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The Obama campaign owes its victory not to a single charismatic candidate, but to the efforts of a disciplined and motivated organization whose roots go back to landmark movements of the 1960s. Marshall Ganz, who cut his teeth on civil rights work and with Cesar Chavezâ€™s United Farm Workers, describes how the principles and practices he learned around organizing and leadership played out in the most recent presidential election.
For Ganz, our time represents the end of â€ś40 years of wandering in the desert,â€ť the end of â€śthe politics of disappointment.â€ť Weâ€™ve arrived at an extraordinary moment of rapid change -- a time of both possibility and uncertainty -- with commensurate challenges to political leaders. But Ganzâ€™s take, after years with progressive movements, is that leadership involves â€śtaking responsibility to enable others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty.â€ť Leaders recruit, motivate and develop others, constructing a community around common interests, and building capacity from within the community. And unlike businesses, which tend to rely on rigid hierarchies, and systems and procedures, effective volunteer-based organizations must engage and enable lots of people to become innovators, adaptive in the face of uncertainty.
This kind of â€ścivic capitalâ€ť is precisely what the Obama campaign cultivated and invested in, says Ganz. Thousands of people acquired the skills and practiced â€śthe arts of leadership necessary to self govern in democracy.â€ť Some unique conditions made this campaign so successful, including Obamaâ€™s story of hope, which drew on a persuasive personal narrative. There was also the campaignâ€™s strategy of developing grassroots capacity to win caucuses and close primaries; its use of the Internet to attract an army of small-scale, repeat contributors; and its capacity for â€ścontinual learningâ€ť about what was and was not working.
In the summer of 2007, Ganz served as counselor in LAâ€™s â€śCamp Obama,â€ť teaching key state organizers to share personal narratives and create compelling politics around human experience and emotion, rather than around issues. He led workshops on motivating from â€śa place of hopefulness,â€ť rather than of fear, and on how to build from common ground to shared political values and commitments. Obama staffers and volunteers learned how to create mutually reliant leadership teams that could act independent of the campaign HQ; and how to amass and utilize voter information both to get out the vote, and to tap additional volunteers. A â€ścascade of training and leadership developmentâ€ť led to a massive field organization that built upon itself, where volunteers continually joined and moved up the ranks, and everyone felt â€śthey owned a piece of it.â€ť