some I refer to often:

Know Your Rights: Free Speech, Protests & Demonstrations (ACLU)
Search and seizure (EFF)
How to use your smartphone in a protest
Tactical Nonviolence: philosophy & methods (Bruce Hartford)
Crowd psychology and safety
Activist’s Guide to Basic First Aid
Pepper Spray & Tear Gas: Avoiding, Protection, Remedies

As always, I welcome comments and feedback–please share your own tips and advice in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter (@SusanSchorn).

Training: Military 101: Understanding Shared Values Across Communities – August 5, 2017

For decades now, conservative Republicans have acted as though they have a lock on the veteran vote. For much of that time, moderates and Democrats have quietly ceded outreach to the other side. Have you ever thought of why? There is a lot of misinformation about the US military and veterans. You may have experienced it yourself.

Have you often wondered how to talk to Bill, your Vietnam veteran uncle? You know he’s on the fence about Trump, but you feel certain that if you can just learn how to “speak his language” you two could find a way to discuss the current environment. What should you say to your neighbor, Deb, who just came back, wounded, from her second tour in Afghanistan? And what the heck does your coworker, Devon, do every summer when he goes away for two weeks with the National Guard?

Wonder no more! Indivisible Austin is teaming up with the Truman Project to help educate the civilian community about military life. Our goal is to help give you the information you need to communicate more effectively with service members, veterans, and military families.

Only 7.3% of living Americans have served in the U.S. military at some point of their lives, leaving most policymakers, advocates, and everyday citizens with a dearth of knowledge about the military’s organization and culture. Taught by military veterans, this training covers everything from high-level questions about the values of those who serve in the military all the way down to details about the differences between the various branches and ranks. Participants will walk away with a better sense of who serves in our military, why they do it and the values of public service and equality they share with the progressive community.

Location is in Central Austin.


UNITE Organizing Guide

unite logoOn last week’s conference call and again tonight we briefly discussed the UNITE Organizing Guide, which was drafted by some great organizing groups, including Texas’ own Pantsuit Republic.

This is a deep and rich guide that covers a lot of ground, but there are some suggested practices near the beginning for managing your online communities, staffing up your volunteer effort, and onboarding new people to your group.

Our citywide and district groups are growing very quickly, and implementing some good practices now can help us all set up some systems to handle the growth.

Let us know if you have other ideas not captured in this guide!