Shortly after Bush claimed the 2000 election, I realized the Left had been caught flat-footed because we had no organizing system even remotely comparable to the Right's vast network of churches. I distinctly remember one conversation in which a friend and I struggled to come up with some equivalent network that progressives could exploit the way Rove had taken over (it then seemed) the Christian coalition to push Bush. Colleges seemed like a logical alternative, but, beyond student organizations, partisan politics were a no-go on any campus that accepted federal funding. Unions had extensive and important networks, but their ranks were shrinking and their reach seemed to be stratified. Black churches, which played such a critical role in the civil rights movement, seemed either to have been co-opted or silenced by the Right. What was left?
The Left, eight years ago, was alienated, fragmented, frustrated, and depressed. The idiocy of the Lewinsky scandal had made us feel stupid and ashamed. Whether or not this was part of Rove's plot is immaterial. The effect lasted long enough to hand Bush a second term. We simply could not get it together.
It took Obama, a seasoned community organizer, serious church-goer, and card-carrying member of the digital age, to seize on technology as the 21st Century door-knocker and the World Wide Web as the new political pulpit. Anyone who could log onto the Internet became a potential member of his congregation. Anyone with a credit card could tithe online. Anyone with a MySpace or Facebook page could proselytize without leaving the house. Anyone with an email account could work as a secular missionary.
From fingers on the keyboard, it was a short hop to boots on the ground. Obama's website and online missionaries were at least as compelling as the preachers who turned millions out onto the streets to stump for the Right -- especially after W. had proven he had no more intention of honoring the values of Jesus than he had of honoring the Constitution of the United States.
Thanks to digital organizing, Barack Obama now has a secular congregation as big as all America. That congregation elected him. Now that same congregation is going to practice the values that he has preached. And we are going to do it using the same technology that wired his campaign. We finally have our network.
If you don't believe me, go to www.usaservice.org
This site, in effect, is the 2009 edition of www.barackobama.com and its mission is to marshal the brain, heart, and musclepower of all Obamerica to help cure what ails us. Topping that list of ailments are alienation, fragmentation, frustration, and depression. One of the reasons we elected Barack Obama is that he is a believer in compassion and service, and deep down we all know that compassion and service are the most effective ways to pull ourselves out of our despair over the past eight years.
Just consider what Obama's call for service this Inaugural Weekend has accomplished. Through www.usaservice.org, volunteers have signed up for millions of local service activities throughout the country. Personally, I've given blood (for the first time in my life) and donated to a winter clothing drive for the homeless. At the hospital where I gave blood, I was flanked by other first-timers who all were members of the new Obamerica congregation. At the temple where I dropped off the clothes, every car in the lot had an Obama sticker and as we walked out, we threw each other virtual fist bumps.
I wrote one of the organizers at my local web chapter of this new movement, 30Barack (named for the 30th Congressional district, in which I live), and she gave me this preliminary report on her group's call to service:
• 146 signups for 115 slots over the two days of the BLOOD DRIVE (Sat and Mon). The hospital has to put on extra staff now. They are thrilled beyond belief.
• 76 signups for 50 slots for our Malibu Creek WATERSHED RESTORATION project with Heal the Bay. They are similarly thrilled.
• 18 signups for 10 slots to staff the FOOD PANTRY at Wilshire Boulevard Temple (this is a small event and filled up extremely quickly -- we could have filled it many times over).
• 37 people sign up to drop items off at our two locations for our WINTER CLOTHING DRIVE. People don't really have to sign up for this because space is unlimited since it's just a matter of dropping off the clothing, so this is impressive.
Bear in mind that 30Barack is just one of dozens of groups posting service opportunities within 50 miles of my home. If this kind of response is typical of the volunteerism going on this weekend across the country, then I'm willing to say that America has found a whole new kind of religion. Yes, indeed, we can.