Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jeremy Bird - OFA Deputy Director - Respect, Empower, Include, "Unfriend" UPDATED!


So I'm at yoga class tonight when my cell phone rings. When I go to check who it was after the class was over, the call was listed as coming from 202-863-8000. No message was left. When I called the number, I got the after-hours switchboard for the DNC headquarters in Washington.

When I get home, I see an email message from Jeremy Bird, "Please call."

Evidently he tracked me down through one of the OFA CA staff. He's asked to re-friend me and said the un-friending was a "mix up" by a staffer. We had a brief, but friendly discussion, most of it off the record.

Let's say we agreed on some things, disagreed on others. He was respectful. He listened. Now, I don't see the conversation significantly changing my concerns about OFA, but I absolutely give him credit for reaching out to start a dialogue. And I believe I was able communicate to him that my criticism is meant to be constructive. And I'm cautiously optimistic this will open the door to more communication.

And yes, I'll re-friend him.


Micah Sifry at Tech President, picks up the story here.

During the Obama campaign in 2008, the one phrase you heard relentlessly was "respect, empower, include". It meant a lot of things to a lot of people, but at it's heart, it meant that every member of the campaign organization - from State Directors to phone bank volunteers - was a valued member of the team whose contribution mattered.

In 2010, Jeremy Bird, Organizing For America's Deputy Director, has added his own twist to this mantra - "Unfriend".

Mr. Bird is one of about 1,200 "friends" I have on Facebook. I actually have very few friend-friends on Facebook, but I do have a lot of political contacts, since I use it primarily for political organizing.

So when I saw that Mr Bird had posted a Huffington Post article defending OFA against recent criticisms, I took the opportunity to comment on his post. When I saw no replies - which is odd considering what a high profile he has on Facebook - I went back a couple of hours later to see what was up. I was surprised to find that not only had I been "unfriended" by Jeremy Bird, but that I could no longer even find his profile on the FaceBook search engine.

At this point you're probably asking yourself what the hell did I say that he felt the need to execute the FaceBook equivalent of "wishing me into the cornfield"?

Well, take a look below. And then tell me how responsive we can expect OFA to be to it's organizers if it's leadership is this thin-skinned.

For the record, I was a Regional Field Organizer for CA-36. I, and my co-RFO, ran many dozens of phone banks from August 2008 to election day. Cumulatively, we had around 1,500 volunteers who made over 500,000 phone calls to swing states all over the country. California made over 10 million phone calls over the course of the election.

OFA as an organization has been a profound disappointment, but the volunteers are not, and the contacts and relationships that came out of the campaign have been amazing. I continue to work with the activists I originally knew from the Obama campaign on marriage equality and on California budget issues. The video I created on the CA budget crisis was produced with the help, and starred, California Obama organizers.

Over the summer, I was able to organize my own phone banks targeting the constituents of CA Blue Dog Dems on health care reform, completely independent of OFA, with the help of former Obama organizers and new volunteers who didn't want to list build for OFA. We made over 10,000 phone calls to Costa and Cordoza's districts in central CA. Calls that OFA didn't even start making until the Fall. More recently, we were phone banking against the Stupak amendment. Again, with former Obama organizers.

The thing I find completely heartbreaking about is to watch such an opportunity squandered right before our eyes. I literally watched it happen. When I look back to how eager our vols were this time last year, those sea of faces in both Denver in 2008 and the Inauguration in January and know that whatever movement there was is gone, gone, gone. Rising from it's ashes, there's another one - smaller, more tentative. The bigger problem is there's no other large orgs like MoveOn or DFA really picking up on this and running with it. The smaller orgs like FDL PAC and PCCC are ad hoc and completely dependent on the whims of their founders. There's a lot of activity, but very little forward momentum. It's all triage and no planning. So yes, it's frustrating.

Nobody knows where to go from here. How do you constructively push an administration you helped elect that isn't always working for the agenda you want? And do it effectively with extremely limited resources?

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