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Protesters use Tea Party tactics to give lawmakers an earful over Trump

A crowd reacts during a town hall meeting at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Friday.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Around Christmas, Larry Stopper was sitting on his couch filled with despair about Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election. Then the 63-year-old retiree in rural Virginia came across a guide written by former congressional staffers on how to counter the new administration's agenda through pressure on local lawmakers.

Mr. Stopper sent the playbook – called Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda – to friends and acquaintances. Within weeks, he had started his own group, called Indivisible Nelson County, after the area where he lives. More than 100 people showed up to the first meeting. The group has protested twice outside a local office of Tom Garrett, the Republican member of the House of Representatives. And on Sunday, it will hold its own town hall.

"My goal is to gum up the works," said Mr. Stopper, who wants Mr. Garrett to reconsider his embrace of Mr. Trump. "We're going to tell [Mr. Garrett] every step of the way that he may think that's what his district wants, but he's going to find out real different in a couple of years."

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Across the country, as U.S. legislators returned home this week from Washington for a brief recess, they have run into constituents such as Mr. Stopper. In scenes repeated across the country, members of congress have faced raucous crowds at town halls expressing anger over Trump administration policies, particularly the pledge to repeal the health-care legislation known as Obamacare.

Groups organizing under the Indivisible banner have played a central role in the displays of voter ire. Their local focus, grassroots energy and intense opposition to the President's agenda recall the early days of the Tea Party, a burst of conservative activism that began in 2009. But this time, the momentum is coming from the left of the political spectrum – and it promises to put pressure on Republicans and Democrats alike.

Vanessa Williamson, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington who studied the rise of the Tea Party, said the forces opposing Mr. Trump have organized more quickly and galvanized more people than conservative activists did in 2009.

"The real question is whether the energy and mobilization that you're seeing can get channelled into election victories over the next two years," she said. That is a difficult feat in a hyper-partisan environment where legislative districts have been gerrymandered to the advantage of incumbents. The United States will hold midterm congressional elections in 2018, and several state-level votes this year.

The volunteers involved in starting Indivisible explicitly adopted Tea Party tactics. Part of what the conservative activists did so well was "they simply linked arms and said 'no'" to a president's agenda, said Gonzalo Martinez de Vedia, 28, who helped craft the original guide. "If we are able to do that for the next two years, then the guide will have served its stated purpose."

The guide was posted online as a Google document in mid-December and rapidly drew so much traffic people were unable to access it. More than 7,000 groups are now registered on the Indivisible website covering every congressional district, with names ranging from the straightforward ("Indivisible Iowa") to the whimsical ("Green Tea Party" and "49 Moons," a reference to the number of new moons in Mr. Trump's term).

Their tactics even drew the attention of Mr. Trump himself, who tweeted on Tuesday that the "so-called angry crowds" in Republican districts are "in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"

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Indivisible is the brainchild of a handful of former Capitol Hill staffers, some of whom once worked for Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat representing Austin. They had witnessed the success of the Tea Party firsthand and thought they might be able to emulate it. "We weren't brilliant political scientists, but we knew how Congress thinks," said Jeremy Haile, 41, a former legislative counsel for Mr. Doggett.

The guide is full of practical tips about how to make members of Congress squirm, from organizing district office visits to attending town halls. For the congressional recess this week, Indivisible put together a special playbook with specific questions to ask about topics including Obamacare and Mr. Trump's tax returns.

Lauren Whitehead, a founder of Indivisible Iowa, has spent much of the past week tracking the movements of her two senators through the state and directing her group's members – who number more than 5,000 statewide – to attend their public events. "It's like a tsunami," she said of the constant activity. "It's been very intense."

For now, all of the Indivisible groups are operating on a volunteer basis, covering costs through in-kind donations or by passing the hat at meetings. Their members include people who have donated their time to campaigns in the past – including Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential bid – but also political neophytes.

Before Kim Hibbard co-founded Indivisible Kentucky in early January, she had never participated in a protest. Now she has met with staff members for her two senators and makes sure her group shows up for its public events. "I needed to do something, I wasn't going to sit still," said Ms. Hibbard, 44, an information-technology administrator. "We feel extremely energized."

Video: Rob Ford had similar message to Donald Trump, claims Doug Ford (The Canadian Press)
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