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Tracking Organizing for America's Progress

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, February 10 2009

It's been interesting tracking the coverage of Organizing for America's weekend "Economic Recovery" house parties. On the right, bloggers have been passing around Mary Katherine Ham's report from two lightly attended parties in the DC area, where she found Obama supporters who expressed "disappointment" with both the process and the content of the recovery package. On the left, my old friend and colleague David Corn, Mother Jones's Washington editor, has been blogging repeatedly about Obama's seemingly unwillingness to "use his army," criticizing the organizing effort for only asking supporters to talk to their friends and neighbors about the legislation, rather than call members of Congress urging its passage.

Press reports have also been somewhat mixed. McClatchy's Frank Greve jumped out of the gate with an early and highly negative report that claimed the meetings were a "bust." Sean Quinn of Fivethirtyeight, who did yeoman's work reporting the Obama field operation during the campaign, provides a round-up of countering news stories (from San Jose, Austin, and Tampa) and offers his own report of a lively and productive meeting in Maryland. To that mix, I would add this Christian Science Monitor report on a well-attended meeting in Connecticut and this local Fox news TV report on a similar gathering in LA.

It's obviously too soon to draw out a full picture of OFA. If there were indeed something like 3,500 house parties last weekend, a few dozen anecdotal reports just don't suffice. I think it's also too soon to judge the organization a failure as a political tool simply because Obama hasn't made explicit use of his list to hammer Congress with phone calls, which is what my friend David Corn is hankering for. That would be MoveOn's approach, but there are signs that OFA wants to spur a deeper level of engagement from its members, so the initiative for political action comes from below rather than at the press of a button from above. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and by NOT giving his supporters "marching orders" Obama may actually be playing a more subtle game as an organizer.

We are living in the era of "ridiculously easy group formation," after all. Over on Facebook, there are two fast-growing groups of Obama activists that seem to be seizing the moment offered to them. The first, Organizing for America 2.0, has 4,300+ members. The second, newer group, We Are the Change, has about 1,800, and it's explicitly all about pressuring Congress to pass Obama's recovery bill. The has more than 1,300 members. The Yes We Can Racine group has more than 200 members. And so on.

Online, Obama's message to his base appears to be resonating. TubeMogul shows more than 720,000 views of his weekend YouTube video to his troops:

The bottom line? There's more going on here than we know, Mr. Jones.