For seven weeks prior to the 2008 presidential election, I volunteered in several of the Northern Virginia Campaign for Change offices, eventually settling in the traditionally Republican-leaning Stafford County. The last days of the campaign were punctuated by a remarkable sense of determination and pride, as well as a measured, cautious optimism that peaked into euphoria as soon as Ohio was projected an Obama win. The euphoria was quickly supplanted by contented lethargy, however, as the adrenaline that powered us through so many anxious, sleepless hours finally wore off. As if in the poppy field on the outskirts of Oz, the remaining gaggle of staffers and volunteers slumped into chairs and over desks, eventually collapsing onto the grimy carpeted floor of the donated office. The morning came with a certain jubilant disbelief— did America really just elect Barack Obama?— as well as the slight nagging feeling that staffers had been anticipating and fretting about for weeks: What’s next?
This question has understandably become a dominant fixture in post-election discourse. Barack Obama and his widely celebrated campaign team successfully used the pro-active and optimistic language of social justice movements— we’re all now exhaustively familiar, or perhaps just exhausted with “change you can believe in”— in order to forge one of the most galvanized political campaigns in history. Obama’s ability to lend unusual eloquence and a compelling background to the formidable, tech-savvy campaign machine he assembled has been striking to observe. Despite Rudy Giuliani’s mockery of community organizers at the Republican National Convention, it is the now infamous (and grass-roots dependent) fifty state ground game that has lifted Barack Obama to the highest seat in the land.
With the election came the end of the campaign season and the end of “change we can believe in” as a mere slogan. The coming months and years will be the measure of how much change an Obama administration can actually set in motion and more importantly, what that change actually is. As a Katherine Zaleski at The Huffington Post recently observed, the critical question is “Can the Obama team use the tools they built during the campaign to drum up support for complicated government initiatives?” Zaleski goes on to say “with a campaign there were clear goals: raise money, organize, get out the vote. With a presidency, you have over 305 million Americans to motivate.”
Team Obama is acutely aware of the legions of staff and volunteers that made victory possible, and it is striving to keep tabs on them as the transition period continues to unfold. But the team is also -- as Obama powerfully acknowledged in his victory speech -- aware of the millions of Americans who did not vote for him. “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness… that has poisoned our politics for so long… while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and the determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress… to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn— I may not have your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.”
Given the salience of the Internet in our daily communication, organizing, and information gathering, a replacement for MyBO.com--Obama’s brilliantly effective campaign tool--appeared online shortly after the election. [Change.gov Change.gov will be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with Obama’s official web presence. The design, layout, and navigation is virtually the same as MyBO.com, save a presidential seal has replaced the various campaign slogans. The flourishes of campaign rhetoric have been toned down considerably; the general impression is more sober, more presidential. Yet the theme of change is still at the forefront. Visitors can apply for jobs within the Obama administration, make policy suggestions, and check for regularly updated news briefings and blog entries from the transition team. As of yet, there is no social networking component to change.gov. Obama already seems determined to set a president for accountability and transparency. Saturday, November 13 saw the release of the first of what is promised to be weekly YouTube postings, (a 21st century update of weekly presidential radio addresses) with Obama discussing the progress being made in the transition period, as well as his goals for immediate future. In the conclusion of the first address, Obama focuses in on a Kennedy-esque commitment to service, much as he did in countless stump speeches during the campaign season. “Doing all this [achieving an ambitions set of domestic goals] will require not just new policies, but a new spirit of service and sacrifice, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.”
Change.gov seems an ambitious if imperfect bridge between Obama and the people of America. Given that there are millions in this country that did not vote for him, the website, reflecting the man, is courteous, inclusive, and for now somewhat cautious. Some argue that change.gov should more closely resemble change.org. Others might be alarmed at the emphasis on service and community-based activism— it’s been a long time since Americans were asked to serve their country in a non-militaristic fashion. As we watch perhaps the most coherent political campaign ever waged begin to transition toward the governance of an utterly incoherent political landscape, there are many unresolved tensions between political expectations and political reality; between Washington’s old guard and a new generation of grass-roots political activists. Change.gov is the glass panel on the side of the ant farm.
The online organizing and social networking that engineered Barack Obama's rise to the White House wasn't just an expensive tool, it was a culture. A culture of people who are motivated, informed and demanding, and a culture that will turn on Obama once they suspect they've been used. Read more …
Ari Herzog rips through layers of .gov and .org transitional websites, asks why government data is being hosted on private sector servers, and calls for greater transparency in the Obama Biden Transition Project. Read more …