Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"The Open Source Campaign"

Open source development is a methodology of software programming by which the code is in the public domain, and updates/improvements are peer reviewed and then accepted.  The idea is that you mobilize and apply the knowledge and ingenuity of everyone.  

Obama for America is very much an open source campaign.  It spreads person to person.  How they conduct the campaign comes very much from the people who have their hands in the dirt, and while there is a centralized strategy that executed with thoughtfulness and discipline, the agile tactics of the campaign come from the ground game.

This really does appear to be the first true grassroots campaign we've seen, incorporating the newest campaign techniques in online virtual phone banking and social networking, and the campaign really is "owned" by the people running it.

When I arrived here in Detroit yesterday, I was quickly brought up to speed on using the DNC's online Votebuilder database to recruit volunteers who had indicated an interest in helping out in a swing state, then I did data entry of voter registration information, as my first day in Detroit was the last day for Michiganders to register to vote.  And I was brought up to speed by one of the old hands here, Jay, who has been here for all of four days.

The most disturbing thing about Jay is his troubling likeness to Sylar from Heroes. So my biggest concern was him pointing at my forehead and cutting off the top of my head to gouge out my brain and steal my superpowers.  Whatever those may be.

Today's challenge is making sure the flow of volunteers continues through Election Day.  McCain announced he was pulling out of Michigan, which is just the latest lie in a campaign that has been built on deception, misinformation, and general bullshit.  He's still on TV, his ground organization is still functioning (such as it is).  But the announcement was nothing more than attempt to slow the Obama onslaught in this critical state.  And thus far it's working.  The "flake rate" - the percentage of committed volunteers who simply don't show- jumped from 15% to 70% after the McCain head fake.  Lord knows that even a fraction of that on November 4 would be disastrous.  So we have all hands on deck to make calls.

Obama state headquarters is housed in the Detroit Teachers Federation building, across the Lodge Freeway from the imposing old Henry Ford Hospital.  I walked a block down to a Subway for lunch and found a thick plexiglass barrier between customer and Sandwich Artist, with a slot to hand over my money and a plexiglass lazy susan to serve up the sandwiches.  The concern over robbery is apparently that acute.  This city is like a scene from some disturbing future/post-apocalyptic movie.

Detroit is a sad remnant of a once great metropolis.  Just on the way in from Birmingham, I saw countless abandoned and burnt out houses sitting in neighborhoods that probably were once no different from the Bungalow Belt in Chicago, a lingering shadow of a formerly comfortable, satisfying life.  If you squint, it looks like a real city.  You have the highways crisscrossing the landscape, with streets traversing them at the intervals you see in Chicago or Minneapolis or Milwaukee or any other city.  You see the big, old buildings that were once grand monuments to progress and now just cast the dark shadows of a bygone era.  The population of Detroit has been in steady decline over the decades and you can't avoid the depressing thought that this is a crumbling shell of the city it is still pretending to be.  

Detroit will be a big job to resurrect... maybe too big.  But it's going to take a lot of smart people with a thoughtful plan.  And we think we have the right people with some ideas. 

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