Democrats, Organizing For America — February 25, 2010 at 8:57 am

Whither OFA?


I was very surprised to Markos Moulitsas, owner of Daily Kos, link to an anti-OFA screed, describe OFA’s organizational model as “OFA’s whatever-the-fuck-it-is-that-they’re-doing model” and declare “Sounds about right”. It’s particularly surprising when the ridiculous screed was so full of contradictions, misinformation and general WATBing about how the Democratic party has done gone and changed.

With all due respect to Markos and the author, John Morgan, they clearly don’t have a clue what they are talking about when it comes to OFA. So I thought I’d try to give them little dose of reality.

First of all, the article in question, posted at the Pennsylvania Progressive, claims that the 50-state strategy has been abandoned. As a central thesis for the essay, it’s simply ridiculous. Anyone who has been paying even the slightest amount of attention knows that Organizing for America (OFA) has staff in every single state. More than that, they are establishing grassroots networks across the country in every single state based on the 4+ million volunteers that helped out in one form or another with the highly successful Campaign for Change.

Now, I realize that there was an attempt at doing something along these lines in the DNC prior to Obama for America (OFA 1.0). But I have news for you: it was not all that effective. Were you ever contacted or motivated to become involved in grassroots campaign organizing prior to the Obama campaign? I can say, as a mid-40s adult, that I was never once in my entire adult life approached, encouraged, or called to participate in grassroots campaigning for a candidate. Oh, I was called for money, for sure. But never to get involved.

Not so with OFA. Not only was I involved with the campaign, I am now a Community Organizer for OFA, coordinating Neighborhood Team Leaders who are in charge of teams of volunteers. This is happening across the country in every single state. People like myself are supported by paid staff and, after a year of putting the organization together, they’re starting to really get their feet under them.

Morgan’s essay sneeringly derides the young people involved in OFA. Quoting some anonymous blogger:

The OFA kids are nothing but Obama acolytes who think they’re community organizers. First of all, as someone who a) has been an actual community organizer (in Chicago, no less) and b) studies social movements and organizing as a graduate student, I can’t tell you what a load of shit this is.

Well, lah di dah. That’s a great idea. Send all the young people packing. But let me ask you this: who do you think is going to work the long hours and odd schedules for a tiny salary to organize the grassroots with that level of energy? And do you really want to spit on the young people who are the lifeblood and future of the party? Really? Can you honestly tell me there isn’t concern in your county and state Democratic parties about getting more young people involved?

The people at the helm of OFA are not a bunch of kids and they are not David Axelrod or Robert Gibbs nor President Obama. They are Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird. Mitch is a thirty-something Democratic veteran and Jeremy Bird was one of the country’s top organizers during the 2008 election. Together they are building a nationwide, state-by-state-and-I-mean-every-state organization. It may not look like your father’s DNC. It may not look like the Democratic party of 10 years ago. But I contend that’s a good thing because for the first time in my life, the Democrats have a large and well-organized volunteer base.

Morgan goes on to suggest that OFA is starting to lose elections. It’s hard to see how he can make that statement given that there really haven’t BEEN any elections since 2008 where OFA was involved. The only one where they were asked to help was the Coakley campaign and OFA was only brought in at the last minute for that. We didn’t win but we helped to take the margin from 14% two weeks out to less than 5% on election day. Across the country OFA volunteers alone made more than 2.4 million calls for Coakley. When was the last time the Democrats organized volunteers at that level?

More recently OFA has had over 7.3 MILLION hours pledged to help fight for Democrats who fight for health insurance reform. Despite Mr. Morgan’s claim that OFA is strictly issue-based rather than electoral based, those millions of volunteer hours will manifest during the upcoming midterm elections and are sure to have a decisive impact.

Currently OFA is holding Strategy Briefings and Community Organizer training session all across the country. I attended one last weekend and we had over 100 people in attendance. At the Strategy Briefing we talked at length about getting first-time 2008 voters back to the polls, something Mr. Morgan seems to think OFA doesn’t know or care about.

In terms of electoral work, the relationship between OFA and county/state Democratic parties varies from place to place. In Michigan where I am, it’s a great relationship. In fact, the man holding the water bottle in the picture above is Mark Brewer, chair of the Michigan Democratic party. Next to him is Stu Dowty, our county party chair. In addition to have a terrific working relationship with party leadership, OFA staff have great relationships with all the members of Congress in our area as well (John Dingell, Mark Schauer, Gary Peters, John Conyers, etc.) Even as a volunteer, I have personal relationships with the staffs of all these legislators. OFA staff met with Schauer’s staff directly last week to talk strategy for the year and the upcoming election.

In other states, the relationship is not so good. While some of that can probably be attributed to OFA leadership not taking the right steps to build a good relationship, much of it can also be laid at the doorstep of older, stick-in-the-mud types like Morgan who are afraid of change and want results delivered to them rather than having to do the hard work of working together to achieve goals. I believe that, over time, Democrats across the country will realize the value of OFA and these relationships will slowly improve.

I would suggest that those who think that OFA is something to sneered at and laughed off do a bit of research first. OFA is not the policy-making arm of the Democratic party. It is the volunteer base. Between elections we will work on issues and getting legislation passed. During elections we’ll work our tails off to get Democrats elected. OFA isn’t going away and any Democrat that gives a damn about winning elections should be happy for that. For the first time ever, Democrats have a solid organization to effectively organize volunteers to fight for issues and candidates. We’ve caught up to Republicans in this way and it’s about time.

And that is “whatever-the-fuck-it-is-that-they’re-doing”, Markos.

I’m just sayin’…
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