Friday, February 01, 2008

Report: Obama's Success Relies on Community Organizing Tactics

When I was in grad school at Vanderbilt, one of the more influential books I read was Aldon Morris's The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement. Rather than focusing on personalities or spontaenous action, Morris delved into the organizational structures, movement centers and "halfway houses" that trained and mobilized people to effective dissent, social protest, and civil disobedience.

Two writers at the American Prospect take a similar, less detailed look at how Barack Obama's success has relied on a merger of political professional operation with social movement operation:

Obama has enlisted hundreds of seasoned organizers -- including unions, community groups, churches, and environmental groups -- into his campaign. They, in turn, have mobilized thousands of volunteers -- many of them neophytes in electoral politics -- into tightly knit, highly motivated, and efficient teams. This organizing effort has turned out a new group of voters, many of them young people and first-time voters.
I think that there is a tendency among conventional party types to overemphasize Obama's political positions or his personality and speaking style as reasons for his success so far.

But the more fascinating truth may be that a significant difference between him and Hillary Clinton is that he has relied less on Party structure than she has, and he has relied more on his background in community organizing and its ties to local activists. That has opened up a source of social capital rarely tapped by either Democrats or Republicans.

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