Ari Melber on Organizing For America: The Birth of the “Permanent Field Campaign”

Looking for something substantive to read over the three-day weekend? Check out Ari Melber’s new analysis of Organizing For America, the successor to the Obama campaign’s grassroots list, published over at tPrez and produced in association with Personal Democracy Forum. Ari’s done a terrific job of interviewing stakeholders involved in the evolution of the Obama organizing machine, including OFA members themselves and Congressional staff who’ve been targets of their activism.

In particular, Ari highlights the distinct differences between this “permanent field campaign” and the traditional activities of political parties between elections. I’m only partway through digesting the report, but this section of the conclusion nails the long-run implications:

OFA has developed an experimental precedent for a new type of policy field campaign. Over the long-term, if it successfully mobilizes and sustains a large, permanent volunteer program, the model is likely to endure for its political benefits. If it successfully impacts legislative action in the future, the model will likely endure for its governing utility. And if OFA eventually manages to do both, the organization could raise the stakes of modern policymaking, establishing a new template for political parties’ efforts to organize mandates and enact their legislative agendas.

One other finding that jumps out, particularly as we near the end of the health care reform battle:

OFA’s strategy of waging a permanent field campaign to pressure Congress has not drawn complaints among congressional staff interviewed for the report of improper executive pressure on the legislative branch. If anything, Obama allies were more concerned that the President did not use his political operation to intercede more forcefully with Congress in 2009.

On health care, the OFA list was the dog that didn’t bark in the night, much less sink its teeth into wavering congressmembers — who knows what might have happened if it had gotten into the fight earlier and more forcibly? But regardless of the outcome of this one issue, Ari’s absolutely right that long-term grassroots organizing is an potentially powerful development and something to watch. Obama’s not the first to build a sustained, independent audience online, but his organization is unique in that it has both the scale and the available expertise to have a real opportunity to change public policy in this country — if it’s used right.

Update: also check out Ari’s appearance on MSNBC to discuss the report.


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Colin Delany
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