It would be difficult to imagine three more unlikely political activists.
Robb Allan, John Studdard and Chic Kelty are prosperous, straight, white, middle-aged businessmen who met at a club for private pilots. Two are former Republicans.
They weren’t political activists. Or particularly active in politics at all.
“We were happy plodding along in our largely uncontroversial lives,” said Studdard, 49, COO of Achieve, a downtown West Palm Beach research and marketing firm. “We’re inherently not troublemakers. We don’t like a lot of drama in our lives.”
Then Donald Trump was elected president.
Despondent and frightened by what they saw as the country’s repressive turn, the three friends — political centrists who say they’re socially liberal but fiscally conservative — decided they couldn’t sit back while the social progress made during their lifetimes was eroded or erased.
They felt they had to use their professional skills for something they never dreamed would be necessary: political resistance.
Their tool is Palm Beach Indivisibles, the local chapter they founded as part of the nationwide Indivisible movement. In less than two months, the local group’s Facebook page gained more than 1,100 members, many brand new to activism.
“We were as surprised about that as anyone,” said Studdard.
Since Trump’s election in November, a growing progressive movement across the country is attempting to disrupt the conservative Trump agenda of repealing Obamacare and rolling back environmental protections, among other goals.
Regional groups such as South Florida Activism organize protest rallies, particularly along Trump’s motorcade route each time he visits his winter vacation home in Palm Beach.
Not surprisingly, most in the anti-Trump offensive skew liberal and Democratic. Palm Beach Indivisibles remains staunchly non-partisan.
“We’re the radical center,” says Kelty.
He’s a West Palm Beach entrepreneur and inventor, who says he needs free trade and open borders for the manufacturing and distribution of his pool and pond supplies. Kelty was a life-long Republican until last year.
The radical center has become the group’s slogan.
“We need a functioning Republican and Democratic party,” says Allan, a Palm Beach resident and moderate Democrat, who says currently the country has neither. “Everything good in this country was built by consensus between two sides.”
The men say they have the backing of a “submarine” group of wealthy Palm Beachers who have agreed to anonymously support them.
The national Indivisible movement began after Thanksgiving, founded by former congressional staffers who used the Tea Party’s obstruction of the Obama White House as a template. The online Indivisible Guide they wrote provides an action plan for members to lobby their own congressional representatives to resist the Trump agenda.
Turn about, according to the Indivisibles, is fair play.
“Trump is not popular,” the guide states. “He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”
Groups that register under the Indivisible banner must agree to use the guide’s strategies while endorsing progressive, inclusive, non-violent tactics.
“Be polite but persistent,” the guide advises.
In less than four months, more than 4,500 Indivisible groups have sprung up across the country, according to the group’s website.
The local chapter’s target is U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Members demonstrate in front of his Palm Beach Gardens office most Tuesday mornings, demanding he meet with them or hold a town hall meeting. So far, they say Rubio has ignored their requests, although he’s being evicted from his Tampa and Jacksonville offices due to disruptions from frequent demonstrations.
Palm Beach Indivisibles doesn’t expect to endorse candidates or push legislation. Their message to their members of Congress is straightforward: When it comes to Trump appointees, legislation and budgets, “just say no.”
“They’re dismantling fundamental parts of our culture and our government, such as the EPA and the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), so we’re OK with being the group of ‘no.’ That’s exactly how the Tea Party stymied Obama’s second term,” said Studdard. “We really haven’t had a fight like this in our lifetimes. There’s no turning back.”
Here’s a closer look at some of Palm Beach Indivisibles’ members:
Robb Allan, Palm Beach
Minutes after watching a TV news segment about the Indivisibles movement on Jan. 4, Robb Allan had registered the name Palm Beach Indivisibles on Facebook.
This was the kind of organization he’d been looking for since the election.
In the Palm Beach uniform of blue blazer and sockless loafers, Allan, 64, looks like an entrenched representative of the status quo, not a member of the nation’s growing resistance movement.
