Can Obama's Organizing For Action (OFA) help save the planet? The jury is out.

You've gotta love South Minneapolis.

My friend Sharon Sund passed me an email this morning about an Organizing for Action meeting in South Minneapolis to discuss climate change activism. Sharon and I had been talking about local climate change activism earlier in the week so she thought I'd liked to go to this meeting and see what they are up to.

Organizing for Action(OFA) is an offshoot of the Obama campaign, a grassroots non profit that is separate from any campaign committee (so they don't support or run candidates) that organizes in favor of Obama's issues like getting some sensible gun regulation or immigration reform passed in Congress, or keeping Obama care intact.

The organizer of the event described OFA's structure and purpose, gave a bit of a pep talk, and then opened it up for discussion.

I was the first person to speak up, and after making a brief remark about some interesting climate science related news I won't bother you with here, I brought up Keystone XL pipeline. I noted that it would be awful nice and a lot easier to get a climate change component of OFA going if Obama would just come out and say "no" to Keystone. The official OFA response, blew me away. Keystone XL might be someone's personal issue, and that was fine, but since the President was neutral on it at the moment, OFA was as well.

Now, I don't want to take credit or breaking the meeting. Had I not said something about Keystone, the guy next to me, or the woman behind me, or the guy two seats down, or the woman across the room, or any one of the 30 hard core activists attending the meeting, would have. I know this because once Keystone was brought up, and the need for Obama to take a stand, and in particular, oppose the pipeline was mentioned, everybody in the room had something to say, clearly indicating that they had all thought about it quite a bit.

Keystone is not a personal issue. It is the key, urgent, not-to-be-ignored grassroots issue that OFA and Obama should be all over.

I kinda feel bad for the organizer because he was swamped. I think we stayed on keystone for about an hour. He would say, "OK, let's move on to a different issue. Sally, did you have something, I saw your hand up?" and Sally would say something very brief not about keystone, and then, "Well, I was in Nebraska last month chaining myself to construction equipment to stop the pipeline ..." and then it would be back to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Or the organizer would say, "Oh, Bill, I see you've had your hand up," and Bill would say, "Yeah, that idea of having house meetings to discuss climate would be good. This way we can get together and plan an organized push to get the President to do the right thing on the Keystone Pipeline.." and so on and so forth.1

There are two things that I now know for certain. The first, which I learned tonight, is that Obama for America will not have an effective climate change component if Obama does not come out in opposition to Keystone. Every single one of those activists is involved in a half dozen different projects, some focused on one issue, other on many, that they devote considerable time to, and that they regard, quite rightly, as very important. Many of the individuals in the room are heavily involved already in climate change activism and are already working with existing political groups, churches, or other organizations on climate change (our local guy was there for example). These climate change activists don't need the OFA, though the OFA needs them. In fact, the meeting organizer had noted how great it was when OFA engaged in a new issue, and brought new volunteers into the fold in so doing. Most importantly, this little meeting tonight was a microcosm of the larger political landscape. Obama has to lead on climate change. He's taken a few steps in that direction. And we're all waiting around for the next couple of steps. Right now, Obama has not moved forward enough for us to find any space behind him so that he can actually lead us.

The consensus at tonight's meeting was this: The local Minneapolis OFA has to take a message back to Obama and OFA headquarters: Yes, of course we'll help. But first you need to get your head out of the sand. In particular, the Alberta tar sands. And then we will do more than help. We'll carry you.

The second thing I know for certain, but that I didn't learn from this meeting because I already knew it is this: The people of South Minneapolis (and adjoining inner ring suburbs) are awesome.2


See also: Obama’s decision on the Keystone Pipeline IS a legacy making or breaking thing.
Added: See also OFA Refuses To Push On Keystone


OFA Refuses To Push On Keystone
1Those were not the actual names of participants or what they said. Since I'm not prepared to report those things exactly, I'm just wildly paraphrasing to make the point.

2A word I've probably used four times in my entire life. Just so you know.

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The problem, of course, is that being from MN you were too polite. You should have told the guy, "look, this is our key issue. Either Obama kills the pipeline or he kills all support from environmental and climate change activists. Take that message back to Chicago."

Eli might have added something about the hippy punching first term not having exactly built a level of trust.

Then you leave.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 15 May 2013 #permalink

I thought of you during the meeting Eli, and I also thought of storming out in a huff but you are right, this is Minnesota. There were a lot of stern looks, though, you betcha.

There is a saying that the Republicans fear their base and the Democrats despise theirs. It really is time to demand results, and to start putting up candidates in primaries even if that means loosing a few elections.

OFA is a pressure point because they need the spirited.

Now Eli does not do huffs, but Ms. Rabett has a policy that when someone gets difficult with her of sending in Eli with the admonition, Eli, you know how you are. Be that way.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 16 May 2013 #permalink

Absolutely agree with the first point above...Midwesterners as a group are way too polite and won't "force" an issue or point of view. I say this as a native of New Jersey, now living in western WI (22 yrs), formerly of St. Paul (11 yrs). I often get accused of being "harsh" when I speak my mind, even though I have facts & proof as a basis. At my age now, I don't care what anyone says, but it drives me crazy. OFA continues to send emails wanting me to sign up....I don't because they are not really open to doing anything but follow the status quo. I like Obama, I'm a very liberal Dem, women's rights activist, etc, but if OFA wants support, they better start listening to their members and not just follow "the script". Dems are doomed if "Midwestern nice" is the way of doing business. This is hardball, nice is out .

It's, not 360! :)

I know! My fingers always go right for the 360. They should have called themselves 360. We could handle the extra 10ppm and then they could be the organization that has it's eyes out in all directions of the compass!

Excellent, splendid, and y'all did just the right thing.

Polite but persistent is a known route to successful outcomes.

Seems to me it's not unreasonable to let OFA know: We, the local activists, will support President Obama and his positions and messages, in our communities. In exchange for doing that, we expect that our issues and concerns will at least be compiled into some kind of basic descriptive statistics sent up to the White House, to whoever is in charge of political organizing.

Then these topics can be handled very time-efficiently at the meetings, for example:

OFA organizer: "Who has a topic they want included in this week's report to the White House?"

Greg: "I do. Keystone. We want the President to take a stand against it and refuse to sign off on it."

OFA: "OK, let's do the numbers. How many people here agree with Greg that the President should oppose Keystone and veto it?" (Hands go up, get counted.) How many people here disagree with Greg, and support the pipeline? (Hands go up, get counted.) How many people here don't have a strong opinion about it? (Hands go up, get counted.) OK, so I see thirty against the pipeline and in favor of the President vetoing the pipeline, four in favor of the pipeline, and six with no strong opinion. I'll put that in the weekly report, and your voices will be heard. Now let's get to our planned topics...."

Then the OFA organizer would send in their regular report to whoever-it-is that they report to: "At tonight's meeting, a working scientist brought up Keystone and said that President Obama should veto it. The poll of the room showed that 30 people oppose Keystone, 4 support Keystone, and 6 had no opinion...."

Would that work for you?

I would like that. There was a show of hands on a couple of issues. We did not vote on the pipeline I think but I'm pretty sure it would have been unanimous, and strongly felt.

Cool. I'd suggest bringing it up with your local OFA organizers, and let them know it'll make meetings go faster for them. Five minutes to take a poll of the room, and ten minutes to write up the results & send 'em in after the meeting, total of 15 minutes, vs. 90 minutes of discussion. That's an incentive for them to do it.