One of the most significant – and least explained – strategic errors the Obama team made after the 2008 election was to essentially demobilize the massive campaign organization they had developed during the campaign. Had they not done so, that powerful grass roots organization could have provided a progressive-democratic counterweight to the tea party, it could have mobilized support for the health care reform bill and it could have played a significant role in minimizing the Democratic losses in the 2010 elections.
As a result, it is encouraging to note that the Obama team does not seem to be contemplating a similar demobilization of the 2012 campaign organization after this recent election. Two weeks ago Obama for America sent out an e-mail asking supporters to fill out a survey describing their experiences in the campaign and expressing in their own words how they would like to see the organization operate in the future.
Over a million Obama supporters replied to the questionnaire – an absolutely stunning number, it should be noted — and apparently many if not most strongly advocated for an energetic, ongoing role for the organization. Here is how a follow up e-mail from OFA characterized the response:
Here are a few comments from supporters like you about the road ahead. We fought for the chance to continue moving our country forward for the next four years, and it’s up to each one of us to follow through on this remarkable opportunity:
“This organization has tapped into the enthusiasm of Americans that were previously on the sidelines of the political process. These Americans are now fully engaged and aware of the policies that are being advanced that will impact their lives and the lives of future generations. They are excited, ready, and willing to do whatever is within their power to influence policy makers to pass legislation that reflects and responds to the issues of our times.” — Rita, Virginia
“Create an engaged community of people that keeps the momentum alive and ensures that progressive policy is implemented at local, state, and national levels. Community here is the operative word! Build and enhance local organizing groups. Would be happy to be included in a local group and lead such a group.” — Merida, Illinois
“Don’t let the energy of the re-election slip through your fingers. This is a very powerful network of people.” — Joel, Texas
We’re going to put your survey responses to good use. Over the next month or two, a team of campaign staff from across the country is working on a project to document and analyze the work we did over the past 19 months, identifying both strengths and areas for improvement. Our goal is to pass along what we’ve learned from the 2012 campaign.
You’re the reason President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, and your input from surveys and calls is crucial to this project. So please stay tuned. We’re putting together a final report that will be available to the public, so that your voices continue to shape the future.
National Field Director
Obama for America
The fact that OFA will issue a public report is particularly significant. The publication of that document will provide the platform for a massive intra-Democratic discussion and a springboard for establishing the OFA field organization into a permanent grass roots base of activists and supporters for the Democratic Party.
There will be some complicated decisions required. A new and innovative grass roots Democratic organization should not be built as simply another multi-issue progressive organization, duplicating efforts that are already in existence, nor should it be just a passive fundraising/GOTV tool of the DNC that only operates for a few months before elections. It needs to combine elements of both these models as well as incorporating useful operational lessons from the Tea Party movement as well.
For the moment, however, the critical fact is that a national conversation among the coalition of Obama supporters about the future of the organization will indeed take place and provide the opportunity to convert the impressive organization created in 2012 into an ongoing grass-roots foundation for the Democratic Party.
Having promised to have a public discussion of a public report, OFA is no longer in a position to repeat the massive mistake they made in 2008 when they allowed the vast energy, excitement and enthusiasm of the campaign to dissipate. All Dems should closely follow and be ready to actively contribute to the discussion that will inevitably emerge when the final report is issued.