Community Organising: The Art of Grassroots Campaigning (Part 5)

Obama 2008 – 1

In his paper about the Obama 2008 campaign, Marshall Ganz wrote about the five key elements of organising practice: narrative, relationship, structure, strategy, and action:

  • Organizing rooted in bringing people together around shared values, the work of public narrative
  • Organizing based on relationships based on mutual commitments to work together on behalf of common interests
  • Organizing structure based on team leadership, rather than individual leadership, shared purpose, clear norms, and well defined roles
  • Organizing focused on a few clear strategic objectives, as a way to turn those values into action
  • Organizing outcomes that are clear, measurable, and specific allowing for evaluation, accountability, and real time adaptation based on experience

Ganz had this to say about the success of the Obama campaign:

Many factors contribute to a campaign as successful as the Obama campaign – fund raising, paid media, earned media, scheduling, targeting, luck, etc. But by investing in an organizing program the Obama campaign departed sharply from what had become the conventional way to run campaigns: marketing. This was a wise choice because for the insurgent Obama candidacy a conventional approach could only have strengthened the hand of the candidate with more conventional resources – his opponent.

… When Obama introduced himself to the nation at the Democratic National Convention in August, 2004, he inspired a nationwide constituency by telling a story of his own calling, reminding us of our calling as a people, confronted us with urgent challenges to that calling, and inspired us to make choices we must make to realize our vision of who we are: a story of hope, a ―public narrative… Obama‘s gift – and skill – for telling this story of hope created the potential for a movement especially among the young, a movement of ―moral reform‖ in the best American tradition. But it could not happen if it were not organized.

…A highly motivated constituency, rooted especially, but not only, in the young, moved by a story of hope that engaged their values and drew them to candidate and campaign was transformed into a very powerful electoral force. To be sure, the financial resources generated to support this effort were extraordinary, but other campaigns have raised lots of money and not used it in this way. This effort was able to combine the enthusiasm, contagion, and motivation of a movement, with the discipline, focus, and organization that it takes to win.

Young (and old) India will need to borrow ideas from the Obama 2008 campaign, unite to kindle hope, and work for change in the coming years.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.