Monday, July 21, 2008

Obama's Machinery of Hope

From March 13th, 2008


No matter what the end result of this campaign is I think it is clear that Barack Obama's campaign will have transformed the way political campaigning is done forever. Obama has done this by combining the internet organizing revolutionized by Joe Trippi the Howard Dean campaign and the community organizing tactics of Saul Alinsky that he learned on the South Side of Chicago.

The latest cover story of the Rolling Stone magazine covers this phenomena. In this essay I am going to examine that article, The Machinery of Hope.

The Machinery of Hope:

-Uniting Trippi and Alinsky: In 2004 Dean for America and we in the netroots fundamentally changed the political landscape by becoming the first true digital campaign. It revolutionized fundraising and shot dark horse canidate Howard Dean into the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. However the Dean campaign never was truly able to translate the energy and enthusiasm into action and votes. Obama's campaign has learned from the Dean campaign and combined internet activism with the community organizing techniques that Obama learned on the South Side of Chicago.

Over the past year, the Obama campaign has quietly worked to integrate the online technologies that fueled the rise of Howard Dean —as well as social-networking and video tools that didn't even exist in 2004 — with the kind of neighbor-to-neighbor movement-building that Obama learned as a young organizer on the streets of Chicago. "That's the magic of what they've done," says Simon Rosenberg, president of the Democratic think tank NDN. "They've married the incredibly powerful online community they built with real on-the-ground field operations. We've never seen anything like this before in American political history."

In the process, the Obama campaign has shattered the top-down, command-and-control, broadcast-TV model that has dominated American politics since the early 1960s. "They have taken the bottom-up campaign and absolutely perfected it," says Joe Trippi, who masterminded Dean's Internet campaign in 2004. "It's light-years ahead of where we were four years ago. They'll have 100,000 people in a state who have signed up on their Web site and put in their zip code. Now, paid organizers can get in touch with people at the precinct level and help them build the organization bottom up. That's never happened before. It never was possible before."

-The Gurus: To do this Obama hired two people who in my opinion are some of the finest strategists out there: Steve Hildebrand and Temo Figueroa. Ever wonder why Obama traveled across the nation for giant rallies? Because of Steve Hildebrand.

To execute this vision, Obama hired as his deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand, a folksy veteran of South Dakota politics regarded as one of the top field strategists in the game. "We wanted to make sure we learned from Howard Dean's campaign," Hildebrand says. The most valuable lesson? "We didn't make the assumption that people signing up on our Web site meant that they were going to help the candidate or even vote for him. From the beginning, we had an initiative to take our online force offline."

Hildebrand actually flipped the equation, using the physical crowds Obama could draw to his rallies to bolster the campaign's e-mail list. In February and March of 2007, just after Obama announced his candidacy, the campaign set up huge rallies in cities from Los Angeles to Austin to Cleveland. In return for a ticket, supporters were asked only to provide their e-mail, zip code and telephone number — a practice that continues at every Obama megarally, where it has become routine for him to draw crowds in excess of 20,000.

Together Hildebrand, who is a veteran political strategist, and Figueroa who is a veteran union leader came up with this revolutionary approach.

-Youth to Power: Another important lesson of this campaign has been that the youth vote will matter but only if you organize youth and have a message that resonates with young voters. The Obama campaign that to win they had to build a new coalition of change and youth has been a huge part of that.

According to Hans Riemer, the campaign's youth-vote director, "The mantra was, 'If the same people show up that always show up — we're gonna lose.' We needed to build a new coalition of voters."

Riemer is no stranger to turning out young voters; he's the former political director of Rock the Vote. In most Democratic campaigns, the youth-vote coordinator is a symbolic post, not staffed until the general election, and often by one of the candidate's kids. Riemer, by contrast, has two deputy directors, has youth-vote staff in every state, and answers to the campaign's top brass.

"Steve Hildebrand, in shaping the campaign strategy from the outset, saw that there was an amazing opportunity here with Barack and young people," says Riemer. Turnout has been astonishing: In Iowa, as many people under thirty caucused as did senior citizens. In every contest, the youth vote has at least doubled and often tripled previous records. Riemer is quick to point out that these successes aren't just the result of the campaign organizing young people but of young people organizing themselves. "When I arrived at the Obama campaign," he says, "there were 175 Students for Barack Obama chapters already in existence" — a group that had started on Facebook in 2006 before morphing into a sophisticated grass-roots organization. "My responsibility was to nurture it and work with them on their political strategy."

