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Community Organiser beats Money-market Man

Written By: - Date published: 11:28 am, November 8th, 2012 - 45 comments
Categories: activism, campaigning, community democracy, democratic participation, obama, us politics - Tags:

Donald Trump says its not democracy, but that is essentially the story of the US election campaign. In the end, on-the-ground organisation beat the billion-dollar PACs. Wall-to-wall negative advertising turned the punters off, but people-to-people contact on both sides of the contest meant the turnout was high. A lot of attention has been paid to his use of technology, but fundamentally Obama had more offices and more people across the country for a much longer time then Romney.

That goes back to a crucial decision made by Howard Dean when he became Democratic President, after missing out to John Kerry as 2004 nominee.

Dean formed the organization Democracy for America and later was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in February 2005. As chairman of the party, Dean created and employed the 50 State Strategy that attempted to make Democrats competitive in normally conservative states often dismissed in the past as “solid red”. The success of the strategy became apparent after the 2006 midterm elections, where Democrats took back the House and picked up seats in the Senate from normally Republican states such as Missouri and Montana. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama used the 50 state strategy as the backbone of his candidacy.

He had to fight Rahm Emanuel, who was leading the Democratic House campaign in 2006, and wanted resources spent on the winnable House seats, the old marginal seats approach. Dean was another far-sighted community organiser and fundraiser and won the fight.

Obama’s background as a community organiser meant he understood the importance of organisation on the ground, as many politicians do not. Organisation can beat money, as we showed here in 2005.

As for the money, a lot of Republican money came from special interests, and from the “old economy.” This article by Carl Pope of the Sierra Club is well worth a read for the parallels with New Zealand – we are certainly stuck in the old economy, and their interests dominate our politics too.

Much food for thought.

45 comments on “Community Organiser beats Money-market Man”

  1. kea 1

    I think this spells trouble for Netanyahu .. and possibly for John Key.

    • mike e 1.1

      Yes they even overcame the dirty tricks the Gop tried like deliberately denying access to vote dodgy voting machines long cues voter id cards.
      Deliberate lies back fired ! in Ohio!Auto bail out.
      Getting Clint Eastwood to talk to a chair, after Eastwood already backed the Auto bailout!

    • aerobubble 1.2

      My take. Sandy reminded America of Katrina. Katrina of Bush junior. Bush of Bush Economics that led to the economic downturn. Then they looked up, they saw a winner of those economic times, how much they were hurting and Romney wasn’t, so they naturally did want him swanning over them. This empowered Democrats out to vote, their vote stood up and grew, as did Republician vote where it did not matter.

      The real question for us is mid-terms and a Democrat takeover of the lower house of congress.

  2. Uturn 2

    The community knowledge of Obama was also promoted in a message from Chris Rock to undecided voters, via the Jimmy Kimmel Show:

    I suspect this is what tipped the scales for most people.

    • Tracey 2.1

      had a bit of a chuckle…

      was saddened to see the candidates extolling “working together” and so forth after a campaign where they both poured a few billlion into negative and cynical campaigning.Even when not being cynical they are being cynical if you see what I mean.

  3. gobsmacked 3

    The conclusions for Kiwis are clear.

    You can’t base a campaign on the view from Wellington (Washington). Labour have become a Parliamentary caucus more than a community party, and as long as MPs think that they can win thanks to Parliamentary funding, staff, and media, then they will lose. Not to National, but to the Greens and other non-Parliamentary political organisations.

    If MPs want voters to become supporters, and supporters to become activists, they should start by listening to them.

    • AmaKiwi 3.1

      + Absolutely. See my next comment.

    • bbfloyd 3.2

      A bit slow there gobbious one….. I see instances of interaction going on all the time within the labour party….. The few “dinasaurs” left who lost that message are no longer typical among the caucus….

      Do I sniff a personal agenda?

      • gobsmacked 3.2.1

        “interaction going on all the time within the labour party”

        Precisely. They – and you – don’t even see the problem. QED.

        Key word: “within”. How many people is that?

        What is the interaction with the rest of us? How are we inspired?

        “Shearer Says”? “Red Alert”? Trevor Mallard’s Facebook?

        You can’t solve a problem that you can’t recognise, and Labour aren’t even close to seeing it.

