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General News    H2'ed 4/17/09

How To Prod Obama: Use The Organizing Techniques He Used

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Message Danny Schechter

“There are websites of young people who are deeply involved in the campaign who talk to one another, and now it would be very interesting because now that Obama’s President, they will find that websites and some horizontal campaigns of young people involved with him, now looking at him critically.  And using the web to challenge him, to live up to what these young people believed he promised them and so on.”

 

This is significant. The progressive critics of Obama, disappointed by his appointments and some of his cautious policies, have to go beyond railing in print or crying in their beer. They have to reach out to the grass roots army that assured his election. This means being willing to dialogue with liberals and younger people who don’t label their politics. Reminding them of the role they played in a historic election may be one way to do that---to appeal to the instincts that led them to engage in the campaign for “change.” There’s no need to deify Obama---but there is an imperative to reenergize his base,

 

It is hard to remember that two years earlier, Obama was barely known, registering on the radar screen for just 10% of voters. He was also hardly a brand name as a first term Senator who spent more time in state politics in Illinois than on the national stage. Moreover he was young, and a man of color---not qualities that usually prevail in the presidential arena which tends to draw far older, far whiter, and far more centrist candidates. The thought that he would beat frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the primaries was, quite frankly, unthinkable to most of the elite.

 

And yet he prevailed. as he used a phrase appropriated from labor organizer and Latino legend Caesar Chavez. Obama turned the farm workers Spanish language slogan “Si Se Puede” into “Yes We Can.” Rather than focus on specific political issues, he built a campaign on the promise of “Hope.” Rather than just rely on traditional fundraising—although by the end, he was plush with it—he reached out over the Internet for smaller donations from millions of donors.

 

Few in the major media gave him a chance but he was not discouraged because he had created his own grass roots media operation using sophisticated organizing and social networking techniques to build a bottom up movement, not the usual top-down apparatus. While his campaign ran the show, he encouraged independent initiatives including citizen-generated media, music videos, personalized websites, twittering and texting etc.

 

This is the new direction our politics has taken. It is a story that may be somewhat threatening to old media –and older activists—who prefer a one to many approach to communication as opposed to forging a more interactive empowering platform.  There is no question that young people---especially those mobilized by Obama prefer online media and that choice is making it harder and harder for traditional outlets to sustain their influence and, in some cases, even their organizations. Old media may be on the way out.

 

This is why our film is, my mind, important, not just as a record of how Obama won and what happened in 2008, but in what will happen, can happen---and is happening in the future. This is why I believe its critical for Americans to see it—as well as others in the world as well ---to recognize how Obama represents more than just another politician but a whole new approach to politics. That old adage is worth remembering: “Its not the ship that makes the wave, it’s the motion on the ocean.”

 

Obama, for all his shortcomings which are becoming more obvious by the day has pioneered the way change must be won ---not by people on the top, but by all of us. It remains for “us” to hold him accountable. We live in a culture of amnesia—it is important to learn the lessons of the recent past.

 

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.
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