Democrats, Obama, Organizing For America, Politics, President Obama — March 2, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Why you should give OFA a second look


A few days ago, I wrote a blog entry titled “Whither OFA?”. In it I talked a bit about OFA and where we’ve been over the past year.

Looking forward, I thought some folks might be interested in learning how Organizing for America (OFA) is evolving and suggest that you consider taking another look.

The executive summary is this: OFA has made significant strides in the past year, has learned from some of its mistakes, and is making changes that should make it a more effective network to enact the policies supported by the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.

First of all, a couple points of clarification. I am the OFA Community Organizer (CO) for Ann Arbor, MI. This is an unpaid volunteer position that functions as an intermediary between our Regional Field Director (a paid staff position) and the Neighborhood Team Leaders and Neighborhood Teams that are charged with recruiting volunteers to help with canvassing, phonebanks, Letters to the Editor campaigns and other events related to OFA’s goals.

Second, make no mistake: OFA is not an independent progressive group. It is part of Democratic National Committee (DNC) and, as such, is tasked with promoting the goals of the administration and the Democratic party. Do not expect them to “go rogue” and push for things that aren’t on the agenda of the DNC or the Obama administration. For example, the Democratic party groups, all the way down to the local level, do not support specific candidates until the primaries are over. They remain “agnostic” until the voters have chosen. This type of agnosticism will continue both for electoral candidates and on specific political tactics and issues.

So, what’s different with OFA now? One of the biggest changes that I have seen is that they are actively listening to their grassroots supporters. In fact, it’s arguable that if you want your voice heard as far up as the White House, getting involved with OFA is one of the best ways to do that. Using various mechanisms, the opinions of volunteers are being sent directly up the chain to OFA leadership. As a CO, for example, I am able to log onto a specific website and give direct feedback that is seen not only by staff members and volunteers like myself but also by state and national leadership folks like Jeremy Bird and Mitch Stewart, both of whom are direct frequent contact with the administraton. And this is having an impact.

Two weeks ago I was speaking to our state director and asked her if the recent improvement in messaging coming out of the administration and from OFA was a direct result of David Plouffe taking a more active role. She told me that was part of it but that a bigger part was that they were listening to their volunteers. And their volunteers were saying, “We need more overt leadership at the national level.” In other words, in order to be able to continue to support the administration’s efforts, OFA volunteers were asking for the administration and the OFA organization to be more outspoken in support of specific initiatives like health insurance reform. This is in contast to simply giving the reins to Congress and hoping for the best.

And it’s working. Even the most cynical Obama and OFA detractor surely has seen an improvement in the messaging coming from the top. For example, the recent “You fight, we’ll fight” campaign has shown our members of Congress that if they want our support in the fall, they damn well better start stepping up to fight for the type of health insurance reform that will make a differnce, lower costs and ensure access to quality, affordable health care to most if not all Americans. OFA is sponsoring an ad in USA Today (today I believe) to let Congress and America know that now nearly 9 million volunteer hours have been pledged to members of Congress if they fight for comprehensive health insurance reform.

Another thing our state director mentioned was the the communications team at the top has changed. This infusion of new blood and new ideas is already having an impact. If you haven’t seen the video they produced showing the success of the Recovery Act, I commend your attention to it. It’s extremely powerful.

Dan Pfeiffer took over as White House communications director late last year, replacing Anita Dunn. The administration (and even Ms. Dunn herself) have conceded that some mistakes were made. From a Washington Post article:

White House officials are retooling the administration’s communications strategy to produce faster responses to political adversaries, a more disciplined focus on President Obama’s call for “change” in Washington and an increasingly selective use of the president’s time.

The messaging adjustments are the result of an end-of-the-year analysis in which White House advisers said the president’s communications team had not taken the initiative often enough and had allowed drawn-out debates in Congress, and relentless criticism by Republicans, to drown out his message.

“It was clear that too often we didn’t have the ball — Congress had the ball in terms of driving the message,” communications director Dan Pfeiffer said. “In 2010, the president will constantly be doing high-profile things to be the person driving the narrative.”

One of the biggest failures outside of messaging for the health insurance reform process was the lack of messaging follow-up after the Recovery Act passed. As they turned their attention elsewhere, the created a vacuum that was filled by the Republicans who reframed the conversation about the Recovery Act, renaming it “The Stimulus” and attributing to it all kinds of evil, horrible, not-so-good, very bad socialist things. As I mentioned the other day, a GOP candidate vying to regain his Congressional seat in MI-07 where I live actually sent out an email last week saying that Stimulus package CAUSED HIGHER UNEMPLOYMENT!!!

This improved messaging combined with closer listening to those of us “on the ground” is beginning to pay off. They have heard that we are sick to death of them kow-towing to the Republicans on health insurance reform and it is clear that this will now be the thrust. Last week’s “summit” was a well-planned, well-coordinated and well-executed demonstration of showing the American public that there is one side ready to move forward on this and one group that is intent on simply keeping things the way they are. It’s arguable (by me at least) that we needed to go through some of the agony of the past six months in order for Democrats to be given cover to move ahead using the reconciliation process and that is pretty clearly the way they are headed. I received a message from OFA this week that said this:

Democrats MAY seek a simple up or down vote on the most substantive health insurance reform in generations (no official plans have been announced).

  • Reconciliation is merely a simple majority. It is improvements made to two bills that have already passed the House and Senate.
  • Republicans Presidents have passed 14 Reconciliation Bills since 1981.
  • Republicans have used reconciliation on major legislation that couldn’t garner 60 votes.
  • The Bush tax cuts never attracted 60 Senate votes. The 2001 bill passed with 58 votes. On the second round. in 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney was needed to break a 50-50 tie.

These official talking points indicate to me that, once President Obama sets out the new course in a speech this week (i.e., “announces the plans”), they will proceed with reconciliation and OFA volunteers across the country will be making calls to voters and members of Congress to get behind this. This to me is great news.

I understand that there is plenty for some folks to complain about in terms of the Obama administration’s positions on some of the big issues facing us. But, at the end of the day, they are moving the ball down the field in a progressive direction and, given the opponents they are up against, I believe they are making as much progress as can be expected. They are learning and evolving and OFA as the grassroots volunteer network supporting their efforts is improving as well. I hope that those of you that have pooh-poohed their efforts in the past will reconsider and give OFA another look. It’s my sincere belief that OFA will make a huge difference helping push through legislation on health insurance reform, green energy/climate change, and financial sector reform. And, perhaps more importantly, in the coming midterm elections.

I’m just sayin’…
Digg me, man!