New Film Tells Unreported Story of Obama's Election

“Barack Obama, People’s President” Describes Techniques That The Obama Administration Is Now Using To Win Support For Its Agenda, And Can Be Used To Hold Him Accountable

The election of Barack Obama may be long over, but the campaign for
change is still underway. For the first time in American history, a
president is using the techniques he deployed in running for office as
a candidate in calling for deeper change.

And, no surprise, this significant political development is barely
being covered in a media that loves to punditize, poll public opinion,
and debate policy options in a top-down way. By "covering" politics in
this way, our mass media is missing the most innovative bottom -up
grassroots effort in recent memory,

I know about this because as a journalist and filmmaker, I set out
to document just how Obama won the election. That story, told in the
film "Barack Obama, People's President" (slated for DVD release later
this month by documents the online and on the ground techniques that were used to win the highest office in the land.

The President is now using those same techniques, built around an
impressive thirteen million name email list, to keep his organizers and
supporters involved in backing his legislative agenda. This is the
biggest mass lobbying effort of all time.

While his principal campaign advisor David Axelrod joined the White
House staff at a high level, his campaign manager David Plouffe set
about converting a campaign apparatus into a legislative army. As
MoveOn.Org advisor David Fenton explains in our film, "It's an
institutionalized mass level automated technological community
organizing that has never existed before and it is a very, very
powerful force."

They have converted the campaign website,, and
renamed it Organizing for America. It encouraged visitors to call
Congress to support the President's budget. And like the campaign, it
sends out emails, text messages and uses social networking
technologies. It organizes volunteers to canvass door to door like they
did in the campaign. The first time out, they garnered nearly a quarter
million signatures.

Andrew Rasiej of the personal Democracy Forum elaborates:

"He knows who is giving him money, who's voted for him.
He can now reach out to these people and ask them to help him to pass
his legislative agenda. Those same people can call their congressmen
and say we'll support you for reelection if you vote for Obama's
legislation. We will give you money if you support Obama's legislation.
It's a very powerful group that is actually the most powerful
grassroots organization ever built in American history."

The film "People's President" shows how all of this - including use
of Meet-up technologies like FaceBook, MySpace and Twitter were used as
organizing tools by the campaign.

Rasiej cites the ongoing potential:

"It's a citizens lobby! And not only can Obama as
president go over the heads of congress to speak to the American
public, he can go now between their legs and go underneath Congress to
the American public and the American public can do the same back and
that's created a new power structure in the American politics, where
the citizens can actually participate and not rely on the old
(abstract) system of lobbyists, special interests and only those who
have money."

There is also the possibility, as political theorist Benjamin Barber
told us, the young people who backed Obama can use these same
techniques and web platforms to challenge him to stay on track:

"There are websites of young people who are deeply
involved in the campaign who talk to one another, and now it would be
very interesting because now that Obama's President, they will find
that websites and some horizontal campaigns of young people involved
with him, now looking at him critically. And using the web to challenge
him, to live up to what these young people believed he promised them
and so on."

This is significant. The progressive critics of Obama, disappointed
by his appointments and some of his cautious policies, have to go
beyond railing in print or crying in their beer. They have to reach out
to the grassroots army that assured his election. This means being
willing to dialogue with liberals and younger people who don't label
their politics. Reminding them of the role they played in a historic
election may be one way to do that - to appeal to the instincts that
led them to engage in the campaign for "change." There's no need to
deify Obama - but there is a imperative to reenergize his base.

It is hard to remember that two years earlier Obama was barely
known, registering on the radar screen for just 10% of voters. He was
also hardly a brand name as a first term Senator who spent more time in
state politics in Illinois than on the national stage. Moreover, he was
young and a man of color - not qualities that usually prevail in a
presidential arena which tends to draw far older, far whiter, and far
more centrist candidates. The thought that he would beat frontrunner
Hillary Clinton in the primaries was, quite frankly, unthinkable to
most of the elite.

And yet he prevailed, as he used a phrase appropriated from labor
organizer and Latino legend Caesar Chavez. Obama turned the farm
workers Spanish language slogan "Si Se Puede" into "Yes We Can." Rather
than focus on specific political issues, he built a campaign on the
promise of "Hope." Rather than just rely on traditional fundraising -
although by the end, he was plush with it - he reached out over the
internet for smaller donations from millions of donors.

Few in the major media gave him a chance, but he was not discouraged
because he had created his own grassroots media operation using
sophisticated organizing and social networking techniques to build a
bottom-up movement, not the usual top-down apparatus. While his
campaign ran the show, he encouraged independent initiatives including
citizen-generated media, music videos, personalized websites,
twittering and texting, etc..

This is the new direction our politics has taken. It is a story that
may be somewhat threatening to old media - and older activists - who
prefer a one to many approach to communication, as opposed to forging a
more interactive empowering platform. There is no question that young
people - especially those mobilized by Obama - prefer online media and
that choice is making it harder and harder for traditional outlets to
sustain their influence and, in some cases, even their organizations.
Old media may be on the way out.

This is why our film is, in my mind, so important, not just as a
record of how Obama won and what happened in 2008, but in what will
happen, can happen, and is happening in the future. This is why I
believe its critical for Americans to see it - and others in the world
as well - to recognize how Obama represents more than just another
politician, but a whole new approach to politics. That old adage is
worth remembering: "It's not the ship that makes the wave, it's the
motion of the ocean."

Obama, for all his shortcomings, which are becoming more obvious by
the day, has pioneered the way change must be won - not by people on
the top, but by all of us. It remains for "us" to hold him accountable.
We live in a culture of amnesia - it is important to learn the lessons
of the recent past.

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