Saturday, November 15, 2008

"It is no simple task to convert an insurgency into a standing army"

Over the last 10 days or so, I've gotten a number of emails from our hard working Obama volunteers in CD36 who all wonder, "What's next?". 

Already they've answered their own question by joining our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters at "Marriage Equality" rallies all over the state (and nation) today. Tomorrow dozens of them will phone bank to help win yet another Senate seat for Democrats in a Georgia runoff election.

Their enthusiasm and willingness to continue on with the work beyond November 4th is humbling and awe inspiring.

The main stream media has begun to notice. The LA Times yesterday ran a very interesting piece on the challenges that face an Obama administration trying to harness this force effectively.

It is the biggest and broadest American political force ever created -- a vast, electronically linked network of activists, neighborhood organizers and volunteers who raised record amounts of money and propelled Barack Obama to the White House.

Now, as Obama turns from campaigning to governing, his advisors are struggling to harness this potent web of supporters to help him move his agenda over the next four years.........

But it is no simple task to convert an insurgency into a standing army.

That challenge has sparked rare discord among Obama advisors who ran a highly disciplined operation with no public disagreements throughout the long campaign.

Traditionally, the new president would blend his campaign operation with his party's national committee. Some of Obama's closest advisors lean toward that pragmatic view.

But others, who built the grass-roots organization, worry that linking it too closely to the party could cause the unusual network to unravel -- and squander an extraordinary resource.

The Obama machinery relied heavily on idealistic political outsiders committed to breaking free from old ways of doing politics. The worry is that these enthusiastic activists might drift away if they are turned over to the Democratic National Committee, where the party might ask them to support Democrats and target Republicans.

Instead, Obama advisors involved in building the force think it should remain an independent entity -- organized around the "Obama brand."

The goal, they say, is to integrate Obama's political organization into his new role as president without damaging its zeal for a candidate who promised to change Washington.

"If it's in the party," said Marshall Ganz, a Harvard University lecturer who helped design the training curriculum for Obama's organizers, "that's a way to kill it.".................

The debate underscores some of the larger challenges facing Obama, who must balance the idealism of his core supporters against the need to forge compromises within a Washington political environment that he criticized as a candidate but now leads.

The Obama network is far more expansive and sophisticated than the traditional list of e-mail addresses that are a common byproduct of modern campaigns.

Rooted in the street-level tactics learned by Obama when he worked in the 1980s as a community organizer in several Chicago housing projects, the network grew to include thousands of full-time organizers, many in their 20s and new to politics, who were trained to help create neighborhood teams led by volunteers.

In California, Obama's campaign developed an e-mail list with more than 790,000 names. That included 40,000 volunteers "who did real stuff like make over 10 million telephone calls," said Obama state campaign manager Mitchell Schwartz.

Top organizers such as Ganz, who created the training program called Camp Obama, view the network as a mass movement with unprecedented potential to influence voters.

Temo Figueroa, another top Obama campaign organizer who headed Latino voter outreach, said he was hearing from community activists across the country who wanted the network to remain intact -- but who were not necessarily party loyalists.

"A lot of these warriors on the ground are not Democrats, and that's by choice," Figueroa said.

"So creating a different organization might make them more apt to join it."

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