Obama For America to teach 'getting paid to cause trouble'
If you log into Obama's web site, you can find a list of Organizing for America (OFA) events in your area. This past weekend and through April 5, volunteers coast to coast are doing the Pledge Canvass Project, collecting signatures in favor of Obama's health care, energy, and education initiatives, and urging people to contact their Congressmen to get support for Obama's budget.
Curious, I signed into the site (with a fake name), typed in my zip code, and came up with a list of over thirty events within 200 miles, in the next two weeks. The only intriguing one is this: On April 4, at Roosevelt University's downtown Chicago campus, there will be a workshop entitled ‘Getting Paid to Cause Trouble: Careers in Organizing for Social Change (Community Service)':
"Come meet organizers from local community organizations and unions ‘walking the walk'," the page encourages. "Learn about careers in grassroots organizing."
Since when is training union organizers, or recruiting people into a union organizer training program, ‘community service'? And what about the "other unions and community groups" who will be there? Would that be ACORN, the voter fraud gang? Or SEIU, the healthcare workers' union known for intimidation?
Apparently, OFA defines ‘community service' broadly. Only two of the 30+ events in my area sound like what I would call ‘community service': working at a food pantry in Madison, Wisconsin; walking to raise money for the homeless in Palatine, Illinois.
Some OFA events seem to be politics as usual: the "regular monthly meeting" of the Democratic organization in an Indiana county; a fundraiser at a bar for a guy running for Township Clerk in the south suburbs of Chicago. Two OFA events in my sample are for gathering community input for how Stimulus money will be spent, one in Milwaukee and one meeting on April 25 in Obama's Hyde Park , to be graced by the presence of a Congressman and a Chicago Alderman.
Other than canvassing, most events sound like all talk, no action: A Milwaukee family is hosting a discussion entitled "Change America and Change the World." Many have vague descriptions: "100th day of President Obama (Meeting)" on May 10. One is religious: meet at a Starbucks to "pray for all the President's projects."
Is OFA successful? This video montage of last weekend's canvassing (unattributed on YouTube but I suspect done by OFA itself) makes it seem so. I have my doubts.
The web site seems to have attracted not so many effective activists as people hoping to make friends. Many events have only a few RSVP's or none at all. A lot of the sponsors are probably like a certain Bob, who was planning to be at the bowling alley of his small Wisconsin town on March 24, in the bar, to talk about "critical issues that are facing our country." (He has since taken his announcement off the site.)
Drawing on my experience with two activist groups in Chicago, I would expect OFA to evolving away from its current form grass-roots effort involving mostly unpaid volunteers. Beyond canvassing, it lacks a single galvanizing issue to keep volunteers engaged, and normal people are busy. Their involvement will shrink down to being names on e-mail and call lists, said to number in the millions.
The normal types will leave OFA to the hardcore activists: the sub-culture of those whose life is ‘all leftist politics, all the time'. The same person might work as an academic or staff a not for profit or a union, and then spend his or her free time with a housing advocacy group, an environmental group, an abortion rights group, a liberal church group, and Obama's eternal campaign. There's overlap from one group to another, forming a large, culturally left social network. That is the network that brought us Obama, and those are the people who will stick with OFA.
One of them just knocked on our door, as I sat upstairs blogging. My husband answered the door. He said the guy identified himself as being from the Sierra Club, but then he asked, "Could I have your support for President Obama?" My husband said no, and let him get away before I could get his photo or talk to him.
Is OFA a threat to democracy? This AT article by Lola Manning casts a critical eye on the group, acknowledging its creepy similarity to Hitler's personal cult. All I can say is that I expect it to expand and become more effective. The Stimulus bill contained $5.2 billion for ‘community development' and ‘neighborhood stabilization', and that money will pay salaries of new ‘community organizers' and ‘labor organizers'. The professional organizers will call on the grass-roots volunteers as needed: "Hey, we're taking a busload of folks to protest at a banker's house. Care to join us?"