Bloggers’ Role In Obama’s Bottom-Up Presidency

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

What is our role in an Obama administration? If some diarists criticize or question Obama, some commenters will urge we remain silent and give Obama some breathing space because he is a very intelligent man.

However, that is NOT what President Obama wants from us. Quite the contrary, President Obama has stated repeatedly that he wants bottom-up politics to effect the real changes needed on issues facing our country. Having Obama in the WH is not enough, he needs our help to implement a progressive agenda that will not be greeted with open arms in Congress.

In order to determine how we can implement bottom-up politics, I checked out Obama’s community organizer background to look for some guiding principles. Some kossacks may be surprised to learn that President Obama is relying upon us to organize on issues with groups across the aisle where no core principles are removed from the table so that we can bring pressure on him and DC to take the right actions. In other words, he wants us to object when we disagree and he will listen.  

While the right wingers laughed at Obama’s community organizer background, it is precisely the principles of community organizer that can bring about real change. It was as community organizer that Obama “learned some of his most enduring lessons about politics, leadership, and the paths to social change.”  

When Obama speaks of his community organizer background, he is telling us his political philosophy and views about political power, specifically — bottom-up politics.

One of my fundamental beliefs from my days as a community organizer is that real change comes from the bottom up.  And there’s no more powerful tool for grass-roots organizing than the Internet.

A community organizer does not have the real power, which flows instead from the groups or coalitions joined together (and that would be us) to effect change on a common issue. As Obama has repeatedly stated, change won’t come from the top, but from a mobilized grass roots. Similarly, President Obama has power, but he can’t dictate to Congress. Obama needs us to apply that pressure on Congress  — and sometimes to apply that pressure on him as well.

I was delighted to find this recent video of Obama concurring with the purpose of my diary: The community organizer principles apply to how we can effect real change with bottom-up politics:

Here are some of those principles:

“Stick to our guns” on our core principles and values.

Some have rushed to judgment that post-partisanship means that we must start discussion of an issue with groups across the aisle by an initial position of compromise, but that is contrary to Obama’s view that we should maintain our core values:

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will.

So, when Obama speaks of reaching across the aisle, it is not to start with a compromised position where anything is taken off the table, but to start with a position of strength. As is generally true with any negotiation, we may have to compromise ultimately to some degree.  The key for Obama is to seek common ground, which is not the same thing as starting with a compromised stance.

Rather, Obama believes that the ultimate compromise should not violate core principles:

Basically you carve out your ethical limits and make sure to never cross them but, within them, understand the need to use compromise to get things done.

In fact, Obama stated during the campaign that he has a set of core principles and if any politician, Democrat or Republican, opposed those principles, then Obama promised to “go after them with everything that I’ve got.”

Reaching across the aisle means unification of divergent groups, even groups not usually aligned, when commonality of interest on specific issues.

A core principle of community organizing is that the power for change is derived from people joining forces to act together as one. This does not mean just people of like-minded politics. Rather, this means reaching across the aisle to all groups, even those you may consider to be your enemies when there is commonality of interest on specific issue(s).  This means we may form shifting alliances as groups united on one interest may differ on the next issue.

Similar to labor unions, the purpose of bringing together all people who agree on one issue or cause is to change the existing power dynamics “between business, government interests and the community.” The power dynamics are changed because people who lacked access to the traditional power venues can obtain that access by unification so that our voices are backed by our numbers. The beauty of the community organizer model of bottom-up politics is that it vests the power in us because oftentimes the problems we face “do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions.”

Community organized based on self-interest, not ideals.

In order to motivate people to join forces to fight for change, the key is determining what is the self-interest of that person or community that will provide the needed motivation rather than relying upon more altruistic principles like the common good.  As Obama says, “the key to creating successful organizations was making sure people’s self-interest was met, and not just basing it on pie-in-the-sky idealism.”  Similarly, when our plans are submitted to politicians, we can present why it is in the self-interest (e.g., re-election) of the lawmakers to use our proposal.

One objective of unified group is applying pressure on President Obama and DC.

We need reform of a gazillion issues due to years of neglect, or Congress applying band-aids to issues, or otherwise worsening some issues by simply not working to address the real problems underlying the issues. Throughout his campaign, Obama has been trying to mobilize the netroots and America to unify so that we can present a united front to pressure Congress and defeat special interests.  

In other words, electing more and better dems is not the end of our mission for change. Now that we have some better dems and President Obama, instead of fighting rearguard actions, we can focus on the beginning of a movement for change.

It was Saul Alinsky’s disciples who hired Obama as a community organizer and taught him Alinsky’s “philosophy of street-level democracy.”  It is the unified groups which then apply pressure on President Obama and/or Congress depending upon the issue.  Alinsky often used this example to illustrate how pressure should be targeted at the President:

It is not enough just to elect your candidates. You must keep the pressure on. Radicals should keep in mind Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to a reform delegation, “Okay, you’ve convinced me. Now go on out and bring pressure on me!” Action comes from keeping the heat on. No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough.

Drafting our own proposals for reform that we submit to Congress.

Obama has encouraged us to write our destiny in language that is both literal and metaphorical:

Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.

After unification, we need to draft our plans or proposals on issues to submit to DC.   It is far easier to effect change if our proposal is on the table rather than working defensively to correct proposals submitted by others.

Obama has made it clear that he will listen to new ideas. As community organizer, he learned the importance of “listening to people as opposed to coming in with a predetermined agenda.” He can’t listen if we don’t submit our ideas.


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    we got the best ideas, so why not share with DC!

  2. I really believe that if we want to understand Obama, this is critical. And you have laid it out SO well.

    I’ve been reading and learning alot about community organizing as well and have written about it occasionally too. For example, here and here.

    Now I’m off to check out your links. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!

    • kj on January 31, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    thanks very much for writing and compiling this, Patriot Daily.

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