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Must-Read: Zack Exley on the "New Organizers"

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, October 8 2008

It's late and it's Yom Kippur, so I'm going to be brief: Go read all of Zack Exley's detailed field report on "The New Organizers, Part 1: Obama's neighborhood teams and the power of inclusion and respect." Exley, one of the country's consummate NEW political organizers, who started out as a labor organizer and then got in early on internet-powered organizing first with his satirical, followed by stints with, the Dean campaign and the Kerry campaigns, has written a powerful and convincing depiction of the people-powered, hyper-networked engine purring away under Obama's hood. Here's the key nut grafs (which he buries deep in the piece):

We saw glimpses of the potential for this kind of organizing campaign in MoveOn's 2004 and 2006 volunteer operations, the Dean Campaign and even the Bush and Kerry campaigns. And there are great examples of this kind of organizing if you go back to the social movements of several decades ago. But the Obama campaign is the first in the Internet era to realize the dream of a disciplined, volunteer-driven, bottom-up-AND-top-down, distributed and massively scaleable organizing campaign. For anyone who knows how many times this has failed to happen, this is practically an apocryphal event. Marshall Ganz, who is an advisor to the national field campaign, and one of the main architects of the team model, said he's been waiting 40 years for it.

A well-run organizing campaign is the most beautiful thing in the world: people know what they're working for; they have little successes everyday; they prepare for problems ahead of time and have great fun attacking them when they happen. Everyone is in a state of constant euphoria. In the end, win or lose, you have built something that gives you hope for the future—hope that humanity can, as it turns out, work cooperatively towards a better future and succeed.

Zack's writing is the best kind of engaged journalism. Kudos. He's involved in the story, but knowledgeable enough about the contours and detours of grass-roots organizing to illustrate just how and why what the Obama campaign is building is so significant, and to compare it unblinkingly to the failures he saw close up in the Democratic campaign efforts of 2004.

Of course, it's all aimed right now about getting Obama elected. But once you create this kind of self-generating, self-correcting organizing model, and teach thousands of people to successfully use it, you plant very powerful and subversive seeds. We're going to need these kinds of organizers and organization in the coming months and years, because as the economy goes down, social desperation will go up. What's being built by Obama's organizers offers suggestive promise of a something we haven't seen in this country in decades: a genuine organized movement for economic fairness and social solidarity. Or, perhaps, on the basis of Zack's reporting, maybe I should say, Solidarnosc!