Tuesday Jun 23, 2009

Extraction

Communicating is all about building relationships, and that`s always a two way street (or if you are in the community business, a multi-way street). Every wonder what a rapid fire relationship with Rahm is like. Check out Ring, ring, it's Rahm:
NBC’s Chuck Todd calls the Emanuel relationship “no-nonsense.”

“He’s always trying to extract as much information as he’s trying to give,” Todd says.

But the conversations with Emanuel “can be as little as 30 seconds,” Paul Begala, the CNN commentator and longtime Emanuel friend says. “He calls, drops a few F-bombs, makes his point and hangs up.”
The shock value of his delivery is interesting (he can do that because he`s powerful), but even more important is the bit about the information extraction. Information has to flow both ways to demonstrate the value of the relationship.

Thursday Mar 05, 2009

The Chief of Staff

I have always been interested in the role of Chief of Staff. Presidents have these guys around, and so does the military. And now a lot of companies have them as well. It seems like an odd role at times, though. Good chiefs have massive power in their own right, but they also have to reflect the boss almost perfectly so their own opinions vaporize. Seems like an interesting dance. Here is a very interesting and long piece on Obama`s chief of staff -- Rahm Emanuel: The Gatekeeper.

Monday Mar 02, 2009

The "New" Organizers

People have been organizing and building communities forever. But every once and a while a team does it particularly well. The Obama campaign's community effort was an example of that and it's well outline here -- The New Organizers, What's really behind Obama's ground game. What I like about their strategy was that they combined the best of multiple worlds to create something new.

From Zack Exley's post: "The 'New Organizers' have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so 'top-down' and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or 'bottom-up' organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization."

That's interesting. You don't often hear community building described that with organizers using the best of both top-down and bottom-up approaches. So, in that sense I agree with the "new" bit, and it's a welcome lesson for all of us work in community-building positions -- any community.

I found that post on the Obama's guys from Barton George -- It takes a Community (and they could use a Marketing Guide) — Mozilla Debut’s theirs -- as he was talking about community development efforts at Mozilla, Ubuntu, Debian, and OpenSUSE, and he points to the new Mozilla community marketing guide (see Patrick Finch). I sent these links to advocacy-discuss on OpenSolaris so we can talk about these issues, too. Teresa started the thread recently in an effort to get some ideas going for how we can do more as a community to organize ourselves. We've had this discussion before on OpenSolaris (many times, actually), but we still have some work to do to really document a substantial guide that we can all get around and drive together. We have some very good bits and pieces spread across the community, but perhaps its time to bring it all together into one document and label it as such?

Monday Feb 23, 2009

Alinsky to Obama: Organize! Organize! Organize!

I`ve been catching up on my Saul Alinsky now that we have a community organizer in the White House. I was never much inspired with Alinksy, although I certainly appreciate his place in American history. When I read his stuff I just feel dirty, sort of like plodding through Eddie Bernays and his propaganda or Machiavelli and his lessons for princes. But all that is reality in power politics, and many of those guys articulate some wonderfully evil and practical tactics to gut a variety of opponents in just about any situation you`d find yourself in. If that`s the sort of thing you want to do, anyway.

It`s interesting, though. We oftentimes hear that you have to fight fire with fire, and that`s probably true in some cases. But what about the exceptions? For instance, I never get that dirty Alinsky feeling all over when reading Ghandi or King, and those guys were certainly grand community organizers fighting bad guys too. In fact, they were probably the two most effective community builders in modern history. I wouldn`t put Alinsky in their league. Ghandi and King inspire. Alinsky manipulates. Ghandi and King transcend and transform. Alinsky fights. Both views are probably necessary at various points in a great struggle, but I prefer to focus a tad more on the positive and not so much on an Al Capone street fight in a dark and dirty Chicago alley. But that`s just me.

Sanford D. Horwitt, an Alinsky biographer, writes nice piece about what the so-called father of community organizing would say to President Obama today (Alinsky would be 100 this year). I guess Obama studied under some of Alinsky`s guys for a bit. So, what`s the fatherly advice on building community? "Barack, remember what got you here ... Keep your eyes on the prize and keep organizing, organizing, organizing!" That`s not surprising. And it`s good advice. But it will be interesting to see if Obama can follow it, if he can keep his obviously well honed community organizing skills up to date from the perspective of living among the power establishment that Alinsky was always fighting. That`s where Obama sits now, after all. Will it work from way up there? To me, this is what makes the Obama presidency fascinating.

Also of note is Obama`s view of Alinsky himself. It`s far more expansive view than the narrow minded Alinsky pitched. Check out The Agitator: Barack Obama's unlikely political education for a lot of Obama`s views of Alinsky. I like this bit right here:

"Alinsky understated the degree to which people's hopes and dreams and their ideals and their values were just as important in organizing as people's self-interest. Sometimes the tendency in community organizing of the sort done by Alinsky was to downplay the power of words and of ideas when in fact ideas and words are pretty powerful. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal.' Those are just words. 'I have a dream.' Just words. But they help move things. And I think it was partly that understanding that probably led me to try to do something similar in different arenas." -- Obama, 2007

In other words, community organizing isn`t always about going head to head. It`s not always about cutting people down. It`s not always about taking power away from the powerful (after all, what do you do with the power you get? Will it corrupt you as it did them?). Sometimes community building is about, well, building. It`s about inspiring. Liberating. Leading. And it`s about distributing power, not centralizing it. It goes far beyond words, too.

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