Monday, March 3, 2008

Texas: What Kind of Volunteers?

From half the continent away, the New York Times has commented on differences between Obama volunteers in Texas and those for Clinton. They say that Clinton has the "old guard" and that newer, younger, less experienced people are working for Obama. After interviewing "dozens of campaign workers" in Texas, they comment, "...a well-prepared Clinton campaign has relied on longtime friendships and deep connections to the state's party operation here.... At the same time, the Obama campaign nearly always feels smaller - sometimes even makeshift, despite its considerable money advantage - but it also seems remarkably self-generating, drawing hundreds of the first-time campaign volunteers that have fueled his success elsewhere."

Most Texas observers would agree that Obama volunteers seem less experienced than Clinton's. They have been flocking to training sessions to learn the first rudiments of grass roots campaigning.

But is that the only difference? My friends who have attended the training sessions say it isn't. They say that Obama staffers are deliberately training community leaders, not campaign foot soldiers as we usually see. In the past, campaign volunteers were given specific tasks and the only questions they can get answers for are those that help them carry out their pat instructions. Obama training sessions, by contrast, encourage volunteers to take leadership in their respective precincts.

Some of us have been complaining about the top-down nature of electoral campaigns, and especially of those conducted by unions. In their defense, it must be said that union leaders are justifiably terrified of selective anti-union enforcement of election laws. Nevertheless, unpaid volunteers have longed for a chance to use their own ideas and abilities to further their candidate's cause. The Obama campaign, according to my friends, gives them exactly that!

Could the unleashed energy of creative volunteers be part of the reason for Obama's success so far?

Think about it further. If my friends are correct in their observations, is it not likely that the grass roots structures being created by the Obama campaign will endure past the primaries, past the general election, and far into the next administration? If the campaign is creating cadres instead of drones, are we not looking at the possibility of a new kind of grassroots democracy in America's future? Compare the idea to the "Circulos" in Venezuela or the "Committees in Defense of the Revolution" in Cuba. Both of them depend on cadre leadership at the grass roots, community level. Both of them are at the very root of democracy's preservation and furtherance.

The long-term effect of the Obama campaign is worth pondering, especially as we analyze the staggering anti-Bush voter turnout across America and wonder what it portends for our future.

--Jim Lane in Dallas

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