Monday, January 26, 2009

Organizing for America In Collin County

On January 15th Barack Obama announced the formation of a new group known as Organizing for America as the "Obama 2.0" legacy successor to Obama's campaign organization.

While running to become the President of the United States, Barack Obama's campaign recruited millions of campaign supporters and contributors through online social networks. Over two million joined, a website fusing social networking with volunteer political organizing, while more than 5 million supported Obama's profile across other social websites like MySpace and Facebook. More than a million people asked for campaign text messages on their cell phones and yet more kept up with campaign information on Twitter. Most importantly, over 13 million voters signed up for regular e-mail fundraising pitches and other communications.

On election day, a staggering 25 percent of Obama voters were already directly linked to him--and one another--through these several socio-political network websites. Campaigns largely dissolve after elections, but Obama's campaign infrastructure, so far, remains largely intact and very active.

A spirited post-election debate broke out among top Obama campaign organizers over how to leverage the e-mail address book of 13 million entries and the national networks of motivated volunteers. If you think this sounds familiar, you're probably right; This was the same question faced by Howard Dean's "Blogosphere" of volunteers in the aftermath of his 2004 defeat. Dean's campaign operation ultimately became Democracy for America organization.

By the weekend of December 6th and 7th, hundreds of field staffers and some key volunteers had decided to get together in a closed-door summit at a Chicago hotel to exchange ideas face-to-face on how to evolve the Obama campaign structure into a post-election political force. In an effort to open the process campaign manager David Plouffe's also sent out an email in mid-December asking volunteers to host and attend house parties to discuss ideas on how to best leverage the Obama network in the months and years ahead.

Many Obama supporters across Collin County and in 2,000 cities around the U.S. attended local house parties to share organizing ideas and identify key issues they wished to support. Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman, said the campaign had received about 500,000 responses to e-mail surveys and the house parties. On Dec 30, 2008 the Pew Internet & American Life Project released results of a post-election voter engagement survey that showed 62% of Obama voters overall expected to lobby others to support Obama administration policies over the next year. Almost half (46%) expected ongoing communication from Obama, whether via email, text message, or social networking sites.

According to a email sent to supporters by Plouffe to report the results of the mid-December house party meetings:
  • People are excited to volunteer their active support of Obama's legislative agenda, particularly on key interest issues of education, the environment, health care, poverty, and the economy.
  • 86 percent of respondents feel it's important to help Barack's administration pass legislation through grassroots support.
  • 68 percent feel it's important to help elect state and local candidates who share the same vision for our country.
  • And a staggering 10 percent of respondents indicated that they would be interested in running for elected office.
The most popular goal identified by the half a million Obama activist responses was to help the Obama administration pass legislation. If Obama’s initiatives stall in Congress, these activists will presumably back him by lobbying their elected representatives in the Senate and House. Combining the White House bully pulpit with constituent lobbying across the U.S. could have a dramatic effect on Obama’s presidency. Previous presidents have gone over the heads of Congress by appealing to the public, of course, but never with a parallel whip operation targeting Senators and Congressional District Representatives in their backyards.

On January 15th Barack Obama announced the formation of a new group known as "Organizing for America" that aims to continue the grassroots advocacy that supported his run for the presidency. "As President, I will need the help of all Americans to meet the challenges that lie ahead," Obama said in a video message, "That's why I'm asking people like you who fought for change during the campaign to continue fighting for change in your communities."
The key idea behind "Organizing for America" — is that the 20th century model of communicating with and motivating supporters has given way to a 21st century Internet media model of communication channels built around YouTube, Social Networking, Twittering, etc. — as was evident during his campaign and as is already evident in the White House’s media strategy. (see White House YouTube video channel bar in the right sidebar of this blog)

The new group will work within the Democratic National Committee, led by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, to advance the Obama agenda. "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," said Kaine in a DNC release announcing the formation of Organizing for America.

Obama's networks of thousands of trained field organizers and tens of thousands of neighborhood coordinators can also provide valuable grassroots support for every Democratic Party candidate committed to, or thinking about, running for office in the 2010 mid-term and 2012 election cycles. And not just national and and state office candidates, but also local county and city office candidates - even in Republican strongholds like Collin County.

As in many counties around Texas and the U.S., Obama's network of trained field organizers and neighborhood coordinators in Collin County are already moving on to form a local "Organizing for America" coordinated campaign organization to field and/or support Democratic Candidates across Collin County in the 2010 mid-term and 2012 election cycles. The Collin County Coordinated Campaign organization will likely be modeled somewhat after the highly successful "Coordinated Campaign '08" group of Harris County Texas who closely cooperated with the Harris County Democratic Party.

The Texas Progressive Alliance selected the Harris County Democratic Coordinated Campaign as its “Texan of the Year” for 2008:

The Harris County Democratic Coordinated Campaign faced a daunting task in 2008: Take Texas' largest county, which hadn't elected a Democrat to any county wide office in over a decade and which went for George Bush by ten points in 2004, and turn it blue. And they had to do it amid the high expectations that followed Dallas' fabled blue sweep in 2006, with the Harris County GOP knowing they were being targeted. And they had to start from scratch, since there hadn't been any kind of effort like it in anyone's memory. Oh, and in the middle of it all they had to abandon their headquarters and move to a new location thanks to the damage that Hurricane Ike wrought [and creation of a Coordinated Campaign'08 website].

The key was strong leadership, starting with the vision of people like Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg and Dave Mathieeson, the operational know-how of Executive Director Jamaal Smith and Bill Kelly, and the coordination and hard work of many, many people. They developed a plan, matched it with a budget and coordinated with all the candidates. They opened branch offices all around the county and drew on the energy of Democrats new and old. They knocked on doors, made calls, sent mail, and spread the message of Democratic change everywhere.

And in the end, they succeeded, with Democrats winning 27 of 34 county wide races. They boosted turnout in the traditional Democratic areas, and improved performance all across the county. They relentlessly pushed an early-vote message, which translated into leads of 50,000 votes or more for most candidates going into Election Day. They stressed the importance of voting Democratic all the way down the ballot, which minimized under voting in the lower-profile races. They brought in new voters and brought back those who had given up hope, and got them all on the same page.

Add it all up, and the new year will bring new Democratic judges, a new Sheriff, a new County Attorney, a new District Clerk, and two new County Department of Education trustees. For that, and for the promise that 2010 will bring even more success and help pave the way towards turning all of Texas blue, the Texas Progressive Alliance is proud to name the Harris County Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign its Texan of the Year for 2008.
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