Jan 24, 2013 - Issue 501

Obama…Organizing for America…Action

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First let me admit that I was wrong in my last column in regards to the Congressional Republican’s death wish because of the anger and disfavor generated through their holding the “faith and credit” of the country hostage to their demands being fulfilled before voting to lift the debt ceiling. It seems that some of the wiser heads in the Grand Old Party sufficiently blunted the self destructive tendencies of the Tea Party faction and “the can was pushed down the road” three months. Instead, Congressional Republicans changed their tactics to challenge the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass a budget bill. Thereby, Obama gains another slight victory. I still believe that Obama was wrong to back off the powers given him by the 14th Amendment and the debt payment solution offered by the platinum trillion dollar coin. His administration, with trickster energy and the promulgation of foolishness, has deprived the country of a better understanding of the central bank establishment’s chicanery that is embedded in our currency/debt system and thereby has deprived us of the realization that this system needs to be fundamentally changed.

The Republican Party’s move, announced by Tea Party favorite, Eric Kantor, briefly staunches the further fall of Congressional Republicans out of favor but it is far from the end of their peril as thoughts turn toward the 2014 midterm elections. It may seem too early to think about elections for most of us but such is never out of mind for elected officials of either party. Knowing that Democrats are also looking toward the next election highlights the decision of the 2012 Obama campaign to reform itself into something being called Organizing for Action (OFA).

After the 2008 election, the Obama campaign was subsumed within the Democrat National Committee (DNC) and changed its name from Obama for America to Organizing for America. This injected the Party with the phenomenally successful online fundraising operations and database network of national volunteers. However, the results of the 2010 midterm elections (when there was an historic surge of Republican and Tea Party candidates who captured state and federal positions) was testimony to the failure of this presidential campaign and Party amalgamation.

In addition, Barack’s 2008 campaign’s articulation of the need for “the people’s” continued attention and advocacy for him to be maximally successful was also unrealized. Buried within the DNC, there was very little advocacy from those millions of people involved in that campaign fighting with him for political change in Washington. The DNC-affiliated politicians and Party activists have a congenital belief in their individual righteousness and power and have great psychological difficulty tending to civilian activists in a way that is empowering. Such politicians are much more comfortable engaging with sycophants and regimented inferiors - soldiers - who simply follow orders. 

The social change power engendered in Obama’s first campaign essentially died. He fought the health care fight and his other first term struggles surrounded by the typical Democrat politicians’ minions from the Clinton administration and Wall Street. Hope waned as opportunity after opportunity was truncated into the liberal marginal changes that do not threaten the fundamentally unjust status quo. The widespread disappointment that resulted was essentially overcome in Obama’s 2012 reelection effort by the miscalculation of Romney, the Republican Party’s entanglement with the idiocy and prejudice of the Tea Party faction, changes in the demographics of the electorate that could not be frustrated and continued improvements in the technology of campaigning by Obama’s operatives.

The establishment of Organizing for Action, the 2012 campaign organization reformation outside of the Democrat Party, seems to be recognition of the failure of the amalgamation of Organizing for America within the DNC. Whether this new arrangement will solve more difficulties than it causes is yet to be known. The traditional leadership of the Democrat Party has previously been successful in resisting and squashing such outside-the-Party arrangements.

I am reminded of the Jesse Jackson presidential campaigns and the Rainbow Coalition of which I was a part. Jackson’s campaigns and the Rainbow Coalition had been powerful enough to create a wave of liberal senatorial changes in the South in its wake. The same inside-but-outside arrangement contemplated for Organizing for Action was the intended derivation for the Jackson campaign structure post-elections. It was intended to have - just like OFA is intended to have - local chapters that would advocate for change at the federal level and also take up local issues. The hairs on the back of necks of traditional Party leaders stood on end because they recognized that this would mean that the Rainbow would easily be able to advocate against issues that they espoused and for progressive primary candidates who would challenge some of them. As I mentioned in an earlier column, Rev. Jackson was persuaded to squash The Rainbow Coalition in exchange for temporary individual seats on the DNC central committee; he immediately set about disbanding a national organization that had the potential to seriously push for fundamental social change.

“If it is able to sustain the passion that propelled Obama twice into the White House, the pro-Obama group may outstrip the role played by traditional interest groups, from organized labor to the environmental movement, and could form an independent power base outside the White House and the Democratic Party…This is no small development in Democratic (sic) politics,” said Steve Bene of the Maddow Blog. More likely, I believe, is that OFA will be seen as just another “Astroturf” grassroots army whose political force will be discounted because it will be seen - probably accurately - as a group directed and resourced from “on high.” Soldiers have loyalties to each other and to some generals but are relatively weakly engaged in the specific strategies, tactics, and compromises of engagements. Political activists most often have deeper and broader attachments to the meaning and purposes of the struggle, no matter how narrow that might be at times. Compromises on the debt ceiling, gun control, and immigration reform will winnow the political activists out of Obama’s OFA army and just leave some diminishing troop of “soldiers.”

There are a number of features needed for a sustainable, powerful, effective, progressive national organization that can move us towards the fundamental changes that are needed. Greater independence from candidates, politicians, and partisan Parties is essential. Two of OFA’s barriers to greater independence are (1) who controls the lists and the technology and (2) who facilitates access to the significant resources ($) that it is going to take to maintain such an organization. The 2012 Obama campaign ended with $5.3 million left in its coffers. Who will this organization turn to once those initial funds run out? Most often “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Self funding is absolutely necessary for sustainability. The loyalty of OFA is not to a set of principles or beliefs other than those that are embodied in one man. I severely doubt OFA will ever be critical of Obama even when it is needed. The DNC will be worrying about the potential criticism of it and the fact that this structure will likely not be helpful to the Party’s aspirations for the 2014 midterm elections unless the candidates meet Obama’s approval.

Sustainable, independent, local organizing with cross issue and cross cultural alliances and coalitions remain the most hopeful means to advance progressive outcomes. Where is Obama, the organizer-in-chief? What really are his goals and intentions? Facing a disoriented, stumbling Congressional Republican group, Obama has turned again to soaring rhetoric and what seems to be poorly thought out organizing structures and tactics. His reformed campaign structure seems to be headed toward conflict with the DNC and inevitable membership decline as the focus remains tactics and strategies that reduce the decision-making and the power of those who choose to stay involved. At times, progressive organizations might be jointly working with OFA on issues or candidates. But as it currently exists, for me, does not mean committing or investing in this poorly constructed and poorly understood behemoth. I do not seek to become a soldier for Obama or anyone else. I am a soldier for justice.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Wilson Riles, is a former Oakland, CA City Council Member. Click here to contact Mr. Riles.