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Don Tapscott

Obama’s Organizing for America troops prepare for battle

As I’ve written many times before, President Barack Obama is making deft use of the web and the youth-powered social movement that got him elected to help advance his agenda.  I also said his biggest battle would be healthcare. With members of Congress back in their constituencies during August, the battleground for health care reform shifts from the backrooms in Washington to communities across America.  Earlier this week Obama sent an email to the membership of Organizing for America, the organization that grew out of the 13 million volunteers who had signed up with Obama’s campaign team during last year’s election.

“Throughout August, members of Congress are back home, where the hands they shake and the voices they hear will not belong to lobbyists, but to people like you,” Obama wrote.

“Home is where we’re strongest. We didn’t win last year’s election together at a committee hearing in D.C. We won it on the doorsteps and the phone lines, at the softball games and the town meetings, and in every part of this great country where people gather to talk about what matters most. And if you’re willing to step up once again, that’s exactly where we’re going to win this historic campaign for the guaranteed, affordable health insurance that every American deserves.”

Healthcare reform, writes Obama, is the issue “our movement was built for.”

There is no possible compromise on health care and the myth of Obama as a “post-partisan” president is exactly that – a myth.   The health care industry generates billions of dollars in profits and many people are seething that these profits might be curtailed.  This issue can never be negotiated in Washington back rooms as there are huge interests vested in the status quo – such as the big insurance companies, health maintenance organizations and pharmaceutical giants.  Like many social changes, for this one there will be winners and losers and an historic battle will determine the outcome.

As Obama noted in his message to supporters, “In politics, there’s a rule that says when you ask people to get involved, always tell them it’ll be easy. Well, let’s be honest here: Passing comprehensive health insurance reform will not be easy. Every President since Harry Truman has talked about it, and the most powerful and experienced lobbyists in Washington stand in the way.”  But this time Obama has what those presidents lacked:  the Internet and a powerful social movement that potentially can shift the relationship of forces in America away from the traditional entrenched interests towards the needs of the population.

One of the principles of the New Media Group in the Obama presidential campaign was that “online activity exists to support offline activity.”  The goal of the online media specialists was to motivate and energize volunteers to be active in their communities.  This principle is being carried into the battle around healthcare:

Obama’s email says:  “That’s why Organizing for America is putting together thousands of events this month where you can reach out to neighbors, show your support, and make certain your members of Congress know that you’re counting on them to act.” He says:  “These canvasses, town halls, and gatherings only make a difference if you turn up to knock on doors, share your views, and show your support.”

He asks his supporters:  Can you commit to join at least one event in your community this month?

The battle will be fierce.  Already, opponents to health care reform are starting to sabotage the first of thousands of these town-hall meetings.  Protesters are being bussed in to disrupt information sessions and help spread myths that Obama’s plans are socialist or fascist or both.  The protesters are fueled by the rhetoric on Fox News and use the same sleazy tactics as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth used against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.

“So yes, fixing this crisis will not be easy,” concludes Obama  “Our opponents will attack us every day for daring to try. It will require time, and hard work, and there will be days when we don’t know if we have anything more to give. But there comes a moment when we all have to choose between doing what’s easy, and doing what’s right.  This is one of those times.”

Tags: Government


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