  4. AmaKiwi 4

    A long time ago I went to Chicago to train in the same Saul Alinsky community organization where Obama learned the community organizing skills which won him 2 elections.

    It works brilliantly BUT there are three problems with trying to apply it in NZ.

    1. Policy comes from the people, NOT elitist liberals like our Labour MP’s.
    2. You can’t be so God damn fucking polite.
    3. You fight for issues, not personalities.

    • mac1 4.1

      I’d be interested, Amakiwi, to have more explanation because of
      the apparent contradiction between points two and three.

      • aerobubble 4.1.1

        Think radiation breath. Attacking and undermining impolitely the very core of the policy.
        Key is very predictable in the way he responds, the fact that Labour aren’t more ready
        (they are a sometimes), is a problem.
        On point 1. Sure Labour seems to leave policy up to the Greens.

        • fatty 4.1.1.1

          “On point 1. Sure Labour seems to leave policy up to the Greens.”

          …or Mana, or Campbell Live – feed the children

    • Richard Christie 4.2

      You guys seem to be conflating campaign organisation with policy. They’re different.
      Obama’s first term (policy, both in implementation and direction) disappointed a significant proportion of his support base but his campaign still trounced the Republican machine.

    • Colonial Viper 4.3

      Can you fight for issues using full throated red blooded language which -gasp- might not always be strictly PC and which some might even consider “impolite”?

      I’d say so. And I’d say that sometimes, not that often, its important to do so.

      • Uturn 4.3.1

        I think if you don’t know you’re using FTRBL then you could be forgiven for doing so. But once you know what you’re doing, your knowledge of your own passion undoes your alibi.

        The problem with the passion argument is that passion is misrepresented as the be-all of genuine intent. There is no doubt people can connect to passionate speech, but passion can be transmitted in silence as well as noise, a gesture as well as a word. Passion is often understood as a feminine trait, but what is commonly offered is a the result of distant logical masculine observation of a feminine source. This causes more problems than it solves.

        A progressive politician can’t expect great success by f’n and blinding because they’ll isolate or switch one supporter for another and come out no better off than where they began. Their inability to notice the dynamics of their own passion reveals an inabiilty to take all people with them, moving whever they move, and always creating an enemy to push against to artificially induce the tension required for passionate discourse. Politics is a job, a controlled persona, it’s not the expression of a free and diverse personality.

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    “Organisation can beat money”? Yes it can, if you are being outspent say 2:1. But not if you are being outspent 20:1.

    And even then you are talking about needing sums of many hundreds of thousands of dollars just to make it to the starting gate for your average Congressional race. That effectively ensures that the voice of the top 1% is heard much louder than the 99%.

  6. BM 6

    The only way forward for the Republican party is if control can be wrestled from the Christian fundies who took over it.

    The Republican party these days only really represents middle America.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      The Republican party these days only really represents middle America.

      I LOL’d

      The GOP has only ever represented the richest of the rich in the US.

      • BM 6.1.1

        America is two separate countries under the same banner.
        Republican party represents one, Democrats the other.

  7. Community organiser with a billion dollar campaign war chest. Pffft

    • Bill 7.1

      Sheesh. Seven comments in before the obvious is stated! Obama neither is nor was a community organiser. If you think that’s untrue then it’s high time you read some stuff on Obama that isn’t penned from deep within the Democrat machine. He was loosely involved with community projects but not at the grass roots level per se. But hey, there’s spin to be put out there.

      Both Obama and Romney were, are and will be ‘operators’ well in tune with corporate agendas and demands. And if corporate and financier campaign donations are anything to go by, then Obama is a better opertator than Romney is…just as he was a better operator than the last Republican candidate to run for president.

      Finally. And I’d have thought obviously. In a $1 = 1 vote, lobbied to hell and back ‘democracy’, there is no democracy beyond the faint smell of decay that lingers after the physical evidence of something ever having been has gone. Which also maybe goes some way to explaining why 90 000 000 (ninety million) people did not bother to vote.

      • Te Reo Putake 7.1.1

        From wikipedia, Bill:

        Two years after graduating, Obama was hired in Chicago as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale on Chicago’s South Side. He worked there as a community organizer from June 1985 to May 1988.[33][34] He helped set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants’ rights organization in Altgeld Gardens.[35] Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute.[36]

        • Bill 7.1.1.1

          A director. A consultant. An instuctor.

