Tuesday, April 28, 2009

OFA: listening and learning

Tonight I attended a listening session for the new Organizing For America (OFA) otherwise known as Obama 2.0. Well over 100 people, most but not all veterans of the Presidential campaign, turned out in San Francisco's Western Addition to see what state field director Mary Jane Stevenson had to say.

Here's the bare poop: OFA's mission is
  • to support President Obama's agenda on education, health care and clean energy;
  • to grow and strengthen our grassroots organization;
  • and to train and empower our volunteers to effect change in our communities.
OFA lives under the umbrella of the Democratic National Committee, but Stevenson assured us, we didn't have to be Democrats to participate. She is the lone employee at present, but there will be regional field staff and offices.

We gathered in circles by neighborhood and talked organizing: what our communities need; what we have; what we'd like to see OFA look like by the end of the year. We brainstormed local projects -- and each neighborhood cluster set a next meeting time back in their area.

I came away with more questions than answers.
  • Some people brought very specific local needs and grievances. For example, there was the woman who finds herself living in a building on top of a toxic dump. Can a national organization supporting the President really do anything for her?
  • For that matter, does such a broad national outfit really want to assume any responsibility for that kind local specific problem?
  • People in my little Mission neighborhood circle kept mentioning that there were lots of groups in the neighborhood working on health and education issues. How does OFA relate to all that existing infrastructure?
  • Elected officials in San Francisco are all "liberals" in national politics. For goodness sakes, the Speaker is our Congresswoman. What does a national pressure group do with activists in such a district?
  • How does OFA relate to existing political formations? In this city we have expensive, highly charged, participatory elections for the county Democratic committee, not to mention a plethora of political clubs. In the Presidential race, the Obama people could ignore these entities. Now OFA is somehow the Democratic Party.
  • Or is OFA a Democratic Party entity? Stevenson did say that you didn't have to be a Democrat, that OFA welcomed everyone; how does that work?
  • What if OFA folks don't agree with the President's policies? In my little group, most were actually in favor of single payer, government-run health care, not Obama's private enterprise solution to universal coverage. Is there any room for them to agitate? Won't they just walk away if there isn't any room?
I could go on and on with the questions.

What was pleasant about this meeting was the sense that everyone brought huge numbers of questions, including our leaders. Presumably answers and structure will emerge -- and if they don't work for this set of activists, people will vote with their feet. Meanwhile, OFA is interesting. I guess I'll go to my neighborhood meeting ...

1 comment:

naomi dagen bloom said...

Fascinating post. One of the reasons that New York City is annoying to me is that we don't have the sort of participatory activity you describe. Even if one does not go with the program, you describe clearly how it feels good to be in the exchange.

No from this Democratic Party front. Obama, yes but not the Party. I know it's confusing but somehow it seems right to push against what I consider a phony takeover by the Party.

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