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Whither Obama & Co.'s Organizing Might?

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, October 30 2009

Writing for the New Republic, Lydia DePillis investigates the Obama operation'spost-campaign organizing might, now institutionalized in the Organizing for America branch of the Democratic National Committee. Why, asks DePillis, has Obama's much-praised distributed network of supporters not done more to counter the many "tea party" events and health care townhall protests that took place over the summer, gaining much attention for opposition to the president's legislative program without eliciting a tremendous amount in the way of pushback? DePillis:

The first was timing: Staff were still filtering into the states in July--and, because the Senate Finance Committee hadn't produced a bill yet, OFA had little concrete to advocate for, even as conservatives found plenty to argue against. The second was tactical: Obama's campaign had never used the kind of in-your-face antics the tea-partiers embraced, focusing instead on story-telling and canvassing. "What you see on the right is an organizing model that's based on grandstanding in front of cameras, in August for example," Bird says. "That's not what we ever did on the campaign. Our organizing was the nitty gritty. I mean it really was the real, hard-core organizing work that we think moves folks and wins elections and changes peoples' lives and is based on person-to-person conversations." But the biggest problem was built into OFA's very structure...

Head on over to TNR for more of DePillis's take on the structural obstacles that have hampered organizing since the election.

It's worth exploring in greater depth, though, the particulars of how "grassroots organizing" can do much of anything when the context is the very start of a presidential administration, rather than a hotly-contested presidential election built around major themes of change, collaboration, and participation -- as well as the particular challenges of engaging people in the sort of legislative battles that Obama has found early in his term, many of which had to do with the nuances of some complicated packages of legislation, from health care reform to financial regulation. And it's not as if grassroots, distributed organizing is having no effect. It just might not have an OFA sticker slapped on the side of the bus. See, for example,'s piece on Paul Rieckhoff, whose Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, organized in large part on the web, is having legislative success by actively engaging on the Hill and getting passed some targeted measures aimed at improving benefits for soldiers.

Worth a read. (Photo credit: Barack Obama. [Hey, it's his name on the Flickr account!])