As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Big Tent

In order to rise from a relative unknown who lost to Chicago legend Bobby Rush in 2000 to the cusp of a Presidential nomination today, Barack Obama did not only have to court all elements of the varied coalitions that rule politics in Chicago, he had to build the coalition large enough to be someone all those coalitions wanted to rally behind. In 1992, Obama, working as a community organizer, registered 150,000 residents throughout Chicago to vote in what ended up being a landmark election, as Carol Moseley Braun became the first female African-American ever elected to the US Senate.

This weekend I attended an Obama Vote for Change rally in South LA which ended up registering 615 new voters. It was one of over 100 events all over the country; here's a report of another one in Birmingham, Alabama. Over 400 volunteers attended the Los Angeles event, heard from a few speakers, were trained in voter registration (most of them were doing it for the first time), and sent out into the surrounding area. Now, 600-some new voters in the LA area isn't going to sway much politically or ensure an already-fairly-assured Democratic victory in California. But it does build the tent, not only for the general election but beyond. I've written at length about how Obama's gamble is to build a liberal electorate that's so big that he has a serious advantage for his election and his agenda of reform. A nationwide effort maximizes resources, keeps that army of volunteers excited and doing work, and builds that base to be dispatched for the general election. In addition to voter registration, the volunteers were signing up registered voters to volunteer later in the campaign. We could see a million people on the ground all across the country in November. That's special - and different.

I got a significant amount of pushback from my Obama Party post, even though I thought I noted my concerns with it, mainly from those who thought he's building a "political machine." As the NYT magazine story linked above notes, Obama never made inroads with the Daley machine until Daley co-opted him after his 2004 convention speech. Also, is this the 1870s where a Presidential candidate isn't allowed to campaign on his behalf? John Kerry outsourced the field and mobilization to ACT and outside groups and it was a stupid plan. Obama thinks he has a better idea that will work long beyond the election, and I support that aspect of it. I worry about his shutting out of outside groups, but I will note that yesterday's event was at the campaign offices of Mark Ridley-Thomas, a progressive running for LA County Supervisor, and the event in Huntington Beach doubled as the kickoff event for Congressional candidate Debbie Cook. So there is a layering effect, where the local candidates are benefiting from Obama's work at the national level, and that has soothed my concerns to an extent.

Labels: , , , , ,