You’ve built an organization in your community and across the country that will continue to work for change–whether it’s by building grassroots support for legislation, backing state and local candidates, or sharing organizing techniques to effect change in your neighborhood. Your hard work built this movement. Now it’s up to you to decide how we move forward. –David Plouffe, Obama campaign manager
What do the Obama campaign organizers do now?
In the election’s wake, left without a common cause are at least 20,000 seasoned and tested organizers. Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman reports that by election day, these organizers had mobilized 5 million volunteers. To them must be added the hundreds of thousands of organizers and volunteers who performed parallel service for MoveOn, ACORN and other independent election campaign organizing efforts.
So, what, if anything, are the organizers to do next? Why not harness their skills to mobilize the millions of Obama volunteers–many of whom found their work to be the uplifting and energizing experience of a lifetime–into an army of demand for Congressional action on the Obama agenda and, where needed, to demand even more than Obama is willing to ask for?
With a progressive president and a progressive Congress, why should this be necessary? The answer is the 15,965 registered Washington lobbyists, who spent $2.4 billion on lobbying just between January and September. Doubtless, with a Democratic president and Congress threatening actually to re-regulate business, they will have at least this formidable a war chest for 2009.
There was a blustery derby in the Democratic primaries about who could be tougher in standing up to the lobbies. But belligerent talk is a featherweight counterweight to the entrenched power of money. Fear, not bluster, is the only counterweight–the officeholder’s fear of getting thrown out of office in the next election. But generating reality-based fear among power holders can be done only by massive organizing that threatens retribution at the polls.
Frustrating the vision of elected progressive leaders is what establishment lobbies do. But there are also models of progressive grassroots organizing that have added weight to bolster good leaders’ demands. I want to describe one in particular, a template that the Obama organizers, volunteers and funders should find as engaging and rewarding as the work they have just finished.
This model had its genesis in the mid-1980s, when a small cadre of political students at Johns Hopkins University won control of the Young Democrats of Maryland, and for the next several years took turns lobbying through the State Legislature a series of significant progressive reforms. They never stopped. By 1989 their leader, Vincent DeMarco, with his Hopkins colleagues and a growing band of activists, was recruited by frustrated progressive executive and legislative leaders, blocked in the legislature by lobbyists, to mobilize public opinion.