Thursday, November 20, 2008

Market oriented volunteer-ism

Where next is the big question that surrounds Barack Obama. Not the obvious, the White House, but how does he convert his inclusive style of campaigning into a style of governance and how will he retain his movement of supporters and volunteers are interesting questions. There are some indications. A survey has been sent out to all subscribers. It firstly asks the basic data and points of identification; in particular which social groups volunteers belong to (this includes racial groups but also political issues and causes [environmentalists], students and seniors and Labor). Secondly it focuses on desires to continue to volunteer and what sort of issues (right) his supporters would be "interested in volunteering or organizing around". The point here may be two-fold; one you want people to campaign on issues they have an interest in and passion for: they will campaign harder. But also it may be a way of gauging what issues are most important to his keenest supporters so maintaining their support and interest by the setting of priorities for his government.

The rest of the survey asks about experiences of volunteering, the stories and achievements of those who have participated in his campaigns. This is more than likely to be used as part of a narrative of his campaign. The stories of the grassroots supporters is a story of the campaign, how he and his volunteer network mobilised people and their emotional attachment to the campaign and its success. This could remain symbolic as he can use the narrative to show how he was swept to power on the back of public euphoria for him as president as opposed to him being the least worst candidate; something that is quite distinct in modern politics.

The challenge for Obama is keeping the movement with him. Of course the mob-euphoria of election day will subside but if he can retain a volunteer network that will campaign for him and promote policies, lobby senators to support Obama, elect Obama-ites across the Houses of US government and of course mobilise other people it will give him immense power as a President: a very public mandate. This is fine at present, but the question will be to what extent he can hold that cohesion when faced with the real politik that is the job of President. The survey in itself also demonstrates a desire to continue including those who helped get him elected, he demonstrates adherence to the rules of relationship marketing: it is long term and not a one night stand with a single goal in mind. But it may just also be about reassurance. As he meets a range of former opponents and brings them into his team some may wonder if Obama will really offer the change they wanted; after he told the voters that both Hillary Clinton and John McCain (both of whom may end up with key positions) were part of the old system he wanted to change. Yes it suits his new politics of inclusion and co-operation but not the rhetoric of sweeping away the problems of the system that he suggested were linked to his opponents. Again the effects will only become apparent when President-elect becomes President and his honeymoon period is over; it is then that he will discover if he can maintain his movement.

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