[COMM-ORG] query: Organizing for Action

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sun May 26 16:58:00 CDT 2013


[ed:  thanks to Michael for continuing the discussion.]

From: Michael Rothschuh <michael at rothschuh.de>


Some more thoughts and questions about “Organizing For Action”.

“OFA” is the successor for the campaign for Obamas election “Obama for 
America” in 2008 and for “Organizing for America” during Obama’s first 
period as president. At now it is, or it should be independent from the 
Democratic National Convention. If you search “organizing for action” in 
the web you will come to the site my.barackobama.com , because the 
organization has difficulties to get another address: 
organizingforaction.org already is occupied. But in the same time it is 
a symbol that the website altogether is organized surround the person 
Barack Obama.

The themes are mostly very similar to those of other community 
organizing networks like PICO, IAF, or the successors of ACORN like 
ACTION NOW: immigration reform, health care, safety through gun control 
and so on. But the communication is more from the top to the bottom: The 
agenda and the concrete solution for a problem already are fixed by the 
President. You should say YES to it and bring members of the Congress to 
vote for this solution.

In the CO groups, it seems to me, there are more and more connections 
between the local, regional, state, national and partly international 
level (see Interfaith Funders 2012: Building Bridges- Building Power 
about FBCO); OFA is more concentrated to national level.

OFA is calling for many actions, but mostly for designing a petition or 
an appellation and to donate. The tone is very directly and challenging 
like Alinskyan style.

One example : “Friend --The response to our gun violence prevention 
petition has been crazy good so far….According to our most recent 
records, you're not yet on the list: -     -- Petition status: 
Unsigned,     -- Suggested action: Add your name here“

You have to go deeper into the system of the website to find events or 
groups in your surrounding you can join in. There you will find some 
local OFA groups or thematic networks around themes like immigration 
reform or gun control. May be sometimes you will come in contact with 
already existing community organizing groups on this way.

There seems to be a chance to bring people from the person Barack Obama 
to the program and so to engage for real change in different fields, but 
I miss the chance to participate in developing the agenda, strategies 
and actions. I see: when it is possible for the people to bring their 
own perspective into OFA, it might be a conflict between the policy of 
the president and possibly further reaching demands of the people.

Is the president ready to take this risk?

Marshall Ganz differed between Barack Obama as a “transformational 
leader in the campaign” and a “transactional one as president” (Los 
Angeles Times, Nov. 03, 2010). OFA may be Barack Obama’s attempt to come 
back into a transformational mode. But in the moment, I think, OFA is 
more an instrument for mobilization of support for his politics than an 
offer for democratization and participation.

Can it be more in the future?

