Keeping Obama's Campaign "Army" Mobilized as a Force for Change in Peacetime
Posted November 7, 2008 07:32 AM (EST)
Speaking to tens of thousands of his supporters in Chicago's Grant Park, President-elect Barack Obama said his smashing victory was not about him but about "you." In his effort to unify, he meant all of America, but he also was crediting a very special group of people -- his "peacetime army" of millions of volunteers and contributors who grew the electorate and upended the electoral map in the name of change.
The key question now for Obama and all who support the change he called for is, "What happens to this peacetime army?" This powerful force was galvanized by Obama and his campaign. His Web site allowed any supporter to act immediately, and it reached millions with a flood of targeted e-mails and text messages. The campaign organized tens of thousands of events through which Americans reached out to other Americans. Many thousands of paid and volunteer organizers worked for months to register voters, identify supporters and get them to the polls. They travelled to battleground states to knock on doors and make their case for change in person. In many states, Obama's on-the-ground presence dwarfed that not only of the McCain campaign, but of the Democratic Party and virtually every other contemporary political institution and social movement in American society.
Ordinarily when a presidential campaign ends, organizers disperse and some of them join the administration, if the campaign has been successful. The list of donors and volunteers is often treated as a precious, proprietary political resource to be sold or loaned to allies. Obama's was no ordinary campaign, and that business-as-usual approach would be a mistake in this extraordinary year when so many want change.
While Governor Sarah Palin taunted Obama for being a "community organizer, whatever that is," Obama understands better than anyone who has been elected to the presidency that true political power and progress depend not only on presidential leadership, but on an engaged citizenry, and that elections are a crucial but only passing moment in the life of our democracy. To govern effectively and promote his agenda on economic security, energy, expanded health coverage, education, the restoration of civil liberties and other matters, Obama will need to keep his army mobilized. Doing this is as important as drafting legislation and picking cabinet secretaries.
Obama and all those who want to seize the moment for progressive change need these talented and passionate organizers who helped deliver the presidency to stay in the field and work with state and local organizations to deliver the change that Obama promised and they labored for. They would offer a huge boost to local coalitions and organizations, many of which are far less powerful and sophisticated than the Obama campaign.
These organizers are essential to sustaining the passion and engagement of millions of donors and online activists, who can take action in support of the agenda they share with Obama.
Progressives understand that this army needs to be a force for keeping the new administration true to its promises - supporting Obama when it agrees with him, pushing him when he needs to be bolder, and opposing him when they disagree. They did that this summer when thousands of Obama supporters used the campaign Web site to convey their dismay with his support for a Congressional compromise on government surveillance of U.S. citizens under the Foreign Intelligence Services Act. In the tough challenges ahead, this peacetime army can press Obama to stay true to his promises and his supporters.
Obama understands better than any other politician that the success of his agenda depends on his supporters being mobilized and engaged. What we have seen in the last year is a rebirth of participatory democracy, infused by the energy of millions. Imagine what this energy can do if it channeled into ongoing action.
"THESE ARE THE TIMES THAT TRY MEN"S SOULS"...AGAIN... TIME FOR PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY?
What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."
Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?
Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.
How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.
In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.
We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.
This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…
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Monday, November 10, 2008
Keeping Obama's Campaign "Army" Mobilized as a Force for Change in Peacetime