Theses Doctoral

Joining Indivisible as a New Activist: A Case Study of Learning, Commitment, and Community

King, Jessica Stockton

After the 2016 United States presidential election, people became newly involved in social action and civic engagement efforts around the nation. This participation involved joining both established and newly developing groups. One newly developed group was Indivisible. Indivisible chapters were created all over the country; group goals included resisting the aims of the Trump administration and saving democracy. The chapters looked different depending on the local context and group member composition. Some early participants moved on; other activists remained involved in this work over time. Not enough has been understood about their reasons for staying committed, or what kind of learning and changes resulted from their involvement in these communities. This study considered the Indivisible participants who were new to activism, and their experiences with learning, sustained involvement, and community.

This study focused on the factors that kept new activists involved in Indivisible social action efforts from 2017 to 2020, what participants learned or how they changed through their involvement, and the roles of community in participants’ learning or development. Participants were involved for a minimum of two years; 93% had been involved for four to five-plus years at the time of the study (n=51). All of the study participants were able to articulate what they had learned through their participation in Indivisible activities. Learning more about the experiences of new activists was prioritized to understand how to support adult learners drawn to social activism and civic engagement in the future.

This qualitative case study included accounts from participants in Indivisible groups from around the United States. Data were collected from 55 participants who submitted demographic questionnaires with critical incident questionnaires, with a subset of 22 participants then doing a follow-up interview. A different subset of four participants also participated in a focus group.

The study found eight factors that sustained involvement, seven sub-factors that could help to sustain involvement, and three factors that may hinder involvement. The most significant factors were: (1) Community relationships and friendships, (2) Making a difference and thinking more was possible, and (3) Having a sense of duty, and belief that quitting was not an option. The most reported sub-factors were: (1) Supportive family members and friends and (2) Indivisible’s flexible format helping participants make it work for their interests and contexts.

There were eleven findings specific to learning. The learning and changes findings included: (1) Participants learned about democracy and activism; (2) Participants learned to contribute and work together in community; (3) Participants had increased consciousness; (4) Participants experienced leadership or personal development; (5) Participants reported becoming more empowered, assertive, and politically engaged; (6) Learning was supported and facilitated in Indivisible communities through several community aspects.

The findings of this study may be of interest to adult learning professionals interested in learning that took place within social action or civic engagement activities, and for people seeking to encourage and support new participation in social action organizations.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Bitterman, Jeanne E.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 12, 2024