Obama Web Plans Unprecedented

[Ed. Comment: Obama’s victory offers opportunities for organizing with grassroots activists for real change. The Obama organization, meanwhile, is planning to continue to organize Obama’s followers using their massive private web networks and databases. We may see something we have not seen before where the President has his own private system of communicating and organizing that works around – and against – Congress, various levels of government and NGO’s, MSM and the Administration itself. MSM media  (the Washington Post and AP are as main stream as you can get) is reporting on Obama’s plans, which woul amount to a para-administration, in my opinion.

Will their extra-governmental system be controlled by the DNC or by his private network (as it may not be controlled directly by the White House)? I think it will come down to where he feels he has more control. He will have great powers as President, and his having a para-administration, in a sense, will be a daunting challenge for activists who disagree with the direction that he intends to take this country.

It could be a two edged sword for Obama, as pointed out in the Washington Post (reprinted below): “But Daou [Peter, of Hillary Clinton’s campaign] noted that the initiative could have a downside. Obama faced an intense backlash when he broke from the left on the issue of immunity for telecommunications companies that took part in the warrantless wiretapping program. “People who have helped you reach this historic goal by self-organizing can also organize in opposition to your policies,” he said.

He’s already getting pressure from outside organized constituencies, over appointments and as reminders of how much money they raised for him, and he’s surrounding himself with Clinton people so far in his White House appointments (which do not need Senate confirmation).

While I do not see Obama’s slogans of “hope” and “change” as indicative of his intentions, it is clear that  his supporters want, and expect, genuine change.  Activists who did not support Obama need to reach out to activists who supported Obama and try to find ways to work with them. Generally, these are good hearted well-meaning people, as are those activists who worked for other candidates, or who consiously sat out the election. I have been talking with Obama supporters, friends and colleagues who supported or worked for his election. I’ve noticed in my own work that many who supported him are taking a more objective look at him, given what’s been coming out about his appointments, announced plan for mandatory community service starting as early as middle school (recently scrubbed from change.gov) and the like.

Here are a few articles on what’s afoot with plans to use his private network. There’s no mention in these articles of Howard Icke’s Catalist database – I imagine that will come into play as well. Catalist was the database used by Million Doors for Peace mobilization, and by Obama for his get out the vote. (Catalist raises civil liberties issues, in my opinion, given the scope of information it has on people and its predictive capabilities. An article on Catalist will be forthcoming)]

Under Obama Web would be the Way

Unprecedented Online Outreach Expected
By Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk?Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 10, 2008

CHICAGO — Armed with millions of e-mail addresses and a political operation that harnessed the Internet like no campaign before it, Barack Obama will enter the White House with the opportunity to create the first truly “wired” presidency.

Obama aides and allies are preparing a major expansion of the White House communications operation, enabling them to reach out directly to the supporters they have collected over 21 months without having to go through the mainstream media.

Just as John F. Kennedy mastered television as a medium for taking his message to the public, Obama is poised to transform the art of political communication once again, said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who first helped integrate the Internet into campaigning four years ago.
“He’s going to be the first president to be connected in this way, directly, with millions of Americans,” Trippi said.

The nucleus of that effort is an e-mail database of more than 10 million supporters. The list is considered so valuable that the Obama camp briefly offered it as collateral during a cash-flow crunch late in the campaign, though it wound up never needing the loan, senior aides said. At least 3.1 million people on the list donated money to Obama.

Millions more made up the volunteer corps that organized his enormous rallies, registered millions of voters and held countless gatherings to plug the senator to friends and neighbors. On Election Day, they served as the backbone of Obama’s get-out-the-vote operation, reaching voters by phone and at the front door, serving coffee at polling stations and babysitting so parents could stand in line at voting precincts.

After Obama declared victory, his campaign sent a text message announcing that his supporters hadn’t heard the last from the president-elect. Obama conveyed a similar message to his staff in a campaignwide conference call Wednesday, signaling that his election was the beginning, and not the culmination, of a political movement.

Accordingly, the president-elect’s http://www.change.gov transition Web site features a blog and a suggestion form, signaling the kinds of direct and instantaneous interaction that the Obama administration will encourage, perhaps with an eye toward turning its following into the biggest special-interest group in Washington.

Once Obama is sworn in, those backers may be summoned to push reluctant members of Congress to support legislation, to offer feedback on initiatives and to enlist in administration-supported causes in local communities. Obama would also be positioned to ask his supporters to back his favored candidates with fundraising and turnout support in the 2010 midterm elections.

“There’s this network of people now,” said Martha Page, a neighborhood leader in Warren County, outside Cincinnati, where Obama managed to reduce a traditionally large Republican vote margin. Page received six calls Wednesday from volunteers looking for new assignments. “It’s a sea change,” she said.

People in technology circles have been musing for months about how Obama would use his list, said Peter Daou, who oversaw Internet operations for the Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). “Once you have people connected through a network, you can’t disconnect. It’s like unbreaking an egg. People all across the country have formed these groups to support Obama. They’ve worked together for a successful purpose,” Daou said. “You don’t let go of that easily.”

But Daou noted that the initiative could have a downside. Obama faced an intense backlash when he broke from the left on the issue of immunity for telecommunications companies that took part in the warrantless wiretapping program. “People who have helped you reach this historic goal by self-organizing can also organize in opposition to your policies,” he said.

As part of the presidential transition, Obama officials are looking to add a significant “new media” component to the White House communications operation. The campaign employed 95 people in its Internet operation, building a user-friendly Web site that served as a platform for grass-roots activities and distributed statements, policy positions and footage of Obama events. The White House Web operation will follow a similar but probably more ambitious path, transition officials said.

