I sat down with Betsy Martin, veteran political activist and community member, to talk about grassroots lobbying.
How did you get involved with Indivisible: Yakima?
I went to the Women’s March and I realized there were a whole lot other people that were involved and interested in the same things I was. I don’t really remember how I heard of Indivisible, but I remember that I checked online and there was nothing here. After that I thought “well clearly there are people here who are interested,” so I registered a chapter.
And then people started finding it.
What do you guys do? What is it? What is the mission?
We are here to apply pressure to the members of congress to stop Trump.
We focus on local, defensive congressional advocacy.
We embrace progressive values, model inclusion, respect, and fairness in all our actions.
So it’s not an anti-conservative agenda, it’s a very specific anti-Trump agenda.
How do you plan on bringing together the people. Washington is pretty liberal but Central Washington tends to be more on the conservative side. What are the values that overlap?
Well, it’s about stopping Trump’s agenda. And some of those things do cross over; for example, immigration. Because of the nature of The Valley, we need immigrants. And that’s a common interest. Some of the other interests, no. Probably no. Health care should be a common interest, but it’s probably not. Although I think we have some people crossing over. But some of the other issues, maybe Planned Parenthood, and some of the other issues, are probably not common interest.
The means by which we do our resistance is by lobbying the members of congress; Dan Newhouse here in Yakima, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell.
I heard Dan Newhouse wasn’t holding town hall meetings.
What happens when you guys call and write letters and the representatives just don’t respond?
He seems to respond sometimes and not others. We were digging in about the town hall and he said he is trying to plan one for April. I think the pressure got to him. We called, we wrote letters, we sent emails.
Do you think it’s effective? I mean, in the meetings he may pretend to listen but then he goes back behind closed doors to support or reject laws that have nothing to do with the constituents’ interests. Do you think that’s going on at all? How do your people handle that?
Good question! (laughs)
In the meetings we talk about that a lot.
People question “Is this working?”
And some say “No no! We have to keep pressing! Moving forward.”
We support each other to keep fighting for what we believe in. And there is evidence that it does sway them eventually.
We are not thinking that he is going to turn into a progressive overnight. But the fact is, with Newhouse, he was elected by progressives as well as conservatives. There’s a lot of progressives that supported him. It may have been because they didn’t like Didier, but the fact is they did vote for him. And he does need our votes. I don’t think it’s going to turn him progressive overnight but he does have to listen to his constituents.
Ultimately, congress’ people main goal is to be reelected. And so if we are loud enough and consistent enough, pressing over the long haul, it’s going to have an effect.
I love the idea of an indivisible Yakima Valley. Common interests bringing all the people together, putting aside party lines. But I feel like some people might not want to get involved because they think it’s a liberal, democratic or progressive thing. They might not identify.
What do you want to say to those people?
As citizens we have the right to speak up. And across the board no matter what your affiliations, we believe you have the right to speak up.
These are representatives.
We are constituents.
Everybody who is his constituent can talk to him.
And yes, underneath it all, we have a progressive agenda. That’s what we are. You can have your own organization that’s not progressive and lobby according to your point of view. That’s what the democracy is about.
But nobody should be shut out.
So I think that if you are really conservative and you really believe in all that Trump is doing this is not the organization for you. But I am sure there’s an organization out there, you can find it if you are really interested. We are not interested in converting people. That’s not what our agenda is.
Our agenda is lobbying for what we want.
Lobbying our members of congress for what we want them to do.
We are working and coordinating with other groups in the community. We are very aware of what everybody is doing. Some of our members are very active in other groups as well. But we are really a very tightly focused group that way.
Coming from Mexico where corruption is very blatant, not even pretending to be hidden, I always felt like politics is this whole other world that is just not for me. But trying to grow into a responsible adult and caring for my community, seeing how the enacting of laws affects us all is very daunting...is it even worth it?
I think a lot of people my age, and even older people, wonder if this works.
The representative may say yes to your face and then nothing.
A few years back I learned that if you want to enact change and support change, then you work closely with your representatives. You focus on the local level. And then it became more accessible and actionable.
For many people it’s this nebulous thing of “how does this even work?” Many think that politics is the media circus. It can feel exhausting. But I think “if I show up to one of the meetings and write a letter or postcard…that’s simple. I can do that!”
We are about taking action. Every meeting we come up with 3-4 action items. Every week we pick something. Healthcare and immigration are normally on the plate every week. We send out letters, postcards or emails. A lot of people don’t even come to the meetings but see what we are doing online. And they support us from their homes.
What would you say about the regular people who come over?
Well it’s changing, I do have to say!
It started out pretty old and white (laughs).
And partially it gets to what you were talking about because, you see, I grew up during the Vietnam War, and I know that continual pressure on government, in fact, does work. Now, it took a lot of years, and when Nixon and Watergate was going on, that was all people speaking out and not giving up. It takes a long haul...continual pressure.
I have experience of ultimately seeing the results. I think that the first group we got knows. First of all, they know maybe a little bit of more of how government works and the processes.
Now we got some younger people, and people of color. I think there’s more diversity from our online support.
I would like to start training and educating people on things like “How does a bill become a law?” Or when do you apply pressure? When it’s on committee. When it goes on the floor of the house. That’s when you lobby. People don’t know about these things. How that process works. So they don’t know their efforts can be effective.
Do you plan on doing a workshop?
We are planning on that. It’s something I’d like to see us offer. “What is an executive order? How does this work?”
Confusion or ambiguity paralyzes people. If we don’t know how it works, and if we don’t know that our efforts are communal rather isolated, we might be less inclined to join the fight.
One of the things we discussed in the last meeting is a way to track the effect of emails, postcards, letters, phone calls. We are going to be tracking how much we are doing. We won’t be sponsoring marches or protests. Some of our people do them. But that’s not what our mission is. In that sense we don’t have much visibility. But people are finding us and joining the efforts.
Does it make you feel more tight-knit to the community?
Yes, it’s been especially good and helpful to me in processing and dealing with everything that is going on; to know that there are more people out there. People walk in on the meeting, and you know, we all make assumptions based on the way people look. It’s a very human thing. And it’s like “Wow, walking down the street I wouldn’t have picked out that guy as someone who would agree with some of my thoughts!”
So that has been really great.
And the young people who have been coming are pretty inspiring.
They are highly motivated.
It gives me hope.
The Indivisible: Yakima Chapter meets every Tuesday night at the Democratic Party Office building on 402 S 3rd St.
Not Everyone joining is a Democrat, Republican, or belongs to any political party even. But everyone understands that joining forces is the most powerful way to oppose policy that has divided the nation.
Karelys Beltran is a Sinaloa native and Denizen co-founder who is passionate about unschooling, personal development, and bringing people together.