DNC: Tragically Wasting The Obama Movement

I just read an article that completely echoes my sentiments on the miserable failure of Organizing for America to morph into something new and a meaningful agent for change in the way politics is done. I think it neatly explains why we’re doing this project here and why we’re not tied into OFA anymore. Let me turn the floor over to Ari Melber:

OFA launched a new email and petition drive on Tuesday afternoon, ratcheting up pressure on Congress to pass the President’s health care plan. Huffington Post’s Nico Pitney reports on the move’s political significance:

“A first shot, of sorts, is being fired in the Obama-era battle for health care reform. Organizing for America, President Obama’s political arm, is blasting out an email to its massive list of supporters urging them to join an “Organizing for Health Care” campaign.”

A DNC official says the message is significant because it is “the first email” that is “going out from the OFA and DNC lists organizing for health care.” The declaration drive will culminate, the official added, in a supporter list that organizers “can deliver to members of Congress.” But there are some problems here.

It is early, but so far, these OFA legislative “organizing” efforts run the risk of being boring, vague and redundant.

The drive is boring and thus more likely to falter, as Zephyr Teachout wrote in this space, because the goals are predictably top-down (support the President’s agenda) and somewhat propagandistic (because he said so).

Then, click through your inbox and you’ll find the new petition is almost comically vague. The three goals are: Reduce cost; Provide choice; and Ensure affordable care for all. It is hard to see any need to demonstrate official public support for those general principles.

Finally, asking millions of Obama’s strongest supporters to simply sign petitions, regardless of their location, ambition and ability, is surely redundant and probably wasteful.

Take an activist in a Democratic House district in a Blue state — why should she be pressuring Congress if her representatives are already backing Obama’s plan? (If anything, those members would be willing to go further towards single-payer.) A blanket national petition drive is redundant for many supporters, and it fails to target people in the areas where more visible pressure is desperately needed. Imagine, for example, if OFA specifically rallied its Republican and independent voters in the 37 G.O.P. districts that Obama won last year — areas that endorsed his platform but are still represented by Republican incumbents. Imagine a Pennsylvania-focused campaign to make health care a bigger issue for Arlen Specter — or imagine if OFA actually solicited grassroots views from local Obama supporters before the President endorsed the ex-Republican’s candidacy. You get the idea.

OFA’s current organizing emphasis is at least inefficient, even on its own top-down terms. (The health care experiments on the government side during the transition period, to be fair, were more bottom-up.) And judged against broader values, it obviously fails to tap the ambition, ability, sophistication and creativity that bubbled up through more open networks during Obama’s campaign.

Ari Melber last wrote about Organizing for America in the article “Obama for America 2.0?

Thoughts? Do you agree with Melber or do you think the current efforts by the DNC are more or less satisfactory in harnessing that enormous grassroots potential?



7 comments so far

  1. quake22 on

    I don’t even blame Obama, but he’s just not willing to unleash people in a meaningful way. OFA will be irrelevant until it morphs back into the presidential campaign in 2-3 years.


  2. jeremydc on

    I guess Chris, but it really pisses me off that they didn’t even try to unleash the potential for grassroots advocacy. The DNC could’ve (and would’ve) done the same crap without the Obama infrastructure.

    • Bronwyn on

      Except that the DNC would not be so completely Obama’s. I know the President is always the head of the party (when we’ve got a Democrat in office) but OFA takes it a step further–the President’s own campaign organization has been superimposed on the party structure.

    • Bronwyn on

      I miss Howard.

  3. Bronwyn on

    I totally agree with Melber, and I’d expect a smarter, more nuanced approach from something that used to be the Obama campaign infrastructure. They’re basically doing what MoveOn does.

    Further, I’d say that Melber’s comment about soliciting opinion re: the support of Arlen Specter reminds me a lot of the way DFA operates–much more bottom-up. There’s a lot more *telling* us what to do from OFA–or, actually a lot more assuming that we are Obama’s echo and that’s it.

    I actually think we’d be a much more powerful tool in Obama’s hand if we weren’t simply his echo–people on the Hill and elsewhere would take us more seriously if they thought we had the potential, at any moment, to become a true grassroots uprising (not in the sense of torches and pitchforks, but in the sense of campaigns and ballot boxes). If they think we’re one more mailing list, they won’t exactly write us off–they know the power of mailing lists–but they’ll be a lot less impressed and a lot less liable to listen to us. Just my .02.

    • jeremydc on

      “If they think we’re one more mailing list, they won’t exactly write us off–they know the power of mailing lists–but they’ll be a lot less impressed and a lot less liable to listen to us. Just my .02.”

      I hate to say it Bronwyn, but I think that’s the point. The DNC’s goal is to win elections, not influence policy. And most establishment Dems, in the administration or on the Hill, don’t want to have to take the minions seriously. So everybody on the inside is happy this way, but the country and the party as a whole suffer as a result.

      The other thing is, I think we need a middle ground between pitchforks and ballot boxes. We can start taking the idea of democracy seriously and getting in the faces of our elected officials until they do the right thing. That’s the middle ground Carrots & Sticks is trying to navigate.

      • bronwyn41 on

        I agree, of course, about citizens influencing policy. However, I don’t think that was in the minds of the people who seemed to be taking us more seriously in late January and February than they are now. This is all speculation, of course–who knows what was in their heads?–but I doubt they thought of us as an important force navigating that “middle ground” of governance and policy. I think they were aware that the power of our movement just elected an extremely unlikely candidate president, and they had no idea what we were going to do next. Who would we support, who would we oppose, who would we elect? To whom would we donate money and time? Who would get raked over the coals in the blogosphere? Now that they know Obama has us in hand, they only have to worry about what *he* will do–not tens of thousands of citizens who are suddenly not behaving as predictably as the Beltway folks expect them to.

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