I attended another OFA meeting yesterday, this one for people interested in being neighborhood team leaders. Eight of us from two counties attended. We talked about the positive and negative aspects of last week’s training, and we found there were mostly positives. My only mild critique was that I agreed with David, who said it would have been nice to have concrete action for people to take or a firm date for a future meeting. Things were left open-ended last week, and I think that’s a good way for people to drift away from the movement. That’s one reason Rick and I try to recommend action you can take on certain issues — signing a petition, calling your representative. I don’t think it does any good to inform people about a problem and not tell them what they can do to fix it, or to stoke people’s passion, then not give it an outlet.
After some discussion, we decided to set up a meet the candidates night for those running for mayor and city council, because the primary is in May and there are many candidates who will be unfamiliar to voters. I think the regional field director said there are 25 people who will be on the ballot. Obviously not everyone will be able to come, but it’s still an opportunity for voters and candidates to interact.
We also split into groups based on ZIP code and will set up meetings for those in our neighborhood to get more acquainted with OFA. OFA has a list of all of the people who have ever donated to or shown support for President Obama, so we will call or e-mail them to see what we can do to keep them interested in his agenda. One woman suggested holding a movie night where we could show movies that deal with unions. That would be a fun and informational way to talk about national issues.
I’m not someone who has an easy time talking with strangers, which you might find odd considering what I talk about here on the blog, but after the meeting I was eager to start contacting people to attend the neighborhood gathering. Our list of potential attendees has 78 names on it, but I would be happy if half a dozen show up. I’ll keep you posted.
I went to my first Organizing for America meeting this morning. OFA was created by President Obama as a grass-roots effort to support his agenda. There were around 20 of us, including organizers, and we talked about OFA’s mission and how we can get involved. One of the things I found very heartening was just knowing there are other people in my community who have the same views I do. My state is considered very red, and sometimes I feel like the only blue fish in a big red ocean. But people at the meeting talked about being angry at the Republicans’ agenda and afraid for the safety of the middle class. A teacher said she was concerned with the state of education, because teachers are educating less and less and instead teaching stadardized tests.
The leaders of the meeting talked about the power of personal stories in spreading President Obama’s message. Volunteer leader Stephanie said she had gotten involved over health care and the Iraq war. She grew up in a Mennonite area that was strongly pacifistic, and being without health insurance made her want to get involved. Two of the people I found most inspiring were a couple in their 80s who have been politically active all of their lives. They have nine children, including two adopted daughters. They routinely take two-week trips to do rescue work and had been to New Orleans three times. They have clearly led very full lives and I was very impressed that they are not letting anything slow them down or stop them from being involved.
One of the things we discussed at the meeting is OFA’s keywords of respect, empower and include. Volunteer leader Marilyn was so great at talking about what empowerment means to her that we all wished we had captured her on video. She talked about finding your voice and holding our representatives accountable for what they do. If you’re not happy with their votes, let them know and make your feelings heard at the ballot box. That really resonated with me. I was the youngest person in the room by several years, and I think a lot of young people don’t get involved with politics because they think it doesn’t affect them, or there’s nothing they can do. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and I think a problem of politics in general is engaging young voters and keeping them engaged. There was a strong youth turnout in the 2008 election but not so much in 2010. We need them back in 2012 if we want to keep President Obama in office.
What I took away from the meeting is that progressives are everywhere, even the reddest of red states; personal stories are highly effective at communicating messages; and everyone needs to step up and be involved. I look forward to working more with OFA in the future and helping them re-elect President Obama.