SAN FRANCISCO--Two weeks ago, Democratic Senator Evan Bayh (IN-D) announced the formation of 15 "blue dogs" (technically, the "Moderate Dems Working Group") in the Senate who, he said, would hold President Barack Obama's feet to the fire on the budget. In response, Obama supporters setup a sidewalk phone bank outside a swanky, high-dollar fundraiser in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon, calling the constituents of Senate blue dogs hobnobbing inside.
Although the President's plan to lift the country out of the current economic crisis has broad support, blue dogs have been reluctant to get behind Obama's proposed 2010 budget.
In order to generate political capital, Organizing For America (OFA) recently began to activate Obama's vast campaign volunteer network to increase awareness and support for the President's economic and budgetary agenda in all 50 states. Post-election legislative advocacy and activism by volunteers organized during an election campaign is unprecedented, especially on a national scale.
On Sunday, Phone bankers on the sidewalk called hundreds of voters in the Senators' home states, engaging their local constituents directly. Others held signs like, "Honk for Obama" or "Support Obama's Budget." Cars and buses honked and passengers waved support and put thumbs in the air as they passed by.
Susan Pfeifer, in black sweatshirt, surrounded by fellow OFA volunteers.
Volunteers also handed flyers to everyone entering the fundraiser venue, and they encouraged attendees to engage the Senators in conversation about the budget during the event. They also asked attendees to make their support for the Senators contingent upon each Senator's support for Obama's budget.
Attendees of the high-dollar dinner included Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ, DSCC Chair), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Sen. John Tester (D-MT).
When the limousine carrying Menendez arrived, volunteer José Torres caught his eye and waved him over. Torres explained the reason for the activity on the sidewalk to a receptive Menendez, who voted for Obama's budget in committee. Menendez had Torres introduce him to the phone bank volunteers and thanked them for their efforts. When the callers told him that they were currently calling Menendez's own constituents in New Jersey, he replied enthusiastically, "That's great!"
(D-IA) Senator Tom Harkin signing the pledge handed to him by Kenya Wheeler
Tara Schubert, Volunteer Coordinator for San Francisco OFA, said the sidewalk phone bank was significant for her team because it was the first post-election activity in which they contacted voters in other states,
I live in a blue state, in a blue city. But I can still have an effect on national issues through these contacts with voters in other states.
Schubert said that one New Jersey voter told her,
I'm doing what you're doing, making calls to Congress and encouraging others to make calls to support President Obama.
Kenya Wheeler marveled at how engaged the voters seemed on the other end of the phone, noting that several had already contacted their Senators to ask them to support Obama's 2010 budget. During one conversation in which Wheeler was waiting for a Delaware constituent to retrieve a pen to write down the phone numbers of her senators, Wheeler looked up to see Senator Carper of Delaware thanking phone bankers for their work. After shaking Carper's hand, Wheeler asked if he would sign the pledge. He declined, saying guilefully, "Barack and I are buddies." and hurried on to greet another volunteer.
Volunteers on the sidewalk making calls
Harkin also shook hands and thanked the volunteers and even allowed several volunteers to snap photos of each other with him. When he made his way over to Wheeler, Wheeler shook Harkin's hand, remarking that Obama got his start in Iowa. He made a point to thank Harkin for Iowa's historic role in Obama's election then asked Harkin if he would sign the pledge to support Obama's budget. Without hesitation, Harkin exclaimed, "Of course!" He diligently filled out every blank and box in the form and then signed it Your Senator, Tom Harkin.
Volunteer Susan Pheifer reflected on the past successes of Obama campaign volunteers in San Francisco, noting,
While this might not have been our highest volume phone bank, it certainly was one of the most satisfying.
Event organizers said the goal of the sidewalk phone bank was to demonstrate in no uncertain terms that the message of change the country endorsed on November 4 was not just a political slogan. Wheeler asserted,
Just as the tactics of political engagement have been changed, so have the expectations of the American people. No longer will we simply elect a leader, sit back and expect him (or her) to create the change we need. Instead, a new understanding is unveiling that speaks truth to the words of Ghandi, "You must be the change that you wish to seek in the world."
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more