A former Newsweek journalist who runs a family real estate and investment business called Gulfstream Group, Allan hasn’t attended a political demonstration since the anti-war rallies of the late 1960s.
“In the intervening 50 years, the country seemed to be moving in a direction of greater freedom,” Allan said. “It has been an expansion of egalitarian freedoms for people.”
Feeling that progress was in danger following Trump’s election, he stepped off the political sidelines.
“I had a sense that the American people had been gulled into electing someone so clearly unsuited to the job,” he said. “There was a strong sense that we couldn’t lay back and let politicians fix this. In a country where citizens are supposed to rule, citizens would have to step up.”
In the past two months, Palm Beach Indivisibles has attracted mostly Boomer and Gen X members, among them business owners, parents and those fearful of what lies ahead for their LGBT friends and family members. Allan hopes disaffected Republicans will feel comfortable enough to join.
“We’re not partisan, progressive or confrontational; we’ve agreed not to be any of those things,” said Allan. “There is a general uniformity about the need to protect core American values.”
He realizes he’s headed down a rough road. Despite weeks of trying, he says Sen. Rubio’s office has yet to respond to requests for a meeting.
“The Tea Party understood that you can only talk to someone who will listen,” Allan said. “I’d rather have a quiet, direct conversation with an elected official than a big public confrontation. It’s not going to be effective to publicly humiliate them.”
After all, Allan says, “Its not about, they win, we lose. We need a middle.”
Laura Cain, Tequesta
Laura Cain has never been a protester or a supporter of many politicians. As an independent, she voted for the person, not the party. She said she cast her vote for Hillary Clinton in November without enthusiasm.
But on a gloomy, windy Sunday earlier this month, she took her place among about 80 other demonstrators, spelling out the word “Persist” on Waveland Beach in southern St. Lucie County.
Cain was at the bottom of the letter “I” in a protest organized by the Treasure Coast chapter of Women’s March Florida. Flying overhead, pilots and Palm Beach Indivisibles founders Robb Allan and Chic Kelty took photos for the group.
Like most PBI members, Cain supports a variety of groups in the Trump resistance.
“I’ve never been politically active in my life until November 9,” said Cain, 55, a paralegal and Indivisibles member. “But when I woke up on November 9, it was almost like 9-11 all over again. It was that profound.”
Much of her fear was for her 22-year-old transgender child, who she feels will become a target in Trump’s America.
“I was so alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric, but also by the stories I was reading about his followers and how hateful their words and actions were,” said Cain. “I cannot stay silent anymore. It’s a deeply personal movement for me.”
She’s convinced that when it comes to obstructing the Trump agenda, demonstrations have their purpose — she takes an early lunch every Tuesday to protest at Sen. Rubio’s PGA Boulevard office — but believes direct action is far more effective.
“We call, we write, we show up, even when they dismiss us, as Rubio is doing. He and others need to understand that I’m not going anywhere. Nor are the 1,1oo people in Palm Beach Indivisibles. This movement is gaining momentum.”
Nikkie Berlin, West Palm Beach
Nikkie Berlin isn’t protesting for herself, she says.
After all, she’s an educated, professional 45-year-old white woman with all the advantages that entails.
But the former real estate agent who turned her grandmother’s designer clothes into Diva Squared, an online vintage clothing boutique, knows what it is to struggle.
“I have been poor, I have used Planned Parenthood and I want young, un-established women to have that option,” said Berlin, who is on Obamacare. Her retired parents live on Social Security. “I’m just an everyday, average person … but I feel that now is the time to stand up and to speak up.”
She joined Palm Beach Indivisibles because of its non-partisan approach to issues. Every Tuesday, she follows the Indivisibles action plan of directly contacting members of Congress when she heads up the protests at Sen. Rubio’s office.
“Some of these issues aren’t partisan,” she said. “If these regulations are overturned with respect to the EPA, a state that lives off air and water quality and beaches is going to suffer.”
Berlin believes that like-minded people working together can derail what they see as the worst impulses of the Trump White House.
“If we can’t figure out how to do it together,” she said, “we’re going to end up stuck here.”