Obama Campaign-A new approach

October 9, 2008

Here is a great article from the Oxdown Gazette by Zack Exley

The New Organizers, Part 1: Obama’s neighborhood teams and the power of inclusion and respect

The article is about the new approaches that the Obama campaign uses in organizing its canvassers and volunteers nationwide.

I have volunteered for the Obama campaign several times over the last few months so it was really inspiring and even a little sad to read an account from someone who started his article at about the same time in the campaign.

I guess I missed a lot of the fun.

Which sucks too. I have been unemployed and this really would have been a perfect thing for me to do. Fuck it. I am going to volunteer tomorrow and make up for some last time. I have only signed people up to vote in the 4 times that I have volunteered, so now that that is over, I guess I will get a new job.

Here are Some of the insights that I toom away Zach’s great article

1. support your campaign volunteer’s leadership and enthusiasm, but apply solid management, accountability and planning

  • Zach interviews all of these campaign newbies and vets about how the Obama campaign is different. The number one difference is that instead of just giving people jobs or tasks ans kicking them out the door, ask them how they think they can contribute.
  • This has a ripple effect-they get energized because the volunteers take a stake in the campaign, they bring ideas and enthusiasm, and they contribute the best way for their community. Bottom up, not top down.

The trick is, once you give these volunteers a stake in the process, they realize they need help, they need ground rules and advice. Which leads to the secong take-away from Zach’s article:

2. Invest in long term planning and building relationships: From the article

That training was expensive, but Jeremy said, “We spent more money than they ever wanted us to. But training is the most important thing. So [in our field budget] I’ll cut whatever you want—but having all of our organizers together and training them for a full weekend. A lot of campaigns say they do training but it’s often like a two hour orientation. We wanted to make sure that ours was a real, interactive, in-depth training.”

(Copy and paste…)

Christen said, “I feel like people are committing more time this election because there’s a community thing going on, and they’re part of something that’s local and social. But we’re also more effective at harnessing volunteers because the teams do a lot of the training and debriefing themselves—it scales well. Everyone who goes out canvassing comes back with at least one story of someone they impacted. The team leaders are trained to give people time to tell those stories, and so everyone gets a sense of progress and they learn from each other how to be more effective next time.”

That’s a totally different picture than what I saw in scores of Kerry offices in 2004: crowds of canvassers receiving minimal instruction before being sent to an unfamiliar neighborhood and rarely getting the chance to debrief with others as a group.

  • The lesson is that you harness the enthusiasm, you give people the tools, and you decentalize and open up your campaign. This way you have people from different communities-urban and rural, Pennsylvania to Florida, all taking away from Obama’s message and applying it to their local context.
  • There would be no way to do this if you tried to do it all from D.C. and Chicago.

The motto of these campaign headquarters has become: Respect-Empower-Include

All of this really connects for me because I have been invited to the weekly meeting, and had a lot of opportunities to give more back. My favorite passage of the piece is:

Then, at the end of our meeting, my neighborhood team leader, Jennifer Robinson, totally unprompted, told me: “I’m a different person than I was six weeks ago.” I asked her to elaborate later. She said, “Now, I’m really asking: how can I be most effective in my community? I’ve realized that these things I’ve been doing as a volunteer organizer—well, I’m really good at them, I have a passion for this. I want to continue to find ways to actively make this place, my community, a better place. There’s so much more than a regular job in this—and once you’ve had this, it’s hard to go back to a regular job. I’m asking now: Can I look for permanent work as an organizer in service of my community? And that’s a question I had not asked myself before the campaign. It never occurred to me that I could even ask that question.”

Awesome. I’ll be joining you tomorrow Jen.

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