Obama group begins to work

BY SHAWN GUDE | APRIL 17, 2009 7:32 AM

President Obama’s term hasn’t hit the 100-day mark, but his Organizing for America advocacy group is beginning to take shape.

Officially announced a few days before Obama was inaugurated, the Democratic National Committee-run group’s present task is conducting listening tours across the country. Thursday night’s stop in Iowa City — which consisted of two separate meetings — was the second of the 17-visit Iowa tour, which the group’s Iowa director, Derek Eadon, said should be complete by the end of this month.

Staffed by former campaign members, the group will focus more on specific issues and advancing Obama’s agenda than getting candidates elected. Phone calls to senators and representatives, letters to the editor, and knocking on doors will be part of the organization’s advocacy, although more specific details are still in the works.

UI sophomore Jacob Rosenberg, who was a member of Hawkeyes for Obama and attended Thursday night’s meeting, sees the organization as integral to advancing the president’s agenda. It’s paramount, he said, for “issues and policies to be passed through specific groups.”

Eadon, a former regional field director for the Obama campaign, explained the impetus and premise of the group to erstwhile volunteers attending Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s going to be a continuation of what the Obama campaign was,” he said. “So after the election, we had all these e-mail addresses, we had all these people who had come out for a candidate, specifically, to do volunteer work, to donate money … The big question was, what do we do now?”

The listening tours are designed to get feedback and comments from supporters and former volunteers. Those who attended Thursday’s first meeting broke up into groups and discussed the ramifications of different organizational structures and other aspects of organizing through the grassroots.

Additional listening tour stops could be scheduled, but Eadon said potential leaders will be tapped, and the structure will be set up “rather quickly.”

Political-science Associate Professor David Redlawsk said that although such an organization is uncommon post-election, the move may prove to be effective.

“I think in many respects, it’s actually relatively smart to do this,” he said, calling the formation of the organization unusual yet not “all that surprising.”

“Given [Obama’s] focus on community organizing, there’s just a certain logic to doing this kind of thing.”

Critics deride the organization as a manifestation of the permanent-campaign mentality. But Eadon stressed the nascent organization’s differing outlook.

“We’re mainly looking at 2009, 2010,” he said.

Still in its early stages, it’s unclear how successful the group will be. Redlawsk said the ultimate effectiveness of the advocacy group may hinge on how united in its activism the organization proves to be.

“I think any time you can mobilize people, it can be valuable,” he said. “If you mobilize people in the same direction, all the better.”

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