The Agitator’s Week In Review.  

This week brought an end to the seemingly never-ending presidential campaigns marked by highs and lows, necessary and unnecessary divisions, indelible characters and high drama.   But in the end, grassroots engagement, and fundraising ‘firsts’ made possible by the brilliant use of technology-backed-by-philosophy combined to yield a record-shattering turnout that contributed mightily to Obama’s decisive victory.

Tom and I, who cut our organizing, fundraising and communications teeth in an era of racism, political cronyism and just-emerging power to the people, couldn’t resist the opportunity for some nostalgia.  More than most of our readers should have been subjected to.  But, that’s who we are.

Beyond the history making election, the specter of a falling economy and the inherent darkness that all this portends looms large.  But clearly one fundraiser’s darkness is another’s minor disturbance as we saw from the results of our first Vital Signs Survey released on Friday.

And so, we end the week more filled with hope than we’ve been in some months.

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 3, 2008

MONDAY:  Obama: Technology Meets Psychology.  We’ve read tons about the Obama campaign’s adroit use of the internet to marshal money and people power.  But as this excellent article in Wired points out, the real magic in Obama’s approach has been to integrate state-of-the-art use of technology with super-sophisticated organizational approaches.

Says Wired:

“Previous political campaigns have tapped the internet in innovative ways — Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential run, and Ron Paul’s bid for this year’s Republican nomination, to name two. But Obama is the first to successfully integrate technology with a revamped model of political organization that stresses volunteer participation and feedback on a massive scale, erecting a vast, intricate machine set to fuel an unprecedented get-out-the-vote drive in the final days before Tuesday’s election.”

Whatever you think of Obama’s politics, his campaign set the new gold standard for mobilizing people to volunteer and give. Plenty of lessons for cause groups to absorb.

TUESDAY:  Obama Wins!  This Election Day post was a prediction, not a result.

Of all the polls out there, Tom was sticking with his favorite research operation, the Pew Research Center.

Pew’s last poll of the campaign called it 52% – 46% in Obama’s favor. According to Pew’s data, if you are female, under-50, urban and college-educated, you’re an Obama voter.

Most interesting of all is the intensity of voter contact in this campaign.

WEDNESDAY:  The Morning After.  On Election Day  morning as I stood in the autumn sunshine of our little New England town of Chilmark, Massachusetts waiting to vote I couldn’t help but marvel at how far we as a nation have come on fundamental issues like race and how long it’s taken us to get here. 

It’s now been 40 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the fiery protests of the Vietnam War era, the rise of the women’s rights movement and many other social change movements. Four decades since the “realigning election” of 1968 which saw the primary election candidacies of Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election, and a general election where Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey marking the ascendancy of the GOP.

What connects the bitterly contested Election of 2008 with the tumultuous 1968 Election is that both took place in a climate of massive national angst. In America, when times are terribly troubling there’s one constant — the likelihood that massive citizen action will arise and effect change.

And so it did this year.   And once again technology played a significant role. Not in the form of Tom Paine’s pamphleteering, or the street theater and massive protests of ’68.  Rather, this time the use of the online technologies and techniques, in the words of Adam Nagourney of The New York Times, “… has rewritten the rules on how to reach voters, raise money, organize supporters, manage the news media, track and mold public opinion, and wage–and withstand –political attacks, including many carried by blogs that did not exist four years ago.”

But technology alone is not some magic bullet for funding and building political and social change movements. The whole “dot.com” era taught us all that you can’t depend on technologists to get results from technology. As events in 2008 prove, technology gets results only when placed in the hands of people who understand the principles of citizen action, communication and fundraising.

THURSDAY:  What a Difference Four Decades Make.   Obama’s historic victory got Tom reminiscing about his own formative political experience, which happens to date to 1968, when the Vietnam war and racial tensions were the driving, divisive factors in the presidential election.
Tom recalls… “In that year, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated; I watched the city of Washington burning, with Army tanks on the streets, from the roof of my university dorm; the success of anti-war candidate Gene McCarthy in the New Hampshire Democratic primary triggered the decision of President Lyndon Johnson not to seek re-election; and Chicago police brutally attacked anti-war protesters outside the Democratic Party Convention before a live nation-wide television audience.

“That convention nominated LBJ’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, as its presidential candidate. Humphrey was the “happy warrior” — a social democrat to his core — who had achieved political fame in 1948, two decades earlier, when he delivered an impassioned speech at that year’s Democratic Convention. “The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights,” he pleaded, winning support for an unprecedented pro-civil-rights plank in the Party’s platform.

