Obama's Organizing Advantage Comes With Its Own Headaches


Amid all of the talk of AIG malfeasance and a pink slip for Timothy Geithner, Democratic organizers have been subtly shilling for President Obama’s budget. Over at MOTHER JONES, David Corn has been consistently asking when and how the Obama administration is going to use its massive grassroots network to flack for this and other legislative priorities. Ari Berman over at THE NATION has the answer: Canvass. From his piece, reported during a massive person-to person signature drive that took place over the weekend:

"We're here to send a message to Washington that the country is still activated," said Geoff Berman, a theater director and volunteer coordinator for OFA who spent nine weeks in southeast Missouri last fall for Obama. The ostensible purpose of the day was to get people to sign forms pledging their support for Obama's budget, which would then be passed on to members of Congress. More importantly, it was an opportunity for OFA to get the rust off, keep its volunteers active (and hopefully recruit more) and see how voters in communities across the country were responding to Obama's agenda. "The organization itself is taking shape and we don't want it to take shape in a vacuum," Berman (no relation) said. "The Obama campaign and Administration want to learn from everything we do." OFA, a subset of the Democratic National Committee, is gearing up to hire field organizers across the country who will constitute the next phase of the DNC's modified 50-state strategy.


Berman follows three young, black canvassers in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, who have never volunteered before, and who achieve mixed results (key quote: “I thought people would be more enthusiastic about Obama," Erica said. "They're suffering from Obama fatigue," Tremis responded. "The side effect is they don't want to hear about it anymore.”)

Certainly, it remains to be seen whether OFA will be able to continue the successes of the well-oiled new media operation that put Obama in the White House. Around Washington, I’m hearing that legal, technological and personnel constraints are keeping the Internet team, now part of the White House communications shop, rather than its own entity, from doing everything that candidate Obama promised. Largely forgotten: Obama’s pledge to allow “non-emergency” legislation to remain up for 5 days before being signed into law (I suppose 300 million potential commenters is a lot for whitehouse.gov to handle).

The organization sent a video message out to supporters last week, encouraging a rally around the budget. But there have been stumbles. The OFA operation—now housed at democrats.org and run by the DNC—was flacking the announcement of Sen. Judd Gregg’s nomination as Commerce Secretary weeks after his surprise withdrawal.

OFA (under the leadership of one of our “Talented Ten”) has had some cool offline events here in Washington. And with millions of Obama fans—and email addresses—it would be a shame if they couldn’t keep the heat on Congress for the progressive legislative battles ahead.


Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.