By Kathleen Riley
In an interview with Politico, Barack Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina said that they built the “biggest grassroots campaign in modern history” during Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. From the very beginning, Obama told Messina that the campaign must be grass roots. Over the past five years since his first campaign, Messina cultivated a grass roots movement creating a huge “technology infrastructure,” incorporating technology and people power, to achieve this goal.
The question now becomes what is going to happen to the grass roots movement and all of the Obama for America supporters? Four years ago, the campaign turned over its information to the Democratic National Committee and transformed into Organizing for America. This time, the campaign wants to keep the grass roots movement alive and autonomous from the DNC, at least for a little while.
This problem of grass roots movements fading out after political parties benefit from them is not a new concept and is discussed by Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas in The Partisan Dynamics of Contention: Demobilization of the Antiwar Movement in the United States, 2007-2009. According to Heaney and Rojas, social movements and political movements co-evolve and benefit from one another. Once the structured political party loses interest in the movement, the movement becomes unstructured, more radical, and as a result, less effective. The obvious difference between the antiwar movement and Obama for America movement is that the Obama for America movement was based on a candidate’s election. However, the campaign now proposes that it wants to be more than that and to continue its presence in politics.
For the people who supported Obama for America, they supported Obama’s ideals and promises for the past five years. Four years ago, Obama’s election thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass and continue. This was until the movement efforts were revamped with the reelection and provided more structure. The struggle now will be to see if this movement can continue this time after Obama’s election.
Messina says that although they cannot spend the funds raised for the president’s reelection they want supporters to have an active role in furthering the president’s agenda during his second term. They believe this can be done through the grass roots movement by using the technology infrastructure set up during the campaign. (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/20/obama-campaign-grassroots-organization-to-be-kept-alive/)
One method of using technology to organize and mobilize volunteers and supporters was an application called Dashboard found on the Obama for America website. The application connected fellow supporters in their neighborhood and empowered them with information, local leader contact information and messages to share with people they come into contact with. It also provided users with a call list. It provided supporters with a means to get involved and for the campaign to track their involvement. Post election, the tool can be used to disseminate information about the President’s platform to users’ neighbors and how they can contact their representatives.
The future of the movement remains unclear, but hopefully will become certain before Inauguration Day. The campaign sent out an email including information about Obama’s plan for solving the fiscal cliff and a survey. While the former is an example of Obama continuing to mobilize his grass roots support, the latter is an attempt to give the organization some direction. The survey asks questions about the recipient’s involvement in the campaign and where to take the organization in the future. Obama also held a 30,000-person conference call rallying his support base leading up to negotiations with congressional leaders regarding a “deficit-reduction package.”