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Obama as Crowdsourcer; Organizing the Country for Change and Accountability

BY Micah L. Sifry | Sunday, February 8 2009

It looks like President Obama's email list still has a lot of punch to it. Yesterday, he sent out a mass email asking people to watch a four-and-a-half minute video addressing the Organizing for America house parties, and so far that video has garnered more than 460,000 views, nearly as many as his first video announcing OFA's launch. Beyond these metrics, it's pretty interesting to listen to how Obama's talks to his base. He doesn't use the word "crowdsourcing," but tell me if you don't hear it in how he describes how he plans to use the web to make sure his recovery plan works.

Obama's message is in keeping with the intimate style he perfected during the election campaign. "Hi everybody," he starts. Not "My Fellow Americans" or some other pomp and circumstance. He also begins not with an appeal for support, but with a thank you to his troops for "coming together, organizing, staying involved in the task of remaking this nation." He also deftly positions his audience as the folks who are more in touch with what is going on across America as the recession deepens, noting that "sometimes Washington is slow to get the news."

His core pitch is that his Economic Recovery Plan is all about jobs. I think he used the word "jobs" ten times during his talk. It was also interesting to me that he made a special mention of

"doing all this with unprecedented transparency and accountability. I'll appoint an aggressive Inspector General and a cabinet level oversight board to make sure your money is spent wisely. More importantly, I'll enlist all of you. As soon as this plan is signed into law, goes live and you'll be able to see precisely where your tax dollars are going. Because this is your democracy, and as I said throughout the campaign, change never begins from the top down. It begins from the bottom up."

He concludes with a call to his supporters not to call their Member of Congress about his plan, but to talk with their friends and neighbors about it. And he issues a warning as well: "We have inherited a terrible mess. But I know we have the capacity to rise to this moment and keep the promise of America alive in our time, if the American people demand that we do."

"I'll enlist all of you." We can do this, "if the American people demand that we do." Obama is talking about a radically different vision of the relationship between the government and the citizenry than the previous President, George Bush. Compare his remarks to Bush's speech to Congress after 9-11:

"Americans are asking, 'What is expected of us?' I ask you to live your lives and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat....I ask you to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions....I ask for your patience with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security and for your patience in what will be a long struggle. I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity; they did not touch its source."

Basically, Bush asked Americans to go on with their lives, and critics later mocked him for basically asking people to keep shopping. In his speech, "We" is the government, the military and the security apparatus, who are going to protect the American people. To Obama, "We" is all the people who want to roll up their sleeves and help deal with the economic crisis. Quite a difference, no? Of course, by inviting this kind of participation, Obama also risks losing some control of the governing process. But, so far, he keeps giving every indication of want to involve Americans more directly in their democracy. Things could get very interesting as they we take him up on his call.

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