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Jeremy Bird

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Organizing for America: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Posted: 12/20/10 05:26 PM ET

This past weekend, buttressed by an incredible outpouring of support from LGBT and Democratic activists, OFA supporters, and other progressive volunteers, the United States Senate voted to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The historic vote on Saturday ended more than a decade of sanctioned discrimination in our armed forces and fulfilled a longtime priority for President Obama. At the same time, the vote showed that Democratic activists will not give up fighting for what's right after the November elections -- and that OFA can and will continue making a difference standing up for President Obama's legislative priorities.

In recent weeks, OFA volunteers nationwide have been hard at work urging their Members of Congress to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." During the lame duck Congressional session, volunteers made tens of thousands of phone calls, wrote letters to the editor of their local newspapers, and held hundreds of local events supporting repeal. In the past week alone, volunteers dropped off nearly 600,000 signed petitions to Senators Collins, Scott Brown, and Kirk -- all key swing votes that supported repeal in the end.

For me, these past few weeks have been a stark reminder of the early days of 2008. The morning after we won the Iowa caucuses, our offices in South Carolina were filled with volunteers both old and new all buoyed by a sense of hope and the possibility of victory. A couple of weeks later when we lost the New Hampshire primary, I feared that those folks would stay at home, potentially demoralized and deflated. But when our offices opened up the morning after the primary, we saw more volunteers come in to contribute than we did the day after Iowa. OFA volunteers proved then as they have again this week that they are resilient, that they do not back down from defeat or disappointment, and that they will stand up and keep pushing -- no matter what the odds.

OFA supporters know that we must learn from our past -- both our successes and failures -- so we can strengthen ourselves moving forward. That is why we are taking this time to undergo an extensive and inclusive debrief process with our volunteers, staff, and supporters. Shortly after Election Day, we asked our online and offline supporters to fill out a detailed web survey. In addition, our organizers have held thousands of one-on-one meetings throughout the country since November 2, meeting with our top volunteers to debrief our Vote 2010 campaign. We've also held a series of conference calls and forums for discussion, including hundreds of "house meetings" and local neighborhood team gatherings hosted by OFA organizers nationwide. At the same time, our data and targeting operation is sifting through the information culled and analyzing what worked -- and what didn't.

This process closely mirrors what we did in 2008 after the presidential election, when we joined with our volunteers and asked them what they wanted to do with the organization we'd built. It is this grassroots spirit that led this movement to where we are today, and it is this same bottom-up approach that will continue to guide OFA. The results of the debrief process this year have shown us that OFA volunteers are already looking forward and ready to continue supporting President Obama's agenda -- especially around creating jobs and economic growth. Our volunteers overwhelmingly want to continue supporting the President's legislative efforts, getting involved in local issues, and, importantly, investing in OFA's training program to get better at what they do.

Just last week, seven OFA volunteers representing their colleagues from around the country came to Washington, DC to meet President Obama and share with him the results of the survey and their debrief process. The volunteers ranged from Rolando Vasquez, a recent college graduate in California, to Jeanell Holmes, a Hurricane Katrina survivor and New Orleans native, to Lenda Sherrell, an organizer since the Presidential primaries of 2008. All seven volunteers epitomized the very best of OFA. Each of them has sacrificed a great deal to take on volunteer leadership roles in their own communities -- and each of them is a smart, talented organizer with a critical mind and a compassionate heart.

During the meeting, the volunteers had a candid and open conversation with the President. All seven discussed their work fighting for the historic health care bill, and the group described some of the concerns OFA volunteers have faced in these challenging times. They shared some of their moments of pride and accomplishment -- with Betsy Daniel sharing stories about working with Senator Michael Bennet's successful campaign in Colorado -- and they also shared their frustrations and challenges -- with Alan Howard recalling some of the tough Congressional elections lost in New York. Throughout the meeting, the President listened, asked questions, and acknowledged some of the changes we all need to make moving into 2011.

Following up on this latest debrief process for OFA, there's no question we have more work to do -- both for this movement and for this nation. But what's clear from the efforts of OFA supporters this past month is that they remain committed to growing and strengthening this organization -- and that their work can make a serious and lasting difference.

This is the passion and resolve that carried us through tough times in the past. It's this same sense of determination that will carry us through future fights and more historic improvements for our families and our communities -- in the new year and beyond.