Why the Obama campaign has worked on the ground

A small portrait of the translator

October 15, 2008 @ 13:03 UTC

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Barack Obama
Government & Politics, Activism & Protest

HuffPo has a very interesting (and looong!) article on ‘The New Organizers’ - the grassroots teams of volunteers who have been working for the Obama campaign around the country. What they’ve achieved is truly remarkable, and very, very inspiring. As Zack Exley says:

“The “New Organizers” have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade… [They] have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization.”

He compares and contrasts what’s going on now at grassroots level with what happened in 2004:

“The Ohio campaign is attempting to build teams in 1,231 campaign-defined “neighborhoods,” each covering eight to ten precincts. They are targeting virtually every inhabited square mile of the state. The campaign claimed to have teams in 65% of neighborhoods when I visited in early September. That’s risen to 85% coverage at press time—and they are shooting for 100%. In contrast, the Kerry campaign effectively wrote off rural counties, and completely abandoned them in the final few weeks of the campaign in a last minute all-in shift to the cities…

[An organizer says:] ‘Everyone who goes out canvassing comes back with at least one story of someone they impacted. The team leaders are trained to give people time to tell those stories, and so everyone gets a sense of progress and they learn from each other how to be more effective next time.’

That’s a totally different picture than what I saw in scores of Kerry offices in 2004: crowds of canvassers receiving minimal instruction before being sent to an unfamiliar neighborhood and rarely getting the chance to debrief with others as a group.”

It’s quite incredible how effective the Obama camp has been on this front. Coupled with the help of the blogosphere, they’ve truly managed to inspire and harness the power of both ‘real’ people on the ground, and the ‘virtual’ community in the new media (and I guess this site is testament to that!).

I was in Malaysia at the start of this year, and saw the ruling right-wing coalition there lose control of state after state in the general election. They’d been in power for 50 (count ‘em!) years, and the election result was an utter shock - to both the incumbents and the victorious young and/or left-of-centre politicians and supporters. I’ve been thinking about what happened there during various points of this American election, because one of the reasons why the Malaysian government lost so many seats was that they controlled the old media - TV, newspapers - but not the new. Turns out the opposition had been rallying support and getting out the vote (as well as getting people out for rallies) via text messages, blogs and websites. They had been doing the grassroots work - and took absolutely nothing for granted - and the result was an overwhelming rejection of the old regime by the young and the left, whose power (and feelings) had finally been harnessed by the use of new media. The excitement was incredible on the night of the election, as news started to spread (via that new media, of course!) of the sweeping changes happening across the country… and I’m imagining a similar thing could very well happen in America on the night of November 4th.

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