Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama's Movement

"The future of... [Obama's} movement will be determined by the many people who understand what it accomplished. If you want to change the world, go to Washington; if you want to change Washington, you might want to go next door and knock."

Corine Hegland, Beyond His E-mail List, National Journal, December 13, 2008

I was talking with a community organizer the other week who seemed rather old fashioned in this Obama age of the 13 million email list. He wanted to engage deeply with citizens, have conversations about key issues, do action research together on potential campaigns, and nurture leadership and so on.

Deepak Bhargava states that challenge: "If we can [combine] the best of community-organizing relationships and commitment on issues with the scale and urgency of electoral politics, there could be a resurgence of citizen enegagement in a transformative and sustained way."

The challenges for OFA 2.0 (Obama for America) are considerable. Rarely, have politicians been able to keep their electoral movements going. There are several reasons. The sausage making process of policy-making inevitably involves compromise and veering off the purist path of change. And there is a natural tendency for people to focus on what Obama can do for their cause, not on what they can do to help Obama and Congress do the right thing.

One challenge, one opportunity. It's too bad in a way that the first issue up is the recovery, economic stimulus plan and investment. People are chasing money with ideas. We're all concerned about doing the stimulus right, but emergency "pork" spending does not necessarily make good policy or citizenship. How many times have you heard,"Great idea but we've got to move fast."

The opportunity is for community organizing to focus locally to make sure that these new federal resources are used wisely in ways that build regional economies and support low and moderate income communities. My worry is that the one big,happy Obama-electoral family will shatter (or go a bit dysfunctional) when the usual suspects are at the front of the line deciding where the money goes.

Will the stimulus go to Mayor Richard M. Daley's pet projects like infrastructure for his 2016 Olympics bid? Will cities and states put on tough hiring requirements so that local residents can get the jobs? If Obama's promise is to be achieved, a good portion of this citizen-engagement energy will have to focus back home.

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