Young people have never been a factor in politics before. We have been ignored and so we have ignored politics. But Obama has shown if you speak directly the issues facing us and put some effort into it young people will step up, and we will take action and become part of the political process.

-Obama's Organizers:
Other campaigns have tried to train volunteers that can do certain tasks that the campaign asks of them. But Obama's campaign wanted to go farther, and they did. They decided to train a army of organizers.

Figueroa's goal is not to put supporters to work but to enable them to put themselves to work, without having to depend on the campaign for constant guidance. "We decided that we didn't want to train volunteers," he says. "We want to train organizers — folks who can fend for themselves."

To turn well-meaning students and nurses and social workers into self-sufficient organizers, the campaign has put nearly 7,000 supporters through an intensive, four-day seminar known as "Camp Obama." Starting last March, the campaign solicited applications from its most dedicated supporters and asked them to travel to Chicago on their own dime. In exchange, these "campers" would learn the art of organizing from master teachers, including Mike Kruglik, who, a quarter-century ago, helped train a fresh-faced community organizer named Barack Obama.


The result was a network of trained organizers who became what Figueroa calls the campaign's "secret weapon." Early on, the volunteers essentially served as Obama's staff in key states where he didn't have employees. "It quadrupled the size of our operation in states that were going to be voting not only on February 5th, but February 9th, February 12th and here on March 4th," Figueroa says. "We had an anchor in those states for a long, long, long time."

And what have those organizers done?

No group represents the campaign machine that Obama has built better than AlamObama. A year ago, the group was nothing more than eight people who attended an informal get-together at a Borders bookstore. Today, it's a 600-member grass-roots outfit — an all-volunteer field operation that hums with the energy and efficiency of a fully staffed campaign office. "In Iowa, the campaign was on the ground for six months," says Judy Hall, a college professor who co-founded the group. "They come here, and it's like they've already been on the ground for six months. Those of us in the grass roots, we simply minded the store.

"Well," she says, reconsidering her words, "I guess we actually built the store — but that's what this campaign is all about."

As Hall's well-honed operation makes clear, the Obama campaign has succeeded not by attracting starry-eyed followers who place their faith in hope but by motivating committed activists who are answering a call to national service. They're pouring their lifeblood into this campaign, not because they are in thrall to a cult of personality but because they're invested in the idea that politics matter, and that their participation can turn the current political system on its ear.

In reality, it already has. "We're seeing the last time a top-down campaign has a chance to win it," says Trippi. "There won't be another campaign that makes the same mistake the Clintons made of being dependent on big donors and insiders. It's not going to work ever again."

Wait. Let's read that Trippi quote again.

"We're seeing the last time a top-down campaign has a chance to win it," says Trippi. "There won't be another campaign that makes the same mistake the Clintons made of being dependent on big donors and insiders. It's not going to work ever again."

By combining community and online organizing, creating a broad new coalition of voters and training a new generation of activists the Obama campaign has built a true Machinery of Hope that has forever changed the why politics works.


What's Next:

Our Machinery of Hope has work to do though. Recent polling shows us behind by 20 percent in Pennsylvania. We've got some serious work to do if we want to win that very Clinton friendly state. It is also a closed primary so if we want open minded independents and Republicans to vote for Obama they have to register as Democrats by March 24th. As in 11 days from now. So make the call. This will not end in Pennsylvania though. It is a state that Clinton should win and unless we can make it a upset (We've done it before!) she will stay in the race. Then it is on to the real swing states, Super Tuesday 3, in which Indiana and North Carolina will vote. They will allocate more delegates then Pennsylvania. And the nomination campaign might not end there. In fact we have every reason to believe that Clinton will stay in until the last votes are cast. It will require a lot of money to keep the campaign going strong. So help them out and make sure they know what it comes from by donating via the netroots page. Just click here. Temo Figueroa had a good quote in that article:

"I always give people at least ten things to do, because either it'll scare them off, or they'll start doin' a handful of 'em. Right?"

So make up a list of 10 things to can do to help elect Barack and start doing them.


Yes. We. Can.

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