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Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...


What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Disorganized... What happened to Obama's massive network of grassroots activists?

This is an interesting “spin” to things we are seeing more and more of; placing the blame on organizing tactics when in fact there are reasons other than what is described here why Obama and the Democrats can’t move Obama’s activist and voter base.

1.People no longer trust Obama--- for the most part their “hope for change” has not materialized.

2.It is pretty darn hard to mobilize people against their own interests.

3.More and more people are beginning to realize they have been “had” by Obama and Obama is more con-artist and con-man just like an insurance salesman.

What this article in the New Republic doesn’t say is that all those people who now feel betrayed are looking for something of substance to turn their activities towards.

And this is where liberals, progressives and the left can really do a knock out organizing job if we can come together and agree on a progressive agenda to build real grassroots and rank-and-file movements around.

This means using the Internet and the Web as tools; but, more than this is required--- person-to-person contact.

It means putting leaflets into people’s hands and talking to people.

It means tabling and petitioning and writing letters to politicians and newspapers.

It means organizing vigils, pickets and demonstrations aimed at creating awareness of the problems working people are experiencing as they try to make ends meet in their day-to-day lives; which means advocating solutions to these very real problems people are having while explaining how everything is interconnected.

It means working people taking the initiative to run for public office in the Democratic Party nominating conventions, primaries and in the general election as independents if need be.

This "lesser evil" crap is for the birds... in no other country in the world are working people so afraid of the ruling class that they think they have to turn to their bosses' political parties when it comes to politics.

Let’s talk honestly about the issues… we aren’t going to get real health care reform without stopping these dirty wars and using the funds. instead, for health care. And we are going to have to talk about redistributing the wealth in this country through various measures involving taxation and public ownership of industries to pay for a quality health care system where people come before insurance company profits.

We now have--- spread out across our country--- over 3,600 industrial sites from mines to mills to factories that have shut down their operations and moved off-shore leaving millions of workers without jobs, communities devastated and working class families trying to figure out how to make ends meet as everything from groceries to gasoline to home heating prices shoot up, families lose their homes and workers die in wars; and we are told this is all “the new normal” for the next 20 years.

The only industries growing in America are Goodwill Industries. Good-luck paying the bills working as a volunteer.

None of this is even considered as the New Republic writer “analyzes” why Barack Obama and the Democrats can’t mobilize their base and no doubt this is causing many a sleepless nights for those expected to deliver the votes in 2010 and 2012.

This is the time for liberals, progressives and the left to come together, hash out a comprehensive progressive agenda aimed at solving the most pressing problems working people are experiencing which will begin to turn this country around in the way people were expecting Obama and the Democrats to do… if we can’t get them to work with us we need to work to build massive unity capable of creating the kind of movements that deliver real change.

Incremental reforms and “baby steps” just won’t cut it when people need access to health care when they are sick or when they are losing their homes.

A big part of the reason Obama’s “base” can’t be coaxed into being mobilized is that much, if not most, of those e-mail addresses Organizing for America has are from middle class intellectuals who had fun playing their little mind games with us trying to convince us that Barack Obama was liberal, progressive or in some cases actually “left.”

These middle class intellectuals may have had our best interests at heart in shoving Barack Obama down our throats in the arrogant, manipulative and controlling manner they did… but, surprise, surprise, the BMW driving crowd doesn’t have any sense of urgency when it comes to halting foreclosures and evictions, having access to health care or when it comes to ending wars.

Living on $100,000.00 to $300,000.00 a year they can make their house payments, don’t have to give a second thought to picking up a nice steak at $12.00 a pound, don’t have to worry about having the money to pay heating and electric bills or worry about paying for child-care or university educations.

The majority of these 13 million e-mail addresses Barack Obama’s Organizing for America organization has are from these middle class intellectuals who can very literally afford to play political games. To these people the enforcement of affirmative action in hiring programs is not an urgent issue… not making in excess of $100,000.00 a year.

Let these middle class intellectuals try living on welfare, unemployment compensation, SSI or Social Security and life becomes a little different.

Look at this one example referred to in this article: Health Care For America Now which bills itself as a “coalition” when all that it represents is a bunch of high-paid labor leaders, foundation flowers and poverty pimps all making their livings off of people’s problems… 800 such organizations. This outfit was created for the very purpose of killing single-payer universal health care even though the memberships of most of these organizations continues to be overwhelmingly in support of single-payer and more often than not they support much more advanced forms of public health care along the lines of the socialized systems of VA and the Indian Health Service. This outfit is talking of premiums in excess of $700.00 a month for Obama’s mandatory health insurance and even at $700.00 you won’t be able to purchase much of a policy without huge deductibles and co-pays.

