On Monday’s show, Alex asked Van Jones, the author, activist and former Obama administration official, why the Obama campaign seemed to squander so much grassroots energy after the election.
Jones noted that Obama officials put a lot of early emphasis on the “inside game,” and placed a lot of power in the DNC - where the campaign’s 13-million-person email list was housed in a new organization, Organizing for America (OFA). Still, he argued that it’s ultimately up to progressives to lead the organizing that can pressure the White House, and not expect Obama to lead progressive movement building.
NOWist Ari Melber countered that the Obama Campaign led its supporters to believe that OFA would provide grassroots pressure. Melber studied the new organization for an extensive 2010 report,
“While a “permanent campaign” philosophy has ruled Washington since the Carter era, OFA is the first time a party is running a permanent field campaign, wired with email, to advance an administration’s policies…
In its first year, OFA successfully mobilized and sustained a new corps of “super activists” around the health care battle. Often below the radar, these governance activists are volunteering several hours a week, or more. Many are new to politics. The national data is striking: OFA members spent a cumulative 200,000 hours volunteering in 2009, organizing 37,000 local events, driving 65,000 people to attend lobbying events, and showering newspapers with a quarter million letters to the editor on health care. . .
While this mobilization is high, most congressional staff interviewed said OFA’s efforts are not changing votes on Capitol Hill. Democratic staff noted that most of the lobbying targeted offices that already backed Obama’s health care plan. The reinforcement was welcome, said Democratic aides, but it did not add to the whip count. In the office of a conservative Democrat who voted against Obama’s health care, one staffer was hopeful OFA would still “change some minds” and cultivate a more progressive “community” in the district. But the aide said that had not happened yet. And OFA did not mobilize people to aggressively confront Obama’s Democratic opposition.
Some Republican staff said they were aware of OFA’s field work, but they contended it was not changing public opinion back home. “Even with the OFA push, we’ve still just seen, for our district, overwhelmingly people are against the [health care] bill,” observed a House G.O.P. aide…
In interviews with former members of the Obama campaign, a common theme was that in many ways, OFA’s job is harder than electing Obama in the first place. “How do you recapture a grassroots movement of people fighting Washington insiders when you’re sitting inside Washington trying to direct this movement?” asked one former staffer. OFA is in a “very tough position,” this person added.
But other Chicago veterans said OFA’s first year revealed shortcomings at the White House.
“Rahm and whomever else [at the White House don’t] give a crap about this email list and don’t think it’s a very useful thing,” concluded one former campaign aide. “This is the most unprecedented list by far in political history, with the potential to be an incredible tool for social change and a legislative hammer to help pass progressive reform. Yet it doesn’t feel like it’s being treated that way [by the White House],” argued the former aide, who was concerned that repetitive, top-down emails would “weaken” the volunteer network.
Another former campaign aide agreed, saying, “I don’t think the White House is interested in using a grassroots organizing network to really advance their agenda. I can say that flat out” …