          What’s grassroots about any of those, incidentally paid, positions of employment TRP?

          not that I think people shouldn’t be renumerated for political or social endeavours, but generally speaking, grassroots stuff is entirely voluntary and driven by conviction; not wages or salaries.

  8. AmaKiwi 8

    @aero

    Example: We organized an apartment building. We asked the tenants what the key problems were. They said, lack of repairs and maintenance. The “polite” solutions got no results. You know, asking the owner to make repairs, complaining to the building inspectors, etc.

    People did their homework. Where does the owner live, work? What is he passionate about?

    They found out he is a Black associate professor at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago and got his teaching schedule. One day about 20 tenants with placards carpooled to the university. They went into his lecture theater with children in tow waving waving placards (“Slumload,” etc.) shouting insults at him. By the way, the paper he was teaching was “Urban Problems”!

    We were NOT polite. Our purpose was to humiliate him into making repairs. It worked. In days he he met with the tenants association, itemized their complaints, and shortly thereafter made all the repairs.

    It was NOT about personalities. There was no identifiable leader of the group. All agreed on what their objectives were and how to attain them.

    It was NOT about him. The tenants wanted the rats killed, backed up toilet drains fixed, etc. Thereafter it was the nicest apartment in the neighborhood and he was well respected by his former adversaries, the tenants association.

    It was about POWER. Empowering the tenants by organizing them and DEMANDING changes, NOT politely asking and being repeatedly ignored (i.e. as with a select committee).

    • mac1 8.1

      Thanks for that, Amakiwi.

    • fatty 8.2

      “Our purpose was to humiliate him into making repairs”

      Nice one AmaKiwi…power from the bottom is about stigmatising those above, and humiliation is the best way to do it. We need to flip it on them.

      • AmaKiwi 8.2.1

        Do whatever works. Remember, the goal power, not politeness. There is nothing “polite” about paying your rent and watching rats run around your flat which is filled with the stench of sewage.

  9. Pascal's bookie 9

    Dpf has a thread today that is turning pretty ugly, but this is classic from East Wellington Superhero:

    Remember a few weeks back when the media inferred whites of racism because Obama was dropping in the white vote.

    African-Americans Obama +86%
    Latinos Obama +44%
    Whites Romney +20%

    Simplistic as it is, these numbers suggest it isn’t whites who are the worst at making judgements based on race.

    Derpderp

    • fatty 9.1

      DPF logic would therefore suggest that African-Americans never used to be racist, because 84% of African-Americans voted for Clinton in 1996…or African-American people were colour blind in 1996 and they thought Clinton was African-American

      • Pascal's bookie 9.1.1

        That wasn’t dpf, but yeah

        The logic would suggest that because the k k k was only supported by say 20% of the whites but most African Americans opposed them, THAT’S RACIST OF THE BLACK PEOPLE!!

  10. AmaKiwi 10

    Pollsters said eight states were too close to call.

    Obama won all eight. Here are his victory margins: Ohio 1.9%, Virginia 3.0%, Wisconsin 6.7%, Iowa 5.6%, Nevada 6.6%, Colorado 4.7%, New Hampshire 5.8%. Those are hefty margins for supposedly undecided states. Only one of the states was actually too close to call: Florida, where Obama is presently ahead by 0.6%

    I attribute Obama’s large winning margins in these states to community organizing.

    70 years ago the Labour party was probably a community organization. It is not now. It has too many “we know the answer to your problems” liberals. Liberals have theories. Radicals want power.

    • Bill 10.1

      Radicals want power.

      So how does that work in the context of your comment when voting is about giving some ‘other’ power?

      • AmaKiwi 10.1.1

        @ Bill

        I am not clear what your question is. Who is the “other” to whom power is given?

        • Bill 10.1.1.1

          In the case of representative elections, then the ‘other’ is notionally the politician. But really, when it’s looked at with any seriousness for a moment or two, it’s ceding power to those who sit behind the representatives – which in our case is corporate and financial interests.

          • AmaKiwi 10.1.1.1.1

            Yes, unfortunately you are right.

            If you set up a campaign organization based on a Saul Alinsky organizing model, the candidates should be getting continuous feedback from their constituents. This places some limits on corporate interference. The candidates can say to the corporates, “I cannot do that. My constituents are strongly opposed to it.”

