Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday News: "It says the movement continues" - Obama HQ Blog

As reports from yesterday's canvasses continue to come, news outlets across the country have been taking not of what was accomplished yesterday, and the significance it could hold for the future. From the front page of today's Washington Post:

As she headed into the morning sunshine to talk up President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget proposal, Althea Thomas counted herself a citizen and a partisan picking up where she left off Nov. 4, backing the president she helped elect.

"It's the change we all voted on," said Thomas, one of about 40 volunteers who fanned out from the Democratic Party headquarters here with clipboards, pledge cards and a sense of mission that flowed from their support of Obama when he was a candidate.

The Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee opened a new chapter Saturday in their ambitious project to convert the energy from last year's campaign into a force for legislative reform on health care, climate change, education and taxes.

More than 1,200 groups from Maine to Hawaii spent the day gathering signatures in support of Obama's economic plan, the first step in building what the White House hopes will be a standing political army ready to do battle.

Seeking to create a grass-roots force on a scale never seen before, Obama called the volunteers into action in a video message reminiscent of the 2008 contest. In defense of his budget, under attack from many quarters, he asked his supporters to go "block by block and door by door."

...The idea of deploying a grass-roots army for legislative purposes is untested. Unlike a political campaign, where ballots are simple, if blunt, instruments that produce winners and losers on a fixed date, a policy campaign is amorphous.

"If successful, it would have revolutionary implications for American politics," said Ross K. Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor who counts himself among skeptics.

...Preparing for the long haul, an OFA executive said volunteers will continue to gather pledges through the Internet, phone banks and shoe leather, and deliver them to members of Congress as a budget vote draws near.

...The organization aims to develop a structure -- including at least one paid staffer in each state -- in time for larger fights over health-care, climate change and education legislation.

"This is all being driven by volunteers. It's an extremely exhilarating process, but also nerve-racking," an Obama veteran said. "We have a very, very scaled-down staff as of right now."

Randall Stagner staged an event Saturday in his home in Raleigh, N.C. For the former campaign volunteer, it started with a call from Organizing for America. He tapped into the 2008 Obama Web site and sent an e-mail in hopes of rustling up some interest.

He received 300 replies.

"I was overwhelmed. There was a lot of pent-up desire to go and do things," said Stagner, 49, a retired Army special operations colonel. He identified 10 people across the state willing to organize a canvass. In all, he expects 30 events.

Stagner has been practicing his own pitch: "You tell people specifically what the president is doing and encourage them to reach out to their senators and representatives and tell them, 'No kidding, we voted for change, and that includes you.' "

Mary Alice Williams had an Obama network to draw upon in Grand Rapids, Mich., when she got Stewart's mass e-mail last weekend. That day, more than 30 former campaign volunteers had marched behind an Obama banner in a local St. Patrick's Day parade.

Volunteers who bonded during the campaign -- turning Kent County Democratic for the first time since 1968 -- have stayed in touch, and some have continued to meet.

"After the election, there was this 'What now?' letdown," said Williams, 66, who took to heart the Obama campaign message that the election was not an end in itself. She liked the idea of building a movement that would do more than elect candidates to office.

..."I'm inspired by the civic engagement aspect of it: ordinary people whose only stake in this is to create a better community and a better America.

"As corny as that sounds, that's what most of us really believe."

She is optimistic, even in Michigan, home to the nation's highest unemployment rate -- 11.6 percent.

"Hard times are the best times to organize," Williams said. "When times are good, people are in their bubble."

...Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) watched volunteers in Evanston head out the door with their clipboards and saw a message in their willingness to act.

"It says the movement continues," said Schakowsky, an early Obama supporter. "The grass-roots organization still exists, and they're still needed to move this agenda."

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