“Today, I signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law” writes President Obama, twice, in my inbox this morning. (Somehow, I’ve ended up on two different e-mail lists from the campaign.) The message, heralding the $787bn stimulus bill signed yesterday, comes appended with the note: “Paid for by Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee.” There was never much doubt that the stimulus would pass. Republican critics had a point—the bill is really only half stimulus, with the rest made up of longer-term spending, often on pet democratic projects which won’t make much difference to long term growth. But the right never had anything close to the muscle to stop it going through. That said, the bill was something of a test for Organizing for America—the new, and slightly mysterious, body spawned by the Obama people to take the “movement” part of their campaign to Washington. Its early days, for sure, but the signs aren’t too good.
In the last edition, i wrote a piece—Moving Pains—in which I argued that the administration would find it tricky to engage the 13m who had been, to some degree, involved in the campaign, either the 3m who gave money, or the other 10 who volunteered, or at least read their e-mails.
Obama’s 13m supporters and 3m donors can neither relocate en masse to Washington nor be consulted on every law, while door-knocking alone doesn’t solve most political problems. In short, “movement” into “government” doesn’t go… As commentator Micah Sifry noted at the time, the covert gathering [where Obama’s team planned to set up OFA] cemented a view that the move to what some call OFA II—or Obama for America II—has been a “top-down, one-way affair.”
This piece got picked up a bit, for instance in this post from Andrew Keen, while other blogs—especially the aforementioned Micah Siffrey, on the marvelous TechPresident—have been watching the same issue. So what happened?
In short, very little. As i noted in the article, one of the tricky things for online-driven organising is what can you get people to do? The campaign itself allowed volunteers to undertake lots of small tasks. You walk into an office, you are immediately given something small to do. (My colleague Tom Chatfield has a neat point that those who set…