And how stupid do these dumb donkeys think we are? Obama and the Democrats haven't even made good on their mandates to fully fund VA and the Indian Health Service… any government that won’t provide the funds to provide for the proper health care needs of its veterans sure as heck isn’t going to provide assistance to the poor and impoverished.

The New Republic caters to middle class intellectuals… this publication isn’t going to insult the majority of its readers by telling them they are a bunch of uncaring and insensitive people without any empathy for the problems of the working class.

No, so they make up this crap that Obama’s base couldn’t be mobilized because someone didn’t know when to send out thirteen-million e-mails rather than talk about the real reasons: Obama takes the wrong stands on all the issues.

Notice who has been so quick to send this article to your e-mails; the “Progressives for Obama” and the Campaign for America’s Future… two middle class outfits and it was the Campaign for America’s Future at the behest of its “organizers,” the AFL-CIO leadership that broke ranks with the single-payer movement and actually initiated Health Care For America Now.

We need working class organizations initiated by working people right down at the grassroots and rank-and-file levels.

If you don’t see a leader you can work with in your community or where you work willing to take on this task; you better think about becoming that leader and helping to build fighting, militant organizations not afraid to speak up and be heard because in this day-and-age of media being used to manipulate and control people, out-of-sight, out-of-mind takes on a whole new meaning.

What we are talking about doing here is building a mighty and powerful “people’s front” capable of standing up to Wall Street and its bought-and-paid-for politicians kept in line by the corporate funded lobbyists whose stock-in-trade is nothing other than bribery.

Now is the very time to tell Barack Obama and the Democrats:

No peace; no votes.

No real progressive health care reform; no votes.

This is called defending democracy by defeating the right-wing reactionaries through enforcing accountability. Without accountability democracy is meaningless.

I get a kick out of these big-shots in the Democratic Party complaining about how I bombard people's e-mail boxes with my thoughts. Here they are with 13,000,000 e-mail addresses using this e-mail list to beg for money over and over again but they can't use this e-mail list to mobilize 13,000,000 people to lead the efforts for change that was promised--- or at least the change they led people to believe they were going to bring about.

Alan L. Maki


From: The New Republic

What happened to Obama's massive network of grassroots activists?

Lydia DePillis

October 29, 2009

Tea partiers, townhall protesters, Texas secessionists--for the past few months, grassroots organizing has seemed to be mostly the domain of the right. And for a period this summer, they (okay, not the Texas secessionists, but the others) appeared to be successfully tugging the national debate in their direction. As conservative activists, organized by groups such as FreedomWorks and encouraged by the likes of Glenn Beck, poured into the streets, moderate senators began to waver on health care, President Obama's approval ratings dipped, and momentum for reform seemed to stall.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The reason was Organizing for America. Last year, after winning the presidency, Obama decided to keep intact the backbone of his stunningly efficient, innovative campaign. Previous presidents had outsourced their activism to interest groups; Obama was going to create his own. OFA was supposed to be a new kind of permanent campaign: a grassroots network wielding some 13 million email addresses to mobilize former volunteers on behalf of the administration's agenda (and keep them engaged for 2012). "We've never had a political leader who has continued their organizing while in office like this at this scale," Tom Matzzie, former Washington director of MoveOn, told NPR in January.

As right-wing protesters dominated the news this summer, it would have seemed the perfect opportunity for Obama's much-touted organizers to drown out the conservatives with some coordinated agitation of their own. But they barely made a ripple. Where were they? And how could such a formidable grassroots operation--having just put Obama in office--fall quiet so quickly?

The morning after the election, some 10,000 organizers dialed into a conference call with President-elect Obama, who told them that they would be needed for fights to come. But within the Obama camp, there was disagreement about how, exactly, their services ought to be used. OFA could become a freestanding organization that would advocate independently for the president's agenda. Or it could be folded--along with its formidable fundraising potential--into the Democratic National Committee. Steve Hildebrand, Obama's deputy campaign manager, favored the independent option: It would allow the group to "pressure anybody who we would need to build a coalition of votes in the House and Senate," he told the Los Angeles Times in mid-November. David Plouffe, the campaign's mastermind, disagreed. He had won the election through a precisely directed field operation combined with iron message discipline, and wasn't about to give it up.

A few days before the inauguration, Obama announced, in effect, that Plouffe's view had prevailed: Organizing for America would be securely housed within the DNC. (Hildebrand returned to his consulting firm in Sioux Falls, and would later become vocally critical of the administration's incremental approach to issues such as gay rights. Plouffe stayed on as an adviser, and his firm raked in $376,000 this year from the DNC.) The bulk of the DNC's new hires have gone to support OFA, which takes up about half the square footage at party headquarters inside a putty brown stucco building south of the Capitol.

