Friday, 21 November 2008

Obama's movement for change

E.J.Dionne poses one of the fundamental questions for Obama in the Houston Chronicle: what should he do with the movement that he has created?

What he absolutely should not do is try to merge it with the Democratic Party. It can exist and coordinate with the official party structure, and indeed needs to, but its attractiveness to so many was that it didn't resemble a traditional party. At a basic level, this involved moving power away from traditional party elites.

One of the errors made by new Labour in the UK was that it worked exclusively through the Labour party. That was not attractive to so many people who joined the new Labour cause and so organisationally new Labour collapsed over time. What is left is the traditional party structures.

Obama won't make that mistake. Equally, his movement can not simply be the Obama party. When his personal popularity wanes as it will inevitably do over time and when his presidential term is over, the movement will be absent of meaning if it is solely owned by him.

Instead, he has to capture the upsurge essence of the movement for change. Its strength will be as a group of people collectively committed to civic engagement and change. It is not ideologically driven other than in the belief that citizen action can improve neighbourhoods, communities, and the nation. It will be there for him when his bid for reelection comes. It will be useful to him is pressurising Congress to support his policies. It will work to get Democrats elected both locally and in Congress.

The movement nature of Obama '08 can't be lost. If that spirit is retained then it becomes something broader and more enduring than a machine behind a single man. It becomes a popular force for change that will last beyond a single generation.

Post Script: The blog entries have been sparse for the last few months. The reason being that I have been writing a book, Barack Obama: The Movement for Change, which is published in a few weeks by Arcadia Books. More will follow nearer the time- please check back for details.

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