Wild fires in California? Sure, you can call in the smoke jumpers. Superman might be able to blow them out with his super powers. Barack Obama will attack them from the Internet, in a preview of how 2.0 web-based Democracy is going to work.
Everyone has been wondering what Obama is going to do with the millions of connections that he has made with Americans during the campaign. His campaign site recently switched to the site of the President-Elect, and come January, it is expected to remain online as President Obama's conduit to the people who make the change happen.
The site reached out to Obama supporters with this plea:
In the past four days, wildfires raging across southern California have forced thousands of people to evacuate, destroyed hundreds of homes, and burned tens of thousands of acres. Firefighters today said they are finally getting control of the fires, but many people are only now returning to survey the damage.
President-elect Obama called both Governor Schwarzenegger and Mayor Villaraigosa yesterday to express his concern over the wildfires and to receive an update on the situation.
To learn more about how you can help those affected by the fires, please visit CaliforniaVolunteers.org.
During the campaign, Obama observed repeatedly that change does not come from Washington, but from the ground up. So the network which put hundreds of thousands of volunteers into the streets, and set up networks of media watchdogs debunking spin, is now being harnessed to the task of putting the country back on track.
Many of the groups from the mybarackobama.com website, the core of Obama's volunteer network, have decided, independent of the campaign or its wishes, that they want to keep operating.
In the last few days the Writers for Obama Group has circulated a need to take action with stories and letters to the editor. The projects have ranged from a woman in West Palm Beach, Florida who tried to intimidate her black employees into voting for John McCain by threatening to fire them, along with posting a "White Power" sign in the kitchen and putting "K.K.K." on their time cards, to rallying support for the fire victims in California.
Unlike most campaigns, which disband as the business of getting down to governing unfolds, both Obama supporters and the campaign have focused on what can be done going forward to fulfill the promise and make change a reality.
The Greeks' invention, democracy, was a messy and impractical thing, political science professors will tell you, because it was not practical to have increasingly larger pools of citizens vote on issues major and minor. Our representative form of democracy has elevated a few to represent the many.
Over the last half-century, though, we have seen that system grind down to represent people with the money, on either side of the aisle, to influence policy to someone's material benefit.
There have been times where presidents who were effective communicators have used the threat of the anger of the American people to effect changes in policy. Ronald Reagan used to use the power of the television, and FDR the broadcast radio, to move the American public to write to their congressmen and senators.
Obama's launch of Democracy 2.0 is evolutionary, because it allows for bi-directional communication, and multi-level activism that lets them direct large-scale movements of the grass roots to take particular actions.
The Obama website is being transformed into an engine for change. To be sure, there will be a lot of fall-off of people who return to their everyday world and do not want to be involved. The website caters to the young, and the motivated, and uses some of the same enticements that social search engines like Facebook and MySpace use to keep people participating.
"The story of this campaign is your story," explains the website. "It is about the great things we can do when we come together around a common purpose."
Democracy Ex Machina, politics from your laptop, it removes that problems of motivating people to turn out to communicate, and generates millions of new volunteers who can be active at a very local level.
What the Obama web team has in front of them is the daunting task of converting a web volunteer from making 50 phone calls to get a presidential candidate elected to engaging in the civic life of their area, from making calls for local candidates and issues to helping find food and blankets for fire victims.
Team Obama made the hand-off to the California Volunteers, but, in future, it will have to find ways to keep the action on their site. Hand-offs to other organizations can go to websites less well organized, which can in turn burn or burn-out volunteers.
Will people who were driven by the emotions of the campaign and the desire for change stand up and do something about it, or will they lose interest?
This, for the Obama presidency, is as important a question as any cabinet pick or appointment.