Michael Rothschuh, Hamburg, Germany
On 5/14/2013 1:30 PM, Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
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> [ed:  Sam asks a question of the group.]
>
> From: Sam Beck <sbeck at med.cornell.edu>
>
> Are social and economic justice issues Left or Right?
>
> Sam Beck
>
>
> On 5/8/2013 8:50 AM, Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
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>>
>> [ed: thanks to Drew and Richard for responding to Michael's query. 
>> Others?]
>>
>> From: Drew Astolfi <drewastolfi at facehawaii.org>
>>
>>
>> In Hawaii my organization - Faith Action for Community Equity or FACE 
>> has a little contact with OFA.  There is overlap between the 
>> leadership of the two groups.  But the overlap is not very important 
>> to either group.
>>
>> I do think that community organizing in the US has been partially 
>> absorbed/co-opted/influenced by the emerging Democratic party 
>> consensus (5 years of Obama with three more to come and a good chance 
>> of Hilary Clinton being President in 2016) .  As the political elite 
>> have become more liberal in the US, community organizations (PICO, 
>> Gamaliel, the surviving ACORN groups, and National People's Action 
>> and the Center for Community Change) have found it harder to position 
>> themselves in a purely non-partisan way.   Partly this seems like an 
>> issue of funding - as SEIU replaced CCHD as the largest funder of 
>> community organizations the tone of the organizing changed.  At the 
>> same time there has been a simultaneous pressure on the right as the 
>> right wing has moved further and further from the center and 
>> identifies community organizing as one of its enemies.
>>
>> I've been thinking about this a lot lately, since I feel this dynamic 
>> is really changing what community organizing is here in the US.  I am 
>> afraid that is all I have though - a kind of instinct about the way 
>> we are changing.
>>
>> I think OFA is a symptom of this overall change, but I do not think 
>> it has been all that successful.
>>
>> **************************************
>>
>> From: Richard Layman <rlaymandc at yahoo.com>
>>
>>
>> I haven't looked at the particular organization, and I am not a 
>> scholar of civil society, but I think it's important to recognize 
>> that there are many different elements of social movements, social 
>> change and/or transformation, points on what I call the issue 
>> continuum, and inflection points.
>>
>> When Hillary Clinton said during the 2008 Presidential election 
>> primaries that "it takes a President to get it done," she ignored the 
>> reality that by the time an issue comes to "a vote" it's likely that 
>> many decades have been spent dealing with a particular issue, 
>> building a base of support, and making it a prominent issue on a 
>> national scale.
>>
>> What I call the issue continuum is merely the recognition that on any 
>> issue there are myriads of positions (points) along a continuum from 
>> very conservative to very progressive.  What I learned through 
>> observation  (it wasn't something that they taught) working at a 
>> national consumer advocacy group with Nader lineage is that if you 
>> stake out a hard core position you don't get it but you get a lot 
>> more movement towards a better outcome than you would if you 
>> compromised early (something that Pres. Obama hasn't learned yet, 
>> actually).
>>
>> A line I use about this is: "when you ask for nothing that's what you 
>> get.  When you ask for the world, you don't get it, but you get a lot 
>> more than nothing."
>>
>> In my own work now (transportation planning, specifically sustainable 
>> transportation--walking, biking, and transit) I take a social 
>> change-social movement-social marketing-systems approach to the 
>> subject.  We're trying to change people's behavior, we're trying to 
>> build comprehensive support systems for sustainable mobility that are 
>> comparable in strength to the systems that have been built to support 
>> automobility etc.  It's a lot more than just getting the President to 
>> sign a transportation bill.  (cf. 
>> http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/bmag/sbsm0909/kn-effective-social-movements.html 
>> and 
>> http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/bmag/sbsm0909/feature-marketRebels.html?cmpid=bmag&edition=09-autumn)
>>
>> Basically, OFM is more likely to be what we might call a party 
>> organization (cf. _Political Parties_ by Michels) rather than a 
>> community organizing effort designed to build participatory 
>> democracy, empowered participation (cf. the books _Deliberate 
>> Democracy_ and _Empowered Participation_), civil society or the 
>> increase the capacity of citizens and to focus community, social, and 
>> organizational capital towards bottom-up as opposed to top-down 
>> initiatives.
>>
>> Richard Layman
>> Washington, DC
>> http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com
>> On 5/5/2013 8:38 AM, Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
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>>>
>>> [ed: apologies for the delay in getting messages out this week. It's 
>>> been busier than normal. Please feel welcomed to engage this 
>>> discussion on COMM-ORG.]
>>>
>>> From: Michael Rothschuh <michael at rothschuh.de>
>>>
>>>
>>>
>>> For Discussion;
>>> What do you think about „Organizing for Action“? There are similar 
>>> and often the same subjects as in the different community organizing 
>>> networks or in social movements, Issues like jobs, health care, 
>>> immigration reform and in the moment gun controlling. But it is 
>>> concentrated in the actual agenda of the Obama government. And I 
>>> think there is no discussion about the ways, how to get the aims. On 
>>> one side I see it as a top-down organization. On the other side it 
>>> might be a chance for people to bring their own perspective, their 
>>> own questions and answers into the agenda. Does anyone know: Are 
>>> there connections between OFA and different local Community 
>>> Organizations?
>>>
>>> Best wishes for you!
>>> Michael Rothschuh, Hamburg, Germany
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