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Organizing for America Launches; Structure TBD

BY Micah L. Sifry | Saturday, January 17 2009

If you're on the Obama campaign email list, by now you've probably received a message alerting you to a special message from President-elect Barack Obama announcing the formation of "Organizing for America," the continuation of the organization that was built during his 2008 campaign. In a video posted on YouTube, Obama says:

When I'm sworn in as the President of the United States, it will be because of you. You've built the largest grass roots movement in history, and shaped the future of this country. And the movement you've built is too important to stop growing now. Today I'm pleased to announce the creation of Organizing for America--the organization that will build on the movement you started during the campaign.

As President, I will need the help of all Americans to meet the challenges that lie ahead. That's why I'm asking people like you who fought for change during the campaign to continue fighting for change in your communities. Since the election hundreds of thousands of you have shared your ideas about how this movement should move forward, and we've listened carefully.

Volunteers, grass roots leaders and ordinary citizens will continue to drive our organization, helping us bring about the changes we proposed during the campaign: a solution to our economic crisis, an end to the war in Iraq, affordable healthcare for all and new sources of energy to power our economy and protect our environment.

Joe Biden and I will be working with Congress to bring about change in Washington. But we cannot do this without you. The change we've worked so hard for will not happen unless ordinary Americans get involved, and supporters like you must lead the way.

You'll be receiving more information in the next few days about this organization and how you can continue to play a crucial role in our journey to change America. I look forward to continuing that journey with you, and I thank you for everything you've done for this movement and for our country.

An accompanying press release adds that "Organizing for America will partner with Governor Kaine and the DNC."

"Change doesn't come easy -- our work has just begun," said Governor Kaine in the release. "President-elect Obama has laid the foundation to meet the great challenges facing our nation, but we can succeed only if we build grassroots support for the administration's agenda. As the DNC works to elect candidates who will support the change agenda, we will also invest in bottom-up efforts that ensure that the priorities of everyday Americans are heard in Washington."

As I've been writing for the last few months, we are entering uncharted territory. No president has ever entered office with an organized social movement at his side, with the ability to reach millions of his supporters instantaneously and in as targeted a way as he wants. Nor have we ever been as networked to each other, with the ability to connect laterally by our own interests, as we are today.

It's interesting, then, how Obama's announcement papers over this tension. On the one hand, he says he needs his supporters' "help," that they will "drive" the organization and "must lead the way." Sounds great. On the other hand, he gives no details other than "you'll be receiving more information in the next few days about this organization" and that it will be "partnering" with the DNC.

If I sound just a tad concerned about this, it's because Ross Perot made the same kinds of statements back in 1993, when more than two million Americans answered his call to join a new reform organization, United We Stand America, thinking they would be in the driver's seat. We all know how that episode ended.

So, the critical questions about the future of Obama's movement remain unanswered, except for its name. How it will be financed, how it will be governed, how it will determine its priorities, whether it will have a federated structure (state and local chapters)--all of this is TBD. To be determined.