“Humphrey lost the 1968 election by 511,944 votes (out of 73 million cast) to Richard Nixon, largely for two reasons. His pro-civil rights history still infuriated racists in the South, whose most notorious champion, Governor George Wallace of Alabama, ran as an independent candidate for president and captured about 10 million votes. And Humphrey’s too-late decision to disassociate himself from LBJ’s Vietnam war meant that he never captured the passion and support of young voters in America, who were numbed by the deaths of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

“Fast forward 40 years.

“Not since Jimmy Carter has a Democrat been elected US President with a majority of the popular vote. Bill Clinton failed to achieve this in his two successful campaigns. Whatever your politics, aren’t clear-cut majorities nice?!

“More importantly, according to exit polls on Tuesday, Barack Obama won significant support from white voters, most especially those under 30 years of age.

“Obama lost the white vote in every age group over 30, and especially men. But 57% of white Americans under 30 gave their vote to him.

“And, again according to exit polls, amongst all voters under age 30 (18% of the US electorate), Obama received 66%-69% of the vote, as well as 69% of the votes of first-time voters. This latter group propelled voter turnout (131 million voters) to probably the highest percentage — around 64%, according to first counts — since 1908.

“So, to me, the contrasts that are most striking about these four-decade political bookends are …

“First, that race has effectively — not entirely — disappeared as a factor in American presidential politics, and — thankfully for the future — it clearly is a non-issue amongst younger voters.

“Second, whereas in 1968 young voters were disenfranchised and disillusioned by the time the election occurred, in 2008 they have been the powerhouse of the Obama campaign. They constituted the largest segment of the volunteer field army that worked — 1.5 million volunteers in the battleground states alone — to turn out the vote on election day for Obama.

“And, I might add for The Agitator’s online-friendly audience, this was a young army totally immersed in and empowered by sophisticated use of internet technology to advance their candidate and cause. Even had youth been energized in 1968, they would not have had the tools to achieve what the tech-savvy under-30s accomplished in 2008 for Barack Obama.

“A few days before he was killed, Martin Luther King said these words (here is the audio):

“If we will stand and work together, we will bring into being that day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream … we will bring into being that day when America will no longer be two nations, but it will be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

“What a difference four decades make!”

FRIDAY:  Fundraising Vital Signs 1 –Responses.   

With our “Vital Signs – 1” survey, we asked readers share their prognostications regarding the fundraising outlook for the balance of 2008.

We received 126 completed surveys, and 55 individual fundraisers offered to join a panel to report further assessments as the year plays out. Three-of-four respondents work in a nonprofit organization; the other respondents work for a fundraising agency or as independent fundraising consultants. Our respondents are nicely representative of the full range of nonprofits, from advocacy groups, social/human services and arts & culture, to medical/health, education and humanitarian assistance. Thank you one and all.

Click here for an overview of the findings and responses.

And click here to view the full results, bearing in mind that these responses are directional only.

Over the next two weeks we will again ask our Panelists to update and again share their insights. 

We’ll be reporting on Vital Signs  II in the November 21st edition of the Agitator.

Your Weekend Bonus:   With Tom and me choked up with a combination of joy and nostalgia over the Obama victory and at the same time compiling the results of the first Vital Signs Survey leave it to Seth Godin to make some useful  and, yes, brilliant marketing insights the 2008 presidential campaigns try this piece .

Key observations from Seth Godin:

Stories really matter.  Most marketers are obsessed with ‘features’, but in reality it’s the ‘story people really respond to. And that is the case in the 2008 Campaign.

Permission matters.  The Obama campaign turned down the spam and turned up the permission and used personal and relevant messages which always outperform spam.

Marketing is tribal.  Karl Rove’s cultivation of “the base” is shorthand of a tribe of people with shared interests and vision.  John McCain didn’t particularly like that base nor did they like him, but chose Sarah Palin to appeal to it and also hoped to pick up Hillary Clinton’s tribe as well.    Obama built his own, new tribe.  And when the attack ads on Obama came his tribe identified with him.  Attacking him was like attacking them resulting in more donations and bigger turnout.

According to Seth the lesson that we all should take away about all marketing is a simple one. “When you buy a product, you’re also buying the marketing.  Buy something from a phone telemarketer, you get more phone telemarketers, guaranteed.  Buy a gas guzzler and they’ll build more. Marketers are simple people…they make what sells.  Our culture has purchased (and voted) itself into the place we are today.”

To all the Agitator tribe, have a good weekend.

Roger

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