Indivisible Denver, a collective formed to oppose the agenda of President Donald Trump and hold local officials accountable, has undergone a division of its own. Co-founder Eric Shumake, who recently told us about weekly protests against Senator Cory Gardner dubbed the Sunday Gardner, has split off from numerous ID members who are now part of a separate outfit.
Shumake's concerns included the fear that the organization was being co-opted by the Democratic Party. This contention and others are rejected by Mark Stalnaker, speaking on behalf of the newly formed group, which, like Shumake's, calls itself Indivisible Denver — though the designation CD1 (for Denver's 1st Congressional District) is sometimes used.
Over the years, plenty of political organizations have imploded or achieved far less than their members had intended because of infighting. Both men hope their version of Indivisible Denver avoids this fate.
"Our goal is to emphasize the good work we're doing," notes Stalnaker, whose group has released a statement about the schism that's on view below. "We really see the situation as an unfortunate speed bump in the road — really a distraction from our role in the community going forward."
For his part, Shumake says, "I don't know why they wish to continue the acrimony. I choose not to give it a lot of energy; we've been moving forward and working in our way. But I find it disappointing to even be having this conversation."
Indivisible Denver's first meeting took place in January, and in the beginning, Shumake recalls, "we tried to do a leaderless kind of structure.... I appear to be the last naive person who thought that approach would work."
Shortly thereafter, things began to get complicated.
"Eric and another individual had started a Facebook group," Stalnaker allows, "and at that initial meeting, a number of folks stepped up and said, 'We'd like to help.' We worked over the next six weeks or so trying to build a stable organization and put together a committee structure. There were a number of committees in different areas, including an action group, a community outreach group, a media committee, a diversity committee. Then there was a steering committee that consisted of representatives from each of those more focused committees, as well as a handful of folks like myself, who weren't necessarily aligned with any of those specific committees but were focused on getting everything up and running. And Eric was part of that structure."
That changed in early March, Shumake says, after "some folks booked a sitting Democratic representative [assistant House majority leader Alec Garnett] to come and talk to the group about how to organize — and many folks complained about that."
Why was an appearance by Garnett a problem from Shumake's point of view? "After the election, people didn't run to the Democratic Party," he explains. "They went to Indivisible because they wanted something different — they wanted a change. But on research, there were a lot of longtime Democratic supporters and operatives who were infiltrating these groups. It's nothing as nefarious as palace intrigue; it's just a general tactic by the Democratic Party, which is trying to rebrand itself."
That's not how Morgan Carroll puts it — but in a recent interview with Westword , the newly appointed chair of the Colorado Democratic Party made it clear that she was into forming coalitions.
"It's not realistic for everyone to identify with a political party — and that's okay," Carroll told us. "There will be certain things we can all agree on, and the important thing is being out there shoulder-to-shoulder as allies for people, for the planet, for the issues that are in deep peril right now."
Carroll added: "Some of these folks are going to find their way into the Democratic Party, because we're going to be working together on issues, and some won't. But at the end of the day, I think the important questions go beyond whether it's a D or a U after their names.... Our goal is to really make broad outreach anywhere and everywhere we possibly can and make sure there's a home for people who care about the future of the state and the country. A lot of people share solid progressive policies even if they don't necessarily identify with the Democratic Party. What we want to do is become a place where we can recruit and train good people to run and let them know how to participate in the process. It's really about allies, partnerships, empowering people."
In Stalnaker's opinion, inviting Garnett to speak to Indivisible Denver didn't mean the group was selling out. "We're a politically independent political organization," he emphasizes. "We have no formal relationship with any political party. Because the general political view of the organization is largely progressive, we have many members aligned with the Democratic Party, but there are also Indivisible Denver members who identify with the Green Party, with socialism, and there are many fully independent of any partisan political party. We don't want ideological-purity tests that will impede our goal of community-building."
