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Obama’s (Smaller) Army of Volunteers

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Posted on Apr 5, 2012
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Getting to work: President Barack Obama rolls up his sleeves as he speaks at a campaign fundraiser at the University of Vermont in Burlington last month.

By Bill Boyarsky

The night after President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was being mercilessly attacked by U.S. Supreme Court conservatives, I was surprised to find a group of Obama volunteers cheerfully gathered in a nondescript office building east of Los Angeles to make phone calls for the president’s campaign.

I wondered at their good spirits. It was as though they hadn’t heard about the hostile reception Obamacare had received at the Supreme Court.

But, as I learned, they knew about it and were fully aware of the tough fight Obama faces in November, no doubt against Mitt Romney, who by then will have remade himself into a faux centrist. Many of their phone calls—even to old Obama supporters—require a hard sell. And they know what’s at stake, including future appointments to the Supreme Court. I saw that their good cheer stemmed from determination and the belief they are well prepared for the battle ahead.

I visited these volunteers in Riverside, a city 60 miles east of Los Angeles in an area known as the Inland Empire. It was once agricultural, but the fields filled in with subdivisions during the housing boom. When it turned to bust, the Inland Empire was saddled with one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates along with high unemployment.

About 10 volunteers scattered around several rooms in the office suite.  “Some of his accomplishments aren’t being covered,” volunteer Theresa McManus told a reluctant person on the other end of the line. “I’d like to sit down with you.” Volunteer Lecia Elzig told another potential Obama campaign worker on the phone, “I’m retired, kind of free. What’s a good time for you to meet? We conduct our meetings at Starbucks, Coco’s or Carl’s Jr. I’d be happy to wait till 8 to accommodate you.” They finally agreed to gather at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

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The volunteers did not make their calls at random, as I had learned from stories in Slate by Sasha Issenberg and from other publications. They worked from lists of names provided by the national Obama campaign from a centralized database, using a system called Vote Builder, which, The Guardian British newspaper reported, stores information on 190 million active voters. It includes age, postal address, ZIP code, occupation and voting history, such as party registration and frequency of voting. By using the ZIP code, the campaign data experts can pinpoint your census tract, and from that determine in a general way the income level, racial composition, family status and education level of your neighborhood.

The voter profiles can be expanded. Andrew Drechsler, vice president of Strategic Telemetry, a data gathering firm that worked for Obama in 2008, told the Voice of America program “This Is America” that data collectors buy information from companies that collect it from activities such as online purchases, market discount cards, credit records and motor vehicle registrations. “You know, what type of magazine do people read, what kind of car do they drive, do they rent, do they own, do they have pets, what sort of pet do they have?” he said.

In addition, the campaign has figured out how to use Facebook and its prodigious collection of information, plugging it into the central computer.

Republicans are using the same sort of methods, although the Obama campaign at this point may have the technological edge. 

Such a centralized database, packed with so much personal information, concerns privacy advocates such as Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, which watches digital advertising. He told The Guardian, “This is beyond J. Edgar Hoover’s dream. In its rush to exploit the power of digital data to win the election, the Obama campaign appears to be ignoring the ethical and moral implications.”

Such concerns weren’t evident as the Riverside volunteers made their phone calls, and I got a ground level view of how the system works. With California expected to be an easy win for Obama, their phone calls aim to sign up California volunteers and to connect with voters in battleground states such as Florida and Ohio. Working through a list from Obama headquarters, a volunteer looked for voters who weren’t Democrats but considered persuadable. For example, a registered Republican who owns a Prius might be induced to vote for Obama if she’s an environmentalist.

The volunteers marked down answers classifying the prospective supporters in battleground states as extremely likely, moderately likely and, finally, not likely at all to vote for Obama. When a page was completed, it was turned over to volunteer Bob Chupp, who entered the data, which went directly to Obama headquarters in Chicago.

The process is a bit scary. Whenever I buy a book from Amazon, I know that the details of my purchase will end up in my voter profile, begun when I registered on an Obama website. It would be the same with my purchases from a market, pharmacy or liquor store. If I had logged on to the campaign’s website through Facebook, all my Facebook friends would be put in the data mix.

But the volunteers in Riverside didn’t seem to feel put off by the process. Rather, they seemed to feel as though they were on a crusade. They know what’s at stake. “If the Supreme Court nixes health care, there will be a lot of people in a world of hurt,” said Chupp, looking up from his laptop.

To them the technology is a tool, helping them to their goal of re-electing Obama. They are as determined and serious as people I have encountered in the Occupy movement. Although Occupy wouldn’t agree, the Obama volunteers are also a movement that is essential to the survival of progressive politics. 