The process is just beginning, and many questions remain unanswered. The simplest approach might be to convert the campaign organization into an incarnation aimed at 2012 and an anticipated run for reelection, but some inside the Obama team are concerned about appearing too overtly political. Another course could be to create a nonprofit organization. Obama officials said all options would be examined over the coming weeks.

Over the course of the campaign, Obama’s e-mail list gathered not only names and contact information, but also details about issues important to those supporters.

In past years, such lists were considered useful tools for political campaigns but not particularly helpful for governing. But Peter Greenberger, manager of political advertising for Google, said such information could be a boon for Obama in building public support for policy proposals.

The White House could “geo-target” ads so they appear online in congressional districts where members remain undecided. Obama could use Internet ads to solicit signatures for petitions, or he could place display and video ads contextually — so they would appear on the screen next to news coverage of his proposals.

“If there’s an article in the New York Times or The Washington Post about health-care legislation,” Greenberger said, “the administration or a pro-Obama advocacy organization could run an ad right alongside it.”
Republicans have also seen the potential value in organizing online. In recent days, a small group of prominent young Republicans launched a Web site, http://www.rebuildtheparty.com, calling on their party’s next chairman to use the Internet to organize and galvanize their grass roots.
“Online organizing is by far the most efficient way to transform our party structures to be able to compete against what is likely to be a $1 billion Obama re-election campaign in 2012,” the Web site says.
Staff writer Alec MacGillis in Washington contributed to this report.

Obama to pioneer Web outreach as president
By BETH FOUHY, Associated Press Writer, Wed Nov 12, 6:10 pm ET

NEW YORK – Transition officials call it Obama 2.0 — an ambitious effort to transform the president-elect’s vast Web operation and database of supporters into a modern new tool to accomplish his goals in the White House. If it works, the new president could have an unprecedented ability to appeal for help from millions of Americans who already favor his ideas, bypassing the news media to pressure Congress.

“He’s built the largest network anyone has ever seen in politics, and congressional Republicans are clueless about the communications shift that has happened,” Democratic strategist Joe Trippi proclaims. The results, he says, “will be amazing to watch.”

Republicans say they’ll be watching for White House Web outreach that appears overly political.

“Hopefully, Obama will be a president for all Americans, not just the political supporters on his e-mail list,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant.

Obama’s people know they’ll have to extend their reach.

During his 21-month campaign, Obama built a list of 3.1 million contributors and over 10 million supporters who helped power his victories over Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John McCain. In addition to helping raise a staggering $660 million, the campaign’s Web effort reinforced his message and themes, responded to political attacks and created volunteer social networks that served as the basis for his field operation.

Obama’s team is determining how best to convert his army of online activists into a viral lobbying and communications machine. Staffers are reluctant to discuss specifics, but Obama clearly is poised to become the first truly “wired” president of the digital age.

For legal and privacy reasons, Obama’s campaign list must be kept separate from White House operations. Aides are figuring out if that list should be run through the Democratic National Committee or as a freestanding political entity that will eventually become his 2012 re-election committee.

But transition officials have already begun a new digital outreach effort, based on the campaign model, aimed at supporters and others interested in being connected to the activities of the Obama White House.

The transition operation has a new Web site, http://www.change.gov, designed for anyone who wants to post a message of congratulations, offer suggestions for the new administration or apply for a government job. People are invited to submit their names and e-mail addresses, with the goal of creating a new list for the president-elect to tap when he wants to communicate directly about a program he’s promoting or seek help urging members of Congress to support legislation he’s proposed.

“Just imagine what happens when a congressman comes back to his district and 500 people are lined up for his town hall meeting because they got an e-mail from Obama urging them to attend,” said Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital which designed Obama’s campaign Web site and change.gov.

Gensemer said to be most effective, Obama needs to make clear that his Web outreach efforts aren’t directed only at partisan Democrats.

“If you’re looking to build a community as president, the net needs to be cast a little broader,” Gensemer said. “If you want to bring Republicans along, you use the Web to say, ‘Work with me. Help me cut through the partisan rancor.'”

Such direct online contact with voters could also present a challenge for reporters covering Obama, since the new president will in many ways be able to bypass traditional media while also taking advantage of it to reinforce his online messaging.

“He can do a half-hour YouTube address every Saturday, addressing millions,” Trippi said. “The networks would never give the president that much television time each week, but the press is still going to have to cover what he says on YouTube.”

Aides say the Obama team will staff a robust “new media” operation out of the White House and plans a complete overhaul of the White House Web site to make it more interactive and user-friendly. On the campaign trail, Obama promised to use the Internet to make his administration more open, such as offering a detailed look at what’s going on in the White House on a given day or asking people to post comments on his legislative proposals.

Such freewheeling use of new technology also carries certain risks, as Obama discovered last summer when he signaled he would vote in the Senate for a sweeping intelligence surveillance law reviled by liberal activists. Thousands of angry supporters jammed his campaign Web site to express their outrage — a phenomenon that could easily be repeated when he becomes president.

There are also limits for reaching citizens not yet on the digital grid.

Peter Daou, who ran Internet operations for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said her campaign’s Web outreach was limited by the fact that older and lower-income people — demographic groups most supportive of the former first lady — weren’t using the Internet for communication. Obama will need to find ways to reach those people, Daou said.

“We spent a year trying to bring these people to the Web, and President Obama and his team will have to do the same thing,” Daou said. “It requires a huge public relations effort, using more traditional communications efforts to invite then to participate this way.”