There are many things to be thankful for this week, as we celebrate the Obama victory. It means so many good things about America and offers — truly — such hope for the future of our troubled world. After a few days of reflection, there are three things, perhaps idiosynchratically, that I find myself particularly thankful for:
One is that the Obama campaign won after doing such a terrific job of combining old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning with the best of the online tools and strategy. There are of course many reasons for the landslide; this is but one of them. Many people, like Joe Rospars and his crew, deserve credit for this approach. Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder, joined the Obama campaign very early on as coordinator of online organizing. The team from Blue State Digital, veterans of the Dean campaign, was there from the start of the primary, too. But the digital teams for the campaign didn’t do their work in isolation; everything was brilliantly coordinated with real-space campaigning. It’s the combination of classical-and-jazz campaigning that I have been waiting to see a campaign pull off at large scale. This one sure did. And how. The Obama campaign did that, and much more. It is surely a new blueprint for a successful political campaign. (PRI/KCRW’s “To the Point” did a segment on this concept yesterday. Chris Hughes made this point, too, on his MyBO blog the same day. Micah Sifry was overhead on NPR yesterday talking about the future of this community. CQ, among many others, wrote about some of the differences in the campaigns on these topics, early on. And so forth.)
Second — and not unrelated — the uptick in new voters and young voters continued in 2008. We’ve had great numbers in 2004 and 2006 in these categories compared to previous cycles. The trend clearly continued this year, no doubt to the benefit of the Obama campaign and other Democrats newly elected to office. The presumption that today’s youth represent an apathetic “generation” is, time and again, being disproven, as they find ways new and old to demonstrate their commitment to civic activism. David Gergen is calling it a “new order” and pointed to the 18-to-29-year-old vote on CNN. The New York Times referred to a “deep generational divide” that cut sharply in favor of Obama this time around. (Urs Gasser and I took up this issue, and related matters, in the Activism chapter of Born Digital. It will be fun to update that chapter now.)
Third, the campaign deployed so many good election lawyers that Obama voters were not disenfranchised in the way that Kerry and Gore voters plainly were in 2004 and 2000. It was incredibly well-organized this year. My brother, Quentin Palfrey, took a leave from his job as chief of the health care division at the Massachusetts AG’s office to run voter protection in Ohio. His team — of literally thousands of lawyers — ensured that there was no repeat of the 2004 horror-show that cost John Kerry votes, if not much more than that. (Like many other lawyers, I trekked up to NH to do voter protection in previous cycles; this time, there were more than enough lawyers to go around, such that many were sitting around at polling places, redundantly.) The emphasis on voter protection in this cycle, at such a high level of sophistication, and in so many states, was a great thing to watch. And locally, organizations to keep this trend growing (in Massachusetts, for instance, consider MassVOTE), only seem to be gaining strength.
Each of these trends took an extraordinary amount of work by an extraordinary number of people. The successes of these collective actions offers much reason for hope.
We all share the responsibility of turning this hope into tangible improvements in all of our lives. One way we can do that is to encourage our elected officials, from President-elect Obama to our local representatives, to govern just as they campaigned — with the Internet as a means of providing transparency. I think this next four years will be great for organizations like the Sunlight Foundation, Lessig’s Change Congress, the Omidyar Network (with its new investment area in transparency and governance), Personal Democracy Forum, and others, which will — as institutions and communities — help lead us in these ways. No doubt the terrific Obama technology policy means that there will be administration support for such efforts at transparency.
These changes need to continue to be driven from the bottom up, with widespread participation, just as the campaign was. I’m confident that many youth, brought into civic life during this cycle, will stick around and make great things happen — and that many of us, no longer so youthful, will pull our weight, too. Today, and tomorrow, it’s up to each of us to find ways to maintain the momentum that’s been built up in these and other areas so important to the future of democracy in America. And in the meantime, I’m feeling awfully thankful to Chris, Quentin, and all those who tossed aside their day jobs for a while to make this happen full-time — yes, community organizing — to make sure that all that volunteer time and money went to great use.