            I personally favour referendums as a limitation on politicians.

            We forget the corporates use community organizing continuously. Their community is the old boys network. Their organization meets in corporate board rooms, golf courses, etc. They have the money but we have the numbers. If we refuse to buy their products and services, they are in trouble. We have power. We have to organize to use our power effectively.

            • fatty 10.1.1.1.1.1

              “We forget the corporates use community organizing continuously. Their community is the old boys network. Their organization meets in corporate board rooms, golf courses, etc. They have the money but we have the numbers.”

              Yes and no….people power is the best form of power we have, but corporate power extends beyond the old boys network. The Tea Party movement was driven by corporates, and other community groups can stir up ground support for questionable objectives. e.g. Bob McCroskie and his family first hate gang twisted the issue of smacking….I’d say that the sensible sentencing trust have the ability to shift the public discourse of crime/punishment at ease – and many corporate entities can use these ‘grassroots’ groups to further their interests.
              I’m all for grassroots groups and people power, but it can be a double edged sword

              • AmaKiwi

                “The Tea Party movement was driven by corporates.”

                I have not been to the US in 5 years, so this is my opinion based on news stories.

                I think the Tea Party is angry working class people who are struggling. The difference between them and working class Obama supporters is what they see as the solution: less government versus more socially responsible government.

                I don’t think the corporates created the Tea Party. Corporates threw money behind it because it shared their goals of cutting taxes and reducing government.

                The Tea Party folks are in pain, too.

                • fatty

                  true, the Tea Party supporters are suffering, in much the same way that the occupy supporters were, and even KKK members/BNP etc…but the Tea Party were demanding smaller govt and a less regulated economy. As far as I know they started out as many grassroots movements do, but they became heavily funded by Koch Industries…so they were doing the work of corporates.
                  My point was that grassroots movements can become vehicles for corporate interests very easily, and corporations these days are becoming very good at disguising how they promote their interests

  11. Tracey 11

    Anna, also the polls could have been manipulated to make the race seem closer for Romney’s benefit

  12. jamie prentice 13

    I haven’t read all the comments but I think most are missing the point. What similarities can you see why labour lost time and why the republicians lost. The republicans missed out on the recent immigrates, the young, the poor , the women vote and the liberal vote. In other words they received the vote of older white men and conservatives.
    Using the same reasoning Labour did not get enough votes from the former (immigrates, young etc), in other words, they should win ever time an election is held in NZ, if they target labours natural voters, obivously they are not. Which means they are not connecting with their roots, this is where their own the ground work needs focus and they need to find out what these groups want. Once this has been established the message needs to get out what they want to acheive, rather than telling people what is right for them.
    The labour party as with the republicans appears to me, to be to influenced by fringe groups who have there own agender rather than what the majority of people in New Zealand want. From the outside it appears that intellectals control the labour party or have undue influence, rather than the common man or women

    • AmaKiwi 13.1

      I agree but also add that Obama and Clinton have rock star quality.

      Goff and Shearer don’t.

    • Tracey 13.2

      IF the purpose of being a political party is to represent what the so-called “majority of people in New Zealand want”, then that party will be a constant chamelion. Isn’t the point to be a party which represents something or somethings and then get that message out and those who are attracted to it will vote for it? Afterall less than 50% voted for national so do they currently represent what “majority of people in New Zealand want?

      Jamie can you explain what you mean by “intellectuals”?

      It may be that what the Republicans want the world to look like and what Labour wants the world to look like simply aren’t palatable or wanted by “most people”. Changing those principles to fit what most people want makes the party something completely different. Now, if you had said that the point is that perhaps the Republican parrty and more so Labour are now politically redundant, without a place in the political landscape other than waiting for people to get sick of the current lot, I would tend to agree.

      I think yu may have been making that point here when you said

      “Which means they are not connecting with their roots, this is where their own the ground work needs focus and they need to find out what these groups want. Once this has been established the message needs to get out what they want to acheive, rather than telling people what is right for them.”?

      The only way to “change” this is through educating people, explaining stuff to them, showing them a different way to see the world, hence, in the end women were “given” the vote, slavery was abolished. Particularly in the case of the later slavery was what the majority wanted… If people like the way you see the world they may alter their position but if they have no understanding or idea of your view of the world how on earth can they support it.

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