Indivisible Denver, under the auspices of local artist and student Eric Shumake, is staging weekly rallies at the Denver offices of Senator Cory Gardner. Dubbed the Sunday Gardner, the gatherings blast the state's highest-ranking Republican official for his unblinking support of President Donald Trump, not to mention his efforts to denigrate demonstrators by suggesting that they're being paid to protest.
"That's actually been highly motivating," Shumake says about this last jibe. "There's a lot of irony in him calling us paid protesters when he's the most highly paid person in the entire situation. It's become a bit of a rallying cry — like, 'If we're paid protesters, why don't we have health care?'"
Since President Trump was elected last November, Gardner has become the lightning rod for Colorado progressives. His refusal to hold in-person town hall meetings led to the staging of one such event in his absence, and the amount of money he's accepted from special interests is a focus of the website fuckcorygardner.org. Shumake notes that the Indivisible Denver approach mirrors one used in recent years by some of Gardner's ideological supporters.
"The strategy is basically a congressional model based on tactics that were effective for the Tea Party — but without the bigotry," Shumake points out. "What we're doing is putting constituent pressure on our members of Congress, and particularly the ones supporting the Trump agenda. We're looking at blocking everything from perpetual war to deconstructing the American government, de-legitimizing the press and really attacking everything that makes democracy possible."
Shumake, currently a graduate student at Regis University specializing in what he calls "applied social animation," doesn't limit his protests to members of the GOP. He was at the center of a demonstration against Mayor Michael Hancock's homeless-sweeps policies that "piled up about 35 people in front of the Claes Oldenburg sculpture at the Denver Art Museum" — the one with an oversized broom and a giant dustpan.
Still, he's especially offended by Gardner, whose congenial public persona contrasts sharply with the communications wall he's put up between himself and anyone who might disagree with him. Like plenty of other critics, Shumake has never reached an actual human being on Gardner's staff when calling his offices, and he notes that the senator "is never at" his Denver base of operations — the Chase Bank building at 1125 17th Street, where eighteen disability-rights protesters were cited for trespassing in January during their own demonstration.
"That was very disturbing," Shumake notes about these busts. "The irony of Gardner taking taxpayer dollars to pay rent in a bank building that is then used as an excuse to deny access to those very taxpayers is bad optics, at best."
Starting about a month ago, Shumake and other Indivisible Denver members (the Facebook group has more than 5,000 members), launched the Sunday Gardner, and some of the demonstrations that followed have been elaborate. For one rally, he says, "we protested the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act with an old-fashioned die-in, where we came with cardboard tombstones and laid down in front of the building. Then we marched up the 16th Street Mall and died on the steps of the Capitol."
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As the weeks have gone on, Sunday Gardner attendance has dipped from a few hundred people to sometimes just four or five, which Shumake admits has been "a little demoralizing.... I think there are sort of natural cycles of motivation because this is a grassroots movement. Protest fatigue is a real thing." For that reason, he and other Indivisible Denver devotees are thinking about ways of revising their approach, possibly by turning the Sunday Gardner into a virtual event and staging one big gathering per month, or adding their presence to other events, such as a recent protest against now-Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Still, this weekend's Sunday Gardner, scheduled to run from 2 to 3 p.m. on April 16, is definitely happening, and Shumake encourages participants to focus on the theme of peace. "It's getting very dangerous with Syria and North Korea," he says. "I feel Trump is actively colluding with Vladimir Putin, who's also facing populist unrest and a lack of popularity at home. The two of them are colluding to get on a war footing that covers up their collusion in getting Trump elected, and it gives him a context to seize further war powers to drum up his popularity and get the cable-news cycle all worked up."
However the Sunday Gardner evolves, Shumake emphasizes that the protesters aren't going away. Instead, "Gardner's the one who's going to go away. He'll be elected out of office. There are definitely folks who are motivated and invested to go the distance, and I'm one of them."
Click for more information about the Sunday Gardner.