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ghostofwatergate's avatar

By ghostofwatergate, April 10, 2012 at 10:03 pm Link to this comment

@Localhero

How is your remark useful to people who are trying to effect change?

Boyarsky wrote a criminally misleading report which leaves the impression that political networking using telephones involves underhanded espionage techniques, which you interpret to mean “leads to brainwashing”?

Instead, how about: phoning people is a networking technique that is decades-old and multiple-campaigns tested; was used by the Dr. Dean effort to open Democratic Party offices in locations that were historically ignored by the old guard leadership and led to an historic Democratic congressional majority while Bush was still in office? Was the template for the crowd sourcing of fully half of Obama’s campaign funding, and is a UNIVERSAL method, one which members of OWS would be well-advised to look into, a la Alinsky community organizational work, instead of heaping contempt on people you apparently can’t be bothered to talk to except to call them “brainwashed”?

Here is a method that WORKS - for Democrats, for Republicans and for Neo-feudalists, and it could work for you, too.

In short, get out of your goddamn tent and get on the phones.

Report this
ghostofwatergate's avatar

By ghostofwatergate, April 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment

@Localhero

How is your remark useful to people who are trying to effect change?

Boyarsky wrote a criminally misleading report which leaves the impression that political networking using telephones involves underhanded espionage techniques, which you interpret to mean “leads to brainwashing”?

Instead, how about: phoning people is a networking technique that is decades-old and multiple-campaigns tested; was used by the Dr. Dean effort to open Democratic Party offices in locations that were historically ignored by the old guard leadership and led to an historic Democratic congressional majority while Bush was still in office? Was the template for the crowd sourcing of fully half of Obama’s campaign funding, and is a UNIVERSAL method, one which members of OWS would be well-advised to look into, a la Alinsky community organizational work, instead of heaping contempt on people you apparently can’t be bothered to talk to except to call them “brainwashed”?

Here is a method that WORKS - for Democrats, for Republicans and for Neo-feudalists, and it could work for you, too.

In short, get out of your goddamed tent and get on the phones.

Report this
LocalHero's avatar

By LocalHero, April 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment

Yes, let’s all show appreciation for a fresh crop of brainwashed idiots.

Report this
race_to_the_bottom's avatar

By race_to_the_bottom, April 9, 2012 at 8:50 am Link to this comment

By UreKismet, April 6 at 1:44 pm


“They only surprise is that the Oblammer expects to get the same massive quantities of moolah this time around.  I would have thought that the capitalists, who aren’t known for their predilection for spending money when it isn’t essential, couldn’t care less whether Oblammer or Romney wins.”

If Obama loses, it creates an opening for the left in the Democratic “Party”, or at least a debate around the corporate agenda of the DLC types who run the “party”. Also, if Wall Streets funds the Democrats, any influence unions and progressive groups and individuals my have through their contributions are diluted. Think strategically.

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vector56's avatar

By vector56, April 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm Link to this comment

Awhile back I wrote a little something on the Kos I titled “Obama, the Great Black Hope”;

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/10/18/1027575/-Obama-The-Great-Black-Hope-

“Even now we live in a country where the confederate flag is still proudly displayed.  After all the pain, terrorism and death they don’t even have the human decency to spare their fellow human beings this one last humiliation.  At the end of this long road of misery there seemed to be a light at of the end of the tunnel.  Many whites did not understand Michelle Obama’s statement ; “for once I am proud of my country”.  Some assumed that everyone should always be proud of this country:  American exceptionalism .    So, after such a long dark sojourn to have a Black man elected president of a country that greeted your ancestors as human property was unimaginable. 
Obama is but a man, not the embodiment of a generational struggle, the sooner we learn this the better.  ”

Report this

By Innocent Victim, April 8, 2012 at 10:41 am Link to this comment

Obama’s promises are not to be taken seriously.  He makes some
progressive noises, but then he approves the southern leg of
Excel pipeline.  His record on whistle-blowers, the Espionage Act
prosecutions is abysmal.

Many of his supporters vote for him as the lesser of two evils, but I
recall that when GWB was president the Democrats acted as a
restraining force on him, an opposition Party that would have
impeached him for doing what Obama is doing with impunity. 
Maybe, we would be more protected with an opposition party in the
Congress than we are with president like Obama.

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ghostofwatergate's avatar

By ghostofwatergate, April 7, 2012 at 8:32 pm Link to this comment

Boyarsky has not done his homework and this article is deliberately obfuscating several issues here, one of which is that the people called actually want to hear from political campaigns.

In the state of California, telemarketers are regulated by the Dept of Consumers Affairs and their rules are clear and they are enforced.

The DCA requires that telemarketing companies relay these rules to their employees and “volunteers” upfront and monitor the callers to ensure that they are being complied with. The DCA has been known to shut down companies that violate these rules damn quick.

