What we REALLY need is an “OFM” — Organizing for Michigan
A LITTLE HISTORY
My involvement with Obama for America/Organizing for America/OFA goes back to the spring of 2008. From the very first meeting with local Obama fellows leading up to the house meeting we held in our living room later that month, I was fully “in”. I assumed a leadership position quickly and both Anne and I spent every available minute from then on working to organize locally to elect Senator Obama as the 44th president of the United States.
Because of my involvement, I was invited to the first “Legacy Conference”, a two-day conference with 100 Regional Field Directors, 100 Field Organizers and 100 grassroots volunteers (or “super vols” as they called us), put together to help chart the future of OFA as it transitioned from a presidential campaign to its next phase. I, along with my organizing partner in crime and close friend Tad Wysor, continued to stay organized locally. An organizational meeting we had in Dexter where we live was written up by the Boston Globe who even featured a picture of Anne on the front page. We held a training right before Christmas at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti that featured Ponsella Hardaway from the MOSES group in Detroit and Mike Kruglik, a Gamaliel Foundation organizer from Chicago who was the person who hired Barack Obama to organize on the city’s south side when he was fresh out of college.
AFTER THE 2008 ELECTION
Throughout the spring of 2009 and into the summer when OFA finally got back on its feet our local network was still functioning and actually doing things. We fit right in with OFA’s new goal of helping President Obama enact his agenda. We worked to ensure passage of the Stimulus and, most importantly, getting health insurance reform passed, along with other things along the way including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
When the 2010 midterms came around, although we had far less resources since it was a non-presidential elections, we still worked hard to get out the vote and I, as the volunteer coordinator (aka “regional lead”) in Ann Arbor, worked with volunteers all across the area on what turned out to be a bloodbath for Democrats at the polls. Shortly after that election, Tad and I were elected as co-Vice Chairs for Precinct Organizing for the Washtenaw County Democratic Party (WCDP.)
I continued to work for OFA as a volunteer leader through about 2011 when my blog and my work with the WCDP began to take up all of my spare time.
I tell this story because it shows just how important OFA has been to me over the past five years.
OFA has now transitioned into a new organization, Organizing for Action. A 501(c)(4) group, they will no longer be able to work for candidates and part of what OFA volunteers will be doing is raising funds since they won’t have the luxury of a presidential campaign to do that for them. They will be focusing primarily on national issues and helping President Obama continue to get his agenda passed in Congress. One of the things they have done that has angered many Democrats across the country is to shut down their version of the Voter Action Network or “The VAN”. Although the VAN is used by Democrats all over the America, the OFA version of the VAN was a souped-up version that benefited from all of the data entered by OFA volunteers from 2008 through the 2012 election. That data is now in the possession of OFA who have chosen not to share it with state Democratic parties but will, instead, use the lists of names and addresses and volunteer IDs and volunteer history for their national efforts.
The state Democratic leaders are in some ways quite justified in being angry that OFA has left town with the data. However, it’s also fair to say that this data was never theirs to begin with. It’s also true that they weren’t exactly shooting the lights out in terms of grassroots organizing before OFA came into town. In other words, they haven’t lost much because, frankly, they never really had much.
The OFA model, with their monster database that allowed them to microtarget voters with emails, phone calls, mailings and all manner of voter contacts, has set a path for our party. Over the last year I attended both the Netroots Nation and RootsCamp conferences and a significant proportion of the sessions were on the smart use of data and transferring the national OFA model to the state and local level. Organizers around the country are working hard to apply the lessons that OFA has taught us to all manner of political organizing.
Not only that, OFA has left behind a corps of trained grassroots organizers, organizers that, if they are provided with the right tools, can accomplish miraculous things, things that counter the incredible influx of money that our Republican opponents spend every election cycle to influence voters, especially since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
Unfortunately, state parties are a disadvantage when it comes to harnessing that organizing potential. They don’t have the lists and the information about these local organizers because OFA has them. Additionally, they will now be competing with OFA for volunteers; OFA asking folks to work on national agenda items to help the president and state parties (as well as other progressive groups) reaching out to them to work on state issues. So, while what OFA did has angered many Democrats, it has also forced them to up their game to be competitive for these volunteers. If they don’t offer something compelling to interest grassroots activists, those activists will take their knowledge and networks and training to groups that do. One impressive sign that this is already happening is that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has, for the first time, hired a national field organizer.
WHY I WON’T BE WORKING WITH OFA ANY LONGER
Here in Michigan and in other states that are majority Democrats but run by Republicans, we simply do not have the luxury of working with OFA on national issues. Don’t get me wrong: I still support and endorse OFA 100%. It’s just that, while I would love to be working on avoiding the devastating sequestration cuts or ensuring that sensible gun control legislation gets passed, we have much more important issues to be working on in our state. From now until Election Day in November 2014, our single-minded focus must be on electing Democrats at every level. We have no other priority. We control nothing in our state:
- Lt. Governor
- Attorney General
- Secretary of State
- House of Representatives
- Supreme Court
- Court of Appeals
At every level of our government, Republicans are in control and this is despite that fact that we voted for Obama by a 9-point margin and Senator Stabenow by a 20+-point margin. We have to fight back against the gerrymandering and the potent impact of huge amounts of money being spent by corporations and wealthy individuals with a severely right wing, pro-Big Business agenda that is working to crush unions, privatize our public services, and roll back gains made in civil rights and women’s rights, particularly women’s access to safe and legal abortions. Every single thing we do between now and November 4, 2014 must be geared toward executing the biggest midterm election GOTV operation ever seen in this state. Between now and then, we will use issue organizing and everything else at our disposal to assemble our teams and networks and to rebuild the VAN database in a way that will benefit our state and that will STAY in our state.
My wife and I have taken to calling it “Organizing for Michigan”.
Because we have access to the VAN through the Michigan Democratic Party and we have local organization already in place through our County Parties, we are already partly down the road to accomplishing this. Couple that with the fact that many local groups are still organized and still organizing, much like Tad and I did in late 2008 and beyond, and we have a powerful nucleus from which to build from and to organize our state into the future.
So, while I love and admire and respect OFA and all they are doing, until we can regain control of our state from the drunk-with-power, conservative Republican ideologues that have seized control, we just don’t have the luxury of working with them right now. I look forward to the day when we do.
If you are in Michigan and want to stay active, please consider reaching out to your local Democratic County Party organizers and find out how you can play a role in organizing locally. If you are in the Washtenaw County area, please give me a call.