In households, coffeeshops, and community centers across the country yesterday, Obama supporters gathered for community outreach events under the theme “Hope. Action. Change.” This three-word slogan is smart marketing because it builds on Obama’s message of hope, highlights the individual’s role in a democracy, and subtly responds to a popular critque. It may even hint at the trajectory of the campaign.
Some people have criticized the Obama campaign for not having enough detailed policy outlines on issues such as health care and education and relying only on his rhetoric of “hope.” To a certain extent, I think this critique is fair. I wouldn’t cast a vote for a candidate who didn’t have concrete policy proposals. However, the election is still a year and a half away, and there is still plenty of time for the Obama campaign to roll out these plans. At this point in the campaign, it makes sense for Obama to work to connect to people at a personal level to build a loyal base of supporters, rather than bore them with policy details. In other words, the campaign can be said to be rallying up hope.
By branding the community outreach events under “Hope. Action. Change.,”the Obama campaign is outlining both a general theme for his campaign as well as his approach to participant democracy. During yesterday’s webcast, Obama says that he is running against a “politics in which people are divided from their government.” The alternative to this broken system is one in which concerned citizens play a more active role in the governing of this country. As a community organizer, Obama surely saw that in order for people to get involved in political and social change, they must feel personally invested in the issue and be shown realistic steps they can take to enact change. Hope. Action. Change.
The Obama campaign, along with those of several other Democratic candidates, should be applauded for their open-source use of technologies that empower the user to take ownership of the campaign. The Obama campaign in particular is recognizing that the principle of community organizing is the same as that of political action – the only way for change to take place is to inspire people and to show them how to take action.
In the course of presidential races, a lot of lip service is paid to individual empowerment: the campaign isn’t about the individual office-seeker, it’s about you and your family and making the world safer for the children. By working to offer practical ways for individuals to actually get involved, the Obama campaign could go far in proving that with him, it’s not all talk.
So what’s the next step for the participatory campaign? We have the cutting-edge online tools at my.barackobama.com; we have a network of people across the country who are willing to get their hands dirty in this campaign. How could he involve us in policy creation? Maybe, instead of just rolling out a plan developed by experts and tested with focus groups, he could engage us in a dialogue about the issues and take our recommendations to heart. Maybe a forum on the website could allow us to discuss and vote on specific policy ideas. The campaign could then use this input when fleshing out Obama’s plans for health care, education, campaign finance, foreign policy, etc, and the rest of us could keep the discussion going about how to affect these changes at the local level.
So what do you all say?