8/26/09: **UPDATE- Audio added and further transcription (more transcription to come)
8/26/09: **UPDATE - The Washington Times contacted the Democratic National Committe press office yesterday about the charge from the OFA representative that tea party protesters are being bussed to town hall meetings. The DNC has not returned our call with a response.
Obama supporters gathered in Fairfax, Virgnia last night and met with an Organizing For America (OFA) representative at a local library to talk shop and brainstorm about how to help President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats pass health care reform. If there is any doubt the Obama administration is not in campaign mode, the OFA listening tour puts that notion to rest. In fact, the message seemed more about winning a campaign than anything else. Papers were handed out describing the meeting’s agenda and Mr. Obama’s health insurance reform guarantees. Canvassing sheets were also part of the handouts as well. The OFA organizer started off giving the group of mostly fifty-somethings and over some background :
“Now that we work on issues, we definitely need to work in conjunction with other organizations in order to aggregate our power. We have fewer resources than we did during the campaign. In the campaign, we had two hundred field organizers on the ground. Now I have four regional field directors, and that’s the layer above field organizer in the campaign, and we have no field organizers. So this is much more of a volunteer driven effort…even more so than the campaign. And part of what we seek to do is take all of those volunteers who were active during the campaign, because it was very volunteer level…I’m sorry volunteer driven and build their leadership, so they can put forward not necessarily the time commitment but play the roles of those field organizers. We’ll talk about that later on, but we do work in coalition with organizations like HCANN, Change That Works, some of the unions, the AFL-CIO, etcetera. We need to make sure we’re working at the local state and national level.”
It is surprising for an OFA representative to say the organization may not have the power it once purported to have. Back in April of 2009, ABC News reported the strong presence of OFA. :
“In Iowa, there are signs everywhere of the organization he’s building for his re-election campaign in 2012.
The massive field operation that lifted Obama to his surprise win in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses last year is revving up. Earlier this spring, the president activated his grass-roots campaign apparatus, Organizing for America. The group is holding town-hall meetings across Iowa beginning this week, including events in Cedar Rapids and college towns such as Grinnell and Cedar Falls, which voted heavily for Obama in the caucuses.
‘There’s still a lot of excitement out there. There’s a feeling that what we worked for in the election can happen right now,’ said Derek Eadon, who worked for Obama during the primary and general election campaigns. ‘We look for volunteers everywhere. It’s something we did on the campaign as well. We will start branching out and this is absolutely ongoing.’”
While attendees at the Fairfax OFA listening tour complained that college students who previously were excited about the Obama campaign are now practically non-existent for the healthcare reform push, the OFA representative put out some strategy ideas for the town hall meetings.:
“The way we wish to approach this is very similar to the way we did during the campaign, which is in a certain sense, to put our blinders on and maintain our tactics, our strategy, our focus, and on being positive. This doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the situation, but we don’t want to counter rally. We don’t want to get into a back and forth, but we want to do what we know works. So we have been turning people out to the town halls and show a positive presence.”
“It ‘s been fascinating to see how the narrative has changed, just by doing simple things that are visual to show positive people there, and now we have congress people literally calling, saying, ‘Hey can you turn your people out. I’m gonna go do this.’”
Putting out a positive presence at the town halls was indeed the message of the evening. However, being able to identify one another at the town halls was just as important. The OFA staffer reminded attendees about Rep. Jim Moran’s (D- Va.) town hall meeting this evening and encouraged everyone to attend and wear blue shirts. :
“Jim Moran is having a town hall tomorrow evening with Howard Dean in Reston and the tea people are bussing people in from outside of the district and so we have been working very hard to make sure that there’s a positive presence of our folks there who are wearing blue who have our signs.”
Attendees to the OFA listening tour meeting in Fairfax were invited to help with turnout at for Rep. Moran’s town hall meeting. :
“So part of the discussion is about how we can recruit volunteers, but if people want to during that time, we’ll split the room in half and those people who would like to make some calls for the Jim Moran event, we actually do have calls to our supporters. So there are folks. We just want to make sure that they know to go ahead and turn out, to show up early, wear blue…all that good stuff.”
The OFA representative stressed the idea of providing political cover for their politicians at town hall meetings.:
“We can turn out large numbers of positive people out to these town halls, and that we can provide political cover for our politicians who are politicians. Let’s face it, we elect these guys through numbers, and they want to stay elected and It’s a numbers game in many regards, and we need to show in various ways we can that we can be positive and that we can do things that can be counted like votes…like declarations.”
Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee, is the successor to Obama for America, the organization that was key in helping President Obama get elected to the Oval Office back in November. The new organization was created as an attempt to propel the president and his agenda forward from the massive momentum after the inauguration. The Obama administration, however, may have be pros during the campaign season when getting out the vote is all that mattered, but translating that action for support on individual legislation looks to be another complication for the White House.