The “New Organizers” have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so “top-down” and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or “bottom-up” organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization….Win or lose, “The New Organizers” have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation.
Obama’s people are extending the uses of technology documented in Extreme Democracy The Kerry campaign had an opportunity to go there in April 2004, but opted for a completely top-down approach, though a group of volunteers with experience in online commmunity, including Howard Rheingold, Nanci Meng, Tex Coate, Cameron Barrett, Jock Gill, Nancy White, Bob Jacobson, Aldon Hynes, Jerry Michalski and myself offered community organizing plans that could have been implemented with minimal overhead, leveraging technology and volunteers. Jock Gill wrote about this in 2006 at Greater Democracy. Jock posts text from the plan in comments.
Not faulting Zack, who was coming to the Kerry campaign from Moveon.org, an email-based organization brilliant at coordinating activist campaigns, but never effective using social technology to organize the “netroots.” We had been meeting with the Kerry campaign when he came on board and chose not to pursue the netroots approach, working instead with the moveon style of fundraising he knew best, under very real pressure to raise money for the campaign, leaving little time and mindshare for grassroots organizing, the effectiveness of which was iffy in the short term. What we were offering was risky in that it would have taken longer to build effectively, however if we had started then, there would have been a much stronger network of communities committed to the Democratic party, and Obama could arguably have grown his network better and faster. And it’s not that the netroots didn’t organize. Howard Dean continued working his networks to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a very effective netroots emerged through Daily Kos and other progressive hubs.
And the Obama campaign really understood the power of the technology, not just to support fundraising, but to organize effective networks and communities in support of their candidate. I suspect there’s a whole powerful Obama network that you don’t really see because of this focus on building support from the ground up rather than through more visible mass media. It will be very interesting to see the effect of this organizing on the November elections.