It got off to a sluggish start. "Just at the moment when the base would have been most interested in rolling up its sleeves and doing something, they were basically asked to wait, that someone else was going to decide what was going to happen, and, in the meantime, please buy this mug," says Micah Sifry, editor of techPresident.com, which has closely tracked the progress of Obama's online organizing since the 2008 primaries. "They built this very muscular organization and, for three to six months, let it lie relatively fallow."

The group largely sat out the stimulus fight, holding house parties and continuing to fundraise, while gearing up for Obama's signature policy initiative. "I think we all knew that health care would be the big one," Jeremy Bird, the organization's 31-year-old deputy director, told me. But when the health care debate arrived with a fury this summer, OFA ran into problems.

The first was timing: Staff were still filtering into the states in July--and, because the Senate Finance Committee hadn't produced a bill yet, OFA had little concrete to advocate for, even as conservatives found plenty to argue against. The second was tactical: Obama's campaign had never used the kind of in-your-face antics the tea-partiers embraced, focusing instead on story-telling and canvassing. "What you see on the right is an organizing model that's based on grandstanding in front of cameras, in August for example," Bird says. "That's not what we ever did on the campaign. Our organizing was the nitty gritty. I mean it really was the real, hard-core organizing work that we think moves folks and wins elections and changes peoples' lives and is based on person-to-person conversations."

But the biggest problem was built into OFA's very structure--the structure that Plouffe had wanted and Hildebrand had warned against. Obama's people had created something both entirely new and entirely old: an Internet version of the top-down political machines built by Richard Daley in Chicago or Boss Tweed in New York. The difference (other than technology) was that this new machine would rely on ideological loyalty, not patronage. And that was a big difference. The old machines survived as top-down organizations because they gave people on the bottom something tangible in return for their participation. By contrast, successful organizations built mainly on shared philosophy tend to be driven by their memberships. Marshall Ganz, the legendary United Farm Workers organizer-turned-Harvard-professor and godfather of the Obama field strategy--he helped orchestrate Camp Obama, a grassroots training program for staff and volunteers--sees the command-and-control nature of OFA as a crucial flaw. "It's much more an instrument of mobilizing the bottom to serve the top than organizing the bottom to participate in shaping the direction of the top," he told me.

It isn't a coincidence that, historically, effective grassroots movements have usually come out of losing campaigns, not winning ones--circumstances that better lend themselves to a bottom-up approach. Supporters of Adlai Stevenson's failed presidential bids in the 1950s went on to run democratic reform efforts in New York and California. Barry Goldwater's followers went on to reshape conservatism after 1964. During the 2004 primaries, the Howard Dean campaign trained a generation of online organizers, and spawned Democracy for America--now a 1.1 million-strong organization that spends money on campaigns its members choose. "With OFA, that's not the direction of that relationship," says Arshad Hasan, DFA's executive director. "They also have to be responsible to the White House. They can't take quite as many risks. … It's the ability to take risks and be ambitious that's allowed us to grow."

The difference between the two approaches has been on display during the health care debate. Dean's group has been using the public option as a clear rallying cry. OFA--aware that Obama might have to bargain away a strong public option in order to get a health care deal at all--has not pushed the issue nearly as fervently.

Furthermore, being part of the DNC has neutered Organizing for America when it comes to pressuring moderate Democrats. Over objections from the White House, outside groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, MoveOn, and the Health Care for America Now coalition--which is spending $35 million this year--have been running hard-hitting ads that target foot-dragging congressmen. When OFA itself ran ads aimed at key Democratic senators, they were gauzy and positive, mentioning no one by name.OFA didn't have a choice: The White House couldn't deal with Max Baucus in good faith if its ground operation was hammering him in Montana.

Recently, OFA has sharpened its pitch--behind-the-scenes movement building wasn't much use in the here and now. In January, Plouffe had told The New York Times that OFA was "not a ‘call or e-mail your member of Congress' organization." But on October 20, OFA sponsored a massive day of calls to Congress on health care, creating the kind of media buzz the group had failed to generate over the summer.

Still, strategic tinkering aside, the group faces a serious dilemma over the long run: Can a grassroots organization run in the top-down style of a political machine really accomplish much--let alone change the terms of political debate on any given issue? On OFA's website, BarackObama.com, I found Brenda King, a travel agent in Cincinnati who's been running a one-woman p.r. shop for health-care reform. She sends people placards to put on their cars and is publicizing a nationwide "honk-and-wave" on October 31. "I'm saying, well, somebody's got to do something on our side," she told me. "And nobody was doing anything." Looking for help, she talked to her state OFA chapter, which voiced support but couldn't provide material assistance without clearance from higher up. "The problem with OFA," she says, "is they have a strict thing that they have to follow."

Lydia DePillis is a reporter-researcher at The New Republic.

Alan L. Maki
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