Saturday, November 08, 2008

Obama Internet Army on the march

A McClatchy News Service article on Yahoo News wonders how President-elect Obama will use his "Internet Army" once he gets to D.C.

I'm one of the 3.1 million Americans who signed on with My Barack Obama to make phone calls, knock on doors and donate money. Some of the toughest work was back before the Democratic caucus in March, which is when I signed up. Especially true at my house, with me and my cell phone in one room and Chris and her cell in another. I called for Obama; she called for Clinton.

But phone calling is only part of the equation. This Obama Internet Army may be a key ally to the president once he's inaugurated. According to the McClatchy article:

Joe Trippi offered a more dramatic scenario: "Obama will be able to say these are the 10 members of Congress standing in our way on health care. Basically, it'll be the president and the people united, with some members of Congress in between, which won't be a very comfortable place to be."

A million Obama activists nationwide translate to an average of nearly 2,300 for each of 435 congressional districts. "And if someone in my district had a list of them with e-mail addresses and a lot of good will, I'd pay a lot of attention to them," said Scott Lilly, a senior staffer for Democrats in the House of Representatives for nearly 30 years.

The article does point out that this kind of pressure will work best against moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats. It's not clear what sort of effect it would have on Republican members of Congress in red states. Places like Wyoming. The most active MyBO (we need a better acronym) volunteers in Cheyenne were called on to knock on doors in Greeley and Fort Collins, Colo. Obama strategists figured that was a better use of resources and they were right. Democrats in our county of Laramie voted for Obama. The Republicans voted for McCain. Registered Repubs outnumber Dems by a wide margin and that's what the results showed.

But Larimer County in Colo., home to Fort Collins, went for Obama. Weld County (Greeley) went for McCain but just barely. I haven't looked at the statistics yet, but my guess is that college students and minorities (notably Hispanics) and all the registered Dems and some Indies and at least some Repubs (I know one in Fort Collins) went over to the Obama side. Some southern Montana counties went blue for Obama. Some northern Wyoming MyBO people made the trek to Billings during the campaign.

We all know that Obama can achieve his (and our) goals without any response from Wyoming or its Congressional delegation. Enzi and Barrasso and Lummis are part of the minority. They will obstruct. That doesn't mean I won't write my obligatory e-mails and letters to them. I've been doing that for the past eight years. It just means my P.O.V. will have the same non-effect.

More from the McClatchy article:

What his [Obama] supporters will accomplish in Republican districts is another uncertainty.

"If they're networked into PTA meetings and barbershops and call-in talk shows, they can let people know that their guy isn't doing what we want him to do. That would be an extraordinarily powerful tool," Lilly said.

Barbershops? I can just imagine haranguing Repubs at my local barbershop and then sitting in the chair and asking the barber for "a close shave." But I know what Lilly's talking about. Be active in your community. Speak up. Be part of the progressive team.

Some of the more interesting parts of the article came at the end. It concerns the use of modern technology in the political arena. Remember that Obama's style of instant Internet response and fund-raising was pioneered by Howard Dean in 2004, just four years ago. We may just be seeing the beginning of a huge revolution.

Reform advocates who see the Internet as a tool want to reduce Washington's grip on power by providing universal Internet access to more government deliberations and records. It's an idea that appeals to lots of Obama activists, who can be expected to push for it.

Obama has promised to create a "transparent and connected White House ." He's also promised to appoint a Cabinet-rank chief technology officer to promote openness in federal agencies and help the new president communicate with the electorate. More generally, Obama supports expanding high-speed broadband Internet access, which roughly half the nation lacks.

An easy and popular step toward transparency would be for Obama to reverse the Bush administration's secretive policy on Freedom of Information Act requests for government records. That could be done by declaration, without congressional involvement, noted John Wonderlich , the program director of the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation , which promotes transparency.

Visionaries in the realm of Internet politics, several of them well-known among Obama activists, would like to see Obama go further and use Internet social networks for ideas and collaborative problem-solving.

UPDATE: Just saw the 11/7 post from Chris Hughes about the future of Here's an excerpt:

And the site isn't going anywhere. The online tools in My.BarackObama will live on. Barack Obama supporters will continue to use the tools to collaborate and interact. Our victory on Tuesday night has opened the door to change, but it's up to all of us to seize this opportunity to bring it about.

In the coming days and weeks, there will be a great deal more information about where this community will head. For the moment, let's celebrate this victory and know that the community we've built together is just the beginning.

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