SYRACUSE — Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin wanted to do something. It was the aftermath of the 2016 election and like many other Democrats, the couple was concerned about the direction of the country.
As former congressional aides, they decided to author a guide — a 23-page document that spurred a movement.
Greenberg and Levin are co-executive directors of Indivisible, a national organization that formed to oppose Donald Trump's presidency. There are Indivisible chapters across the country, including groups in central New York.
Levin, who appeared in Syracuse Sunday to support Democratic congressional candidate Dana Balter, recalls when he tweeted out a link to the Google Doc that detailed ways people could organize against Trump.
It was Dec. 14, 2016. He and Greenberg were eating tortilla soup. Within a couple of hours, the Google Doc crashed due to overwhelming interest. They received feedback, including messages from people who highlighted the typos in the document. (They fixed the errors.)
As people continued to download the guide and form what would become Indivisible groups across the country, Greenberg and Levin began receiving questions about how to proceed. With an influx of inquiries, they sought help from friends. A website followed and they made the guide available in a PDF format.
Now, Indivisible is a full-fledged nonprofit organization with dozens of full-time employees.
In an interview with The Citizen, Levin said Indivisible focused its early efforts on advocacy work. The group fought House Republicans' push to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. They opposed Trump appointees, Supreme Court nominees, the tax overhaul, legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the president's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which helps young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
This year, Indivisible has a different goal, according to Levin: Unseating "mediocre members of Congress." The group has endorsed challengers like Balter. Chapters across the country have registered voters, canvassed on behalf of candidates, held phone and text banks.
Levin made it clear that the national organization doesn't issue top-down directives to its local chapters. Indivisible will provide support, such as tools for canvassing and phone banks. The work of the chapters, though, is locally driven.
"Fundamentally, what the movement looks like is thousands of Indivisible groups in literally every congressional district in the country now who are building progressive power locally," Levin said.
Balter and Indivisible
Before Balter decided to run for Congress, she was an active member of the CNY Solidarity Coalition, a group aligned with the Indivisible movement in the Syracuse area.
She was an organizer for the group and participated in rallies against Katko beginning in early 2017. The goal of those protests: Encouraging Katko to hold an in-person town hall meeting.
Indivisible had an impact. In February 2017, Katko released a statement about constituent services and made repeated mentions of Indivisible's presence in central New York.
As the year progressed, Balter considered a run for Congress. She formally launched her campaign in September 2017. Her ties to Indivisible are helpful. The central New York chapters are supporting her bid to unseat Katko.
Central New York Indivisible members gathered at the Bishop Harrison Diocesan Center for refreshments and to hear from Balter and Levin. The center, not far from Syracuse University's athletic facilities, was the site of CNY Solidarity Coalition's early organizing activities.
"This is where things really changed for me quite dramatically," Balter said.
Levin is familiar with Balter's history and her candidacy. The national Indivisible Project endorsed her in April.
Balter, Levin said, is a "phenomenal candidate." He also offered an assessment of Katko — that he is a "real wolf in sheep's clothing." He cited FiveThirtyEight's analysis of Katko's voting record which found that the GOP congressman has voted with Trump 90.2 percent of the time.
But Levin was quick to note that he wouldn't be in central New York if it was only to oppose Katko. He lauded Balter and mentioned her past work as an Indivisible group leader. He was impressed with her win in the Democratic primary over Juanita Perez Williams, who had the backing of national Democrats.
"The strength of the network that she has built here pushed her through," he said of Balter. "Even when all the polls said she didn't have a chance, she won swimmingly. I think that the level of grassroots support that I see is incredible for her and the positions she holds represents those of the community."
More than four months removed from the primary, Balter is now in position for a bigger win.
A Siena College poll released Sunday found that she is trailing Katko by 14 points. Both parties, though, are investing heavily in the 24th district race as Election Day nears — an indication that internal polling shows it's a tight race.
Balter, who spoke on the same day as the poll's release, noted that the Siena College poll released before the primary had Perez Williams leading by double digits. She erased that 13-point deficit and won by 25 points.
Will there be a repeat on Tuesday, Nov. 6? She hopes so.
"I'm going to go to sleep on Nov. 5 thinking of a double-digit win," she said.
For Indivisible groups, there may be a question after Nov. 6: What now?
A Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is possible, if not likely. Democrats have an outside shot of winning control of the Senate, although that's less likely.
Indivisible doesn't have a set platform or a wish list of policy items it wants members of Congress to address. However, if Democrats take over control of at least one house of Congress, Levin views it as an opportunity to provide a check on the Trump administration and "putting forward an alternative vision for the future of what a policy agenda could be."
"What the Indivisible groups are doing is building out for the long haul," he explained.