Nonetheless, Shumake formally objected to having Garnett speak, and in the days afterward, he says, he blocked several people who'd organized the representative's planned appearance from the Facebook group, along with individuals who "were either trolls or people with fake profiles who'd been posting inappropriate commentary over stuff unrelated to the group — like 'Get a mortgage' or things like that." (He estimates the total number of real or un-real users blocked at "thirty or forty.") On top of that, he shared a post "saying we have been systematically infiltrated and a leaderless structure was not possible."
In addition, Shumake transformed the original Indivisible Denver Facebook page from a closed group to a public one. At this writing, it has just over 5,200 members.
Stalnaker, who portrays this series of events as a unilateral action (Shumake says otherwise), was frustrated for at least a couple of reasons. First, the other Indivisible Denver faction instantly lost direct access to thousands of members. Moreover, he says, no one quite understood why Shumake was so upset and refused to either talk about the conflict or attempt to resolve it.
Before long, Stalnaker and company had created a new Indivisible Denver Facebook group — it's closed, as the first one was, and currently boasts just north of 1,100 members — as well as a website, IndivisibleDenver.org. The group has been active, taking part in events such as the recent Tax March and a protest against the placement of Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court. The organization is also holding regular meetings, with the next one scheduled for 2-4:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 21, at Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church, 1100 Fillmore Street, and the public is invited. Stalnaker reveals that the get-together will be a "joint meeting with several other area Indivisible and affiliated groups. We're excited to be bringing together our allies in Denver-area progressive political activism." Click for more details.
Thanks to the Sunday Gardners and other happenings, Shumake's Indivisible Denver has been busy, too — and while he says he's been castigated by people affiliated with the other ID organization, he's doing his best not to retaliate. In his words, "I don't want to be drawn into saying anything negative about other folks."
For his part, Stalnaker says, "It's unfortunate that he feels attacked. We want to be respectful, but it's been hard because of the way he cut off communication to some extent — and it's also been hard to understand what his concerns are. This breach of trust meant it was better for us to go our separate ways. But neither I nor anyone else wish him ill. We see there being strength in multiple voices."
He adds, "Our primary goal is not to get into a public squabble. It's to communicate to the larger community about the work we're doing. We want to get our positive message out."
Here's the aforementioned statement from the second Indivisible Denver group. It doesn't mention Shumake by name.
STATEMENT FROM THE STEERING COMMITTEE REGARDING THE INDIVISIBLE DENVER FACEBOOK GROUP
Message to the Indivisible Denver community: This statement is written on behalf of the Indivisible Denver steering committee. The ID steering committee consists of representatives from each of the currently existing ID committees, as well as members who have been working in an overarching organizational capacity, and who have been working on a volunteer basis to organize this group for effective action.
No member of the steering committee is paid by the Democratic or any other political party. One of our central goals has been to develop an open, democratic process that can best represent the interests and voices of the broader ID membership.
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Questions have emerged about the management of the Indivisible Denver Facebook group, and about the relationship between the steering committee and that group. The recent decision to make the Facebook group public and to close the group to comments was made by a single individual who does not have the consensus of the steering committee. We have attempted to address with this individual any concerns he may have about the use of this group, and have come to the conclusion that this individual and the steering committee have incompatible views as to the mission and direction of Indivisible Denver.
It is the consensus view of the steering committee that because this individual has sole control over this Facebook group, we have no choice but to separate our activities from this group. Going forward the activities of the Indivisible Denver steering committee...will be communicated via our new independent website, IndivisibleDenver.org, as well as a new Facebook group that is linked through that website. We invite any members who are concerned about the direction of the original Facebook group to join us on this new group and website, where we will continue our efforts to fight the Trump agenda.
We value openness and transparency in our process, and will be happy to answer additional questions on the new group as well. Thank you, and we sincerely apologize for any confusion this has caused. We are eager to move beyond this situation and to refocus our energy on political action and civic engagement consistent with goals of the larger Indivisible movement.
Sincerely, Members of the Indivisible Denver CD1 Steering Committee