Do-Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers: Indivisible Somerville

Indivisible SomervilleIndivisible Somerville members collaborated at Activist Afternoons, a workspace open to all progressive groups for collaborative civic engagement, in June 2018. Photo by Irina M. / IM Creative Photography.

Indivisible Somerville, the local chapter of the national Indivisible movement, fosters local activism by helping people mesh social action with their lives. 

“I went to a meeting and found myself talking about what really frustrated me about what was happening,” says Steering Committee Co-lead Peter Kollm. “You know, people who individually really care about this stuff, but when it gets down to the day-to-day schedule, it’s not validating itself to rise to the top.”

During that meeting, another volunteer mentioned they were designing an outreach process for engaging people, and Kollm accepted their invitation to take part. He has since become a leader in the organization and helped run its recruitment and on-boarding processes.

“We helped reach out and close the gap for why [residents] are not volunteering if, say, the environment is important to them and they see the EPA getting gutted,” Kollm says. “Our organization would take time and energy to figure out what you want to do, how much time to commit, and whether it was remote or in-person.”

Indivisible Somerville styles itself as an “activism incubator,” inspired in part by the “Indivisible Guide” written by former Obama administration staffers after Trump’s election.

“It was originally a public Google Document written by these staffers that was shared nationally,” Kollm says. “It was then formalized into the road map on how to begin putting pressure on local legislators through grassroots initiatives.”

Each chapter of Indivisible is independent, choosing how to locally implement the best practices in the guide. The Somerville group organizes its efforts into labs, Kollm says, each of which has between five and 15 volunteers, and is open to new members. The labs focus on specific issues or internal projects and keep members of other labs up to date on their progress.

For example, Kollm says, their Creative Lab focuses on design needs for Indivisible Somerville and its partner organizations: banners, websites, logos, and the like, and the Energy & Environment Lab takes on those issues at local, state, and federal levels. In this way, Indivisible Somerville gives interested volunteers an avenue to activism that draws upon their own interests and skills.

Indivisible Somerville has “activated” roughly 700 volunteers, Kollm estimates.

“The new ideas people bring in, that’s fuel for me,” he says. “Every time somebody new comes in and they have an idea they want to work on, that’s really exciting.”

For Kollm, Indivisible Somerville has become an effective way to take political action.

“Instead of just going and volunteering with any organization, this has allowed me to be strategic,” he says. “I think that’s a value proposition we offer new members—people can step in and be in a leadership role right away.”