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Organizing for America's Role in the Health Care Battle

BY Micah L. Sifry | Sunday, March 21 2010

Ben Smith of Politico has a good point about the role of Organizing for America in the fight over Obama's health care reform. He writes: "Obama hasn't, as some hoped and feared, transformed the political landscape and changed the way politics is done. But within the legislative trench warfare that has defined this year, his campaign organization was a serious asset."

Indeed, the sheer numbers of actions tallied by OFA in the last ten days are impressive:

· Made nearly 500,000 real-people calls to Congress.
· Sent 324,000 letters to Congress.
· Held nearly 1,200 health care-related events with more than 10,000 attendees.
· Sent nearly 1 million localized text messages.
· Called nearly 120,000 supporters using OFA’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool online.

Leaving aside all the "what-ifs" and "could-have-beens" of the past year-and-a-half, this is still a highly respectable output by Obama's grassroots arm.

Three observations: First, it's worth noting that OFA isn't necessarily made up by the same volunteers who worked on the Obama election campaign; while some people may have been disappointed by the group's evolution into a well-oiled but tightly-controlled arm of the White House, others are joining in. For example, during his floor remarks today, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) described hearing from one of them: “My office got a call today from Mary Ann F., 91 years old from Pittsburgh. She asked me to vote for health reform because she wants everyone to get the coverage she has. She remembers before Medicare, when half of our seniors worried about getting sick because they had no health insurance.” F. is a brand new OFA volunteer, according to a source inside OFA who checked the organization's database. She joined by committing to the “You Fight, We Fight” program, meaning she pledged hours to fight for Rep. Doyle in November if he fights for health reform. And she's logged two calls to Rep. Doyle’s office on behalf of health reform. [UPDATE: The OFA blog has more details here.]

Second, and this is just a theory, it appears that OFA's activist base has shifted older than the Obama campaign's base. Perhaps this was inevitable, as young people are far more transient in their political habits than older activists. But scanning through the photos uploaded by OFA to Flickr to illustrate its "I'm here for..." campaign, I was struck by how many of the participants appear to be middle-aged or older.

Will this be a factor in OFA's ability to turn out the younger part of Obama's base in 2010?

Third, you can't underestimate the impact of Obama's personal involvement in the last few weeks. Here he is in a video taped two weeks ago, calling on OFA volunteers to join their "Final March for Reform":

This video has gotten 210,000 views, two-thirds of which occurred on March 5th and 6th, right after it was posted. This may not seem like a big number compared to the heights reached during the campaign. According to stats tracked by our friends at TubeMogul, 130 other videos on the channel have more views--but only three of that group were published in 2009 or 2010: one by Obama announcing OFA in January 2009, a major speech on the economy he gave in February 2009, and the announcement of his Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor in May 2009. In other words, Obama's call to arms earlier this month is one of the most resonant he has made in quite a while.