Monday, June 09, 2008

Conversations on the Future of the Obama Movement

A lot of people are really excited right now about Barack Obama's clinching the Dem nomination. Indeed we, the American people, can be very proud that we have created this moment.

“I think Barack Obama’s achievements are historic,” Lenora Fulani told, “not simply because he is about to become a major party nominee, but because he tapped into that deep desire that people have to create something new in American politics. The black community has been -- and will continue to be -- a major force in that creative process.” (Dr. Fulani herself ran an historic campaign for the presidency in 1988 as an independent and was the first African American and first woman to be on the ballot in all 50 states in US history.)

David Winer in Blow up the Beltway, talking about whether Obama will turn into an insider once he's in office, says "I don't want to be an insider, I don't want the insiders to rule, I don't want there to be insiders at all. I want to distribute opportunity and acknowledge intelligence and goodness where ever it appears..." Dave credits the Obama Phenomenon -- his victory as an insurgent within the Dem party over the formidable Clinton machine -- to the internet. Dave, after all, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software, according to his blog Scripting News.

Doc Searles agrees with that analysis in "Meet the new boss, nothing like the old boss" at Harvard Law: "But we’re done with that. I think even the talk radio addicts who hate all Democrats by reflex know the old gig is up. The reason has nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with Democracy 2.0. That’s the one where the threshold of participation narrows toward zero. We’re not there yet, but we’re headed that way. Obama is leading the way, but it’s not just about him, or his candidacy, or his policies...."

And "Obama's Organization, and the Future of American Politics" by Micah L. Sifry on techPresident, makes a similar point: "There are three campaigns that I've spent a lot of my life in journalism writing about: Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988; Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996; and Howard Dean in 2004. In each case, a charismatic candidate with a powerful message drew a ton of new activist energy into the process. And in each case, the movement and the man faced a moment of truth: is this about you, or the larger movement? If Obama wins in November, the question will loom larger for one critical reason: because his supporters have the capacity to self-organize on a scale never seen before in our lifetimes...."

Sifry goes on to say about the evolution of the Howard Dean campaign, "The Dean campaign list was used to spawn DemocracyforAmerica, and Howard gave the reigns to his brother Jim once he became DNC chair. DfA has kept going, with active chapters around the country, and a respectable amount of organizing and fundraising on behalf of Dean-like candidates for various levels of political office. It's not a game changer, but it is definitely something a bit more like an ongoing, people-powered organization than either the Jackson or Perot successor groups. It's not a game changer, but it is definitely something a bit more like an ongoing, people-powered organization than either the Jackson or Perot successor groups."

No, it's not a game changer. To change the game, you'd have to change the rules. You'd have to include independent voters.

Democracy and political parties are almost polar opposites. George Washington warned us in his farewell speech. Over the next few months and years, we're going to see whether the Democratic Party is more democratic or more party. Independents will be watching, and organizing.

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