Name: Yonatan (Yoni) Landau
Title: Founder, Rapid Resist
J.: You created something called Rapid Resist, or “the Resistance Text-Bank.” How does it work?
Yoni Landau: We assess who the critical lawmakers are who can stop Trump, find the critical moments that can be influenced by their voters, and then send large amounts of text messages to turn out crowds of people in those places to tell them not to support Trump’s agenda.
You were inspired to create it right after the election. How did you figure this would be an effective form of resistance?
I had the experience of working with a local organization to do get-out-the-vote in Reno. I worked with a faith-based organizing group that’s a PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) affiliate, and instead of working with a campaign that just flies in and is there once every four years, this group was building long-term relationships with the community. The friends I brought out to do door-knocking had a much more inspiring and useful time working with local organizers who were hosting barbecues at the church down the street than working with national campaigns, and it was clear to me that all of this blue energy needed to be channeled into local organizations to be most effective. And so I set out to build something that would allow anyone to contribute to the resistance from the comfort of their living room.
Can you share one of your victories?
Our first success was back in March, when we learned about Sen. Dean Heller’s campaign fundraiser at a Harley-Davidson in Las Vegas that wasn’t publicized. We had 72 hours to turn out a crowd to yell out not to repeal the Affordable Care Act. We texted 2,000 progressives on behalf of the Working Families Party organizing for action, and 69 folks turned out. The press was talking to them instead of talking to his campaign functionaries, and Heller must have felt skittish, since [the next] morning he put out a press release that he wouldn’t support a full repeal. So far we’ve sent over 4.7 million texts. And someone has just filed to run for office in Midland, Texas, because of our texts.
How are you funded and how large is your staff?
We have two full-time staff, and we have over 800 volunteers. Most of our core operations are managed by a variety of volunteers and funded by generous donations.
Why do you think texting is so effective, and do you foresee adapting to technology as it changes?
Definitely. There was a time when email really reached people and there was a time when people picked up their phones. Right now we’ve got an opportunity to reach people via text, and what we want to make sure is that the value that’s available to capture people’s attention goes to local organizers, who are dedicated to organizing in their communities to improve the lives of their communities. People read them. We have a 90 percent open rate. Right now we’re focused on resisting, but in time we hope we’ll see some of these newly active people taking office in rural areas.
Before this, you worked in the White House in the Office of Management and Budget, and you also worked for former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
They were two separate gigs. In the OMB under the Obama administration, I launched Feedback USA, which is a citizen engagement tool, and I worked with Robert Reich after that, as the first executive director of [the digital media nonprofit] Inequality Media.
Were you always interested in politics?
I grew up in the Jewish Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror, and as a good Habo-head, I was screen-printing T-shirts against the Iraq War in high school. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a political entrepreneur. Habonim is loosely based on the philosophy of the kibbutz movement, and there’s a lot of room for creativity and to imagine the world as it should be.
While a student at UC Berkeley, you founded a campus food co-op called Co-Fed, inspired by your attendance at a Hazon food conference. What was its mission?
I helped stop Panda Express from being the first fast-food chain to open shop at UC Berkeley, and then after that, I co-founded Co-Fed, which got some help from Michael Pollan and Bill McKibben as a national training program. It’s still running, and has done some really critical work on food and racial justice.