Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Battle Plans: Getting 'Clout' with Obama

Photo: Key Issue to Press on Obama

And 'Clout’
in Elections

By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama

[This is a reply to important questions from David Hamilton (MDS, Austin, TX) posed last week on our ‘Progressives for Obama’ yahoo group email list. -Carl Davidson, webmaster, 'Progressives for Obama, ' http://progressivesforobama.blogspot.com]

How do progressives and antiwar voters increase their influence within the Obama campaign?

The place to start is where you are, by working on expanding your own influence among local voters, building or creating new local grassroots groups, and winning these voters to take part in them or be in communication with them in various ways. The rule here is that most politicians, including Obama, pay attention mainly to organized voters and organized money. Since the later isn't our forte, work on the former. Then let the local campaign know what you're doing, cooperate in some ways, but still keep your own independence and initiative.

All the basic ‘How To’ Documents for doing this are posted as the first documents on http://progressivesforobama.blogspot.com

The local Obama staffers will often start asking you for "advice" right away. I usually tell them things like, "the better and more detailed line you take for new green industries and new green jobs, the more votes you'll get around here. It you want the more conservative white workers to listen, this is what you need to be saying' or 'the harder and clearer you come out for getting out of Iraq in 2009, no pussy-footing around with smaller groups of troops left behind, the more votes you will get, and the harder we'll work for you.' You have to speak for a group, and you have to frame a position that adds votes for Obama, rather than subtracts votes, or at least adds more than it subtracts, and you have to have something to back it up. Then you have to do it over and over.

Remember, we're not interested in making him into a leftist or anti-imperialist. He has never been either, or claimed to be, and there's no electoral majority for that platform in 2008 in any case. But we are interested in seeing him doing better than he sometimes does in putting together a stronger left-progressive-center coalition vs. the right

I'd also stress the importance of a laser-like focus on our main task, between now and November, Stop McCain, Stop the War. All considerations of wrangling within the campaign, or with friends and allies outside of it, are secondary to that.

One way would be go grow ProgressivesforObama…

Yes, but 'Progressives for Obama' is mainly a national web and media project at this point, with a small but growing grassroots network. We have 10,000 or so visitors and a little under 2000 people who have signed on to our various groups so far, some of them well known and influential. We get reposted and discussed everywhere, with about 50,000 Google hits.

This is only a good start on the national level. It's far from being a major player, save for some of the contributions of some of our more influential figures. More important is what we're developing on the city level. This is usually mainly centered on a local blog or two that becomes a communication center for a local nonpartisan alliance of progressive groups and individuals inside and outside of the local Democratic party and the local Obama campaign (those two are most often different). As we get more of these in more areas and states, and they get networked nationwide, then a great deal more clout flows upward to 'Progressives for Obama.' So grow the base locally to strengthen the national voice, and then we'll feed the political capital we gain back to you to grow the base more, and so on.

But if we get thousands and thousands of people on the list service, we all get thousands of emails every day. And how would that be different from MoveOn?

If you multiplied what we've done by 100,000, you'd get something close to the MoveOn model, minus the fundraising apparatus. Even that is not exactly right, since we want to put far more emphasis on the grassroots base. What 'MoveOn' calls its 'meetups', we want to see our local formations as full-fledged local coalitions and alliances with their local online voice. The more email addresses you can get on our well-moderated listservs, the wider pool you have to draw in the most active individuals and groups.

Do we all go to work for the local Obama campaign?

That's up to you. It's the most immediate way to have daily connections with their volunteers. It's certainly better than doing nothing, and we should have some connection with it in any case, so we each know what's going on. But most important, from our core perspective, is to build organizations of your own that do the work of the campaign, but do it in our own way. For instance, on your tables, you may want to push single-payer 'Health Care not Warfare' petitions. And you want to be sure to keep all the lists gathered and resources gained for yourselves, for our use long after the official campaign has folded up. That's the difference between a liberal approach and a more grassroots, participatory democracy approach. This way, no matter what happens with the campaign, you grow your own strength on the wider playing field of the 2008 campaign.

Can Tom Hayden get inside the organization and bring along friends? We have to maintain a critical perspective, but we also have to be on the inside. Does ProgressivesforObama have contacts inside now?

Hayden has some connections, as do our other signers, but more important is the fact that we have a number of elected and appointed delegates, mostly with Progressive Democrats of America, one of the allied groups at our launching, but also a few who are just 'Progressives for Obama' members who are also delegates. They already have a decent antiwar plank submitted, with about 50 Congressmen signed on, to wage a floor fight. We need more, so if you know local delegates in our camp, or are in a position to get a position, do so right away, and let us know.

We should be very influential because, of all the reasons Obama won the nomination, support from antiwar voters was probably the most crucial. Probably 80% of the voters in the Democratic primaries were against the Iraq War. When the campaign for the Democratic Party nomination began, there were a bunch of men who were all against the Iraq War and there was Hillary Clinton who no one trusted to be against it because of her vote authorizing it and her refusal to renounce that vote. The antiwar forces eventually congealed around Obama and that's the main reason he won. So, the antiwar forces deserve influence and the question is how to we exert and maximize that influence.

You're absolutely right. But there's a big difference between what 'should be' and what is. Representing a mass of atomized individuals, even if they number in the millions in a huge movement, counts for something, but not enough. Then consider that a sizable minority of antiwar groups are hostile to Obama, and elections generally, while others are constrained from any coordination with any candidate by their tax status, and our influence is weaker than it could or should be. The antiwar movement, and especially its affording Obama the venues to define himself as the one with the judgment to oppose the war in the beginning, was critical to his success, especially against Clinton. But we weren't the only factor. The African American community, and the wider youth upsurge, were also powerful. We can claim the former, but not the latter two. So again, the key is to get our voice ORGANIZED at the base, and press for what is due us--on constructive grounds, to our advantage, and with a little restraint. We want him mainly to speak to and for the anti-war majority of the population, not simply as a voice of the antiwar coalitions, which are considerably to the left.

Finally, there's another high priority, and which actually doesn't require that much organization (although more organization is always better). That's defending Obama from right-wing attacks on our issues and positions, especially from the mainstream media.

So, for example, in just the last week the Washington Post ran an editorial trashing Obama for supporting a "precipitous" withdrawal from Iraq, essentially attacking in the person of Obama the views endorsed by a majority of the American people, the majority of Congress, the majority of Iraqis, and the majority of Iraqi parliamentarians. Of course, the WP editors didn't acknowledge these four other groups of people. Then yesterday the WP ran a hit piece attacking Obama for wanting to talk to Iran without preconditions, citing unnamed European officials.

One of our members, Robert Naiman, posted a sharp reply to it via Huffington Post, which was in turn passed on widely. Part of the virtue of doing this is that even if the Obama campaign doesn't appear to notice, it will still have a positive effect - reducing pressure from the right is as good as adding pressure to the left.

I'm sure there are more ways to grow and deploy our political influence. Free free to add your suggestions into the hopper, and we'll grow this memo into a regular handbook.

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