The people are called because somewhere along the line they have “opted in” to receive these kinds of calls. Cold-calling is not allowed in California, so you can back off on the BS about being “spied on.”

Further, while the callers may hold political opinions and motives different from those as described by the cynical UreKismet below, they themselves are not cynics; callers are generally very intelligent, involved and know what the issues are or they wouldn’t be doing this work.

You may not like that they support Obama, but these are committed people trying to make a difference, attempting to reach out to citizens to get out and get involved in the political process.

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Mairead's avatar

By Mairead, April 7, 2012 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

I wonder how much Boyarsky got paid for that shameless propaganda, and whether he experienced any nausea while writing.

Interestingly, “Boyarsky” is the adjectival form of boyar.  Boyars were the major aristos and courtiers in slavic kingdoms, especially during the mediaeval period. Their principal roles were to keep the peasants in line and fawn on the Tsar and royal princes.

One is tempted to imagine a genetic imperative, seeing that Boyarsky-the-writer feels he should serve a similar purpose to Tsar Obama.

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By - bill, April 7, 2012 at 1:37 am Link to this comment

A smaller such ‘army’ is at least an improvement.  A non-existent ‘army’ would get the point across much better.

Report this

By the worm, April 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment

It’s simply not realistic for Obama to expect a constituency stabbed in the back by
his governance to come to his rescue between now & November.

Obama very early on (virtually upon election) signaled his intent to govern not for
‘change you can believe in’, but for the maintenance of the status quo.

Obama decided to become the ‘facilitator-in-chief’ instead of the leader we
expected.

He was intent on bailing out Wall Street, keeping ‘hands off’ Wall Street CEO
bonuses, ignoring ‘carried interest’, tap dancing with a merely symbolic - rather
than actual - income tax reform, supporting three extensions of the Bush tax cuts
(twice with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress), supporting the
non-reform of the financial system, signing a completely mis-named JOBS bill,
and passing off an insurance industry subsidy as ‘health care reform’,

Obama has simply acted as an enabler of the accelerating shift of wealth from the
middle class to America’s most wealthy.

It will be very hard for Obama to ‘inspire’ those who he has dissed for almost four
years.

Yeah, Yeah. I know. And certainly, as a pragmatist,  I will vote for Obama.

My point is that many of those who voted for Obama in 2008 were not motivated
by pragmatism. They expected “Change You Can Believe In”.

Not only did Obama’s youthful and idealist and ‘hopeful’ constituency not get that,
they basically got an extension of the Bush administration: Gates, Patreaus,
Bernanke, Geithner, et al. Some old , same old.

Report this

By the worm, April 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment

It’s simply not realistic for Obama to expect a constituency stabbed in the back by
his governance to come to his rescue between now & November.

Obama very early on (virtually upon election) signaled his intent to govern not for
‘change you can believe in’, but for the maintenance of the status quo.

Obama decided to become the ‘facilitator-in-chief’ instead of the leader we
expected.

He was intent on bailing out Wall Street, keeping ‘hands off’ Wall Street CEO
bonuses, ignoring ‘carried interest’, tap dancing with a merely symbolic - rather
than actual - income tax reform, supporting three extensions of the Bush tax cuts
(twice with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress), supporting the
non-reform of the financial system, signing a completely mis-named JOBS bill,
and passing off an insurance industry subsidy as ‘health care reform’,

Obama has simply acted as an enabler of the accelerating shift of wealth from the
middle class to America’s most wealthy.

It will be very hard for Obama to ‘inspire’ those who he has dissed for almost four
years.

Yeah, Yeah. I know. And certainly, as a pragmatist,  I will vote for Obama.

My point is that many of those who voted for Obama in 2008 were not motivated
by pragmatism. They expected “Change You Can Believe In”.

Not only did Obama’s youthful and idealist and ‘hopeful’ constituency not get that,
they basically got an extension of the Bush administration: Gates, Patreaus,
Bernanke, Geithner, et al. Some old , same old.

Report this

By Swami from Miami, April 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Nobel Peace Prize Winner Uses Drones to Kill Citizens of His Own Country”

Report this
UreKismet's avatar

By UreKismet, April 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment

The Oblamblam gang acknowledge that they have zero chance of duping idealistic young people again, so with barely a kathunk as they switch from one point of egress into power to another, they are gonna run this campaign under the wire.  Obama will only be allowed out for tiny moments of tightly scripted clichés, while a hugely reduced army of volunteers paws thru all available data on anyone in a so-called battleground state.
The article is correct about one thing, the volunteers (trainee intelligence operatives or marketing tsars - the skillset has become the same) will be hunting for evidence of dissonance, those people who appear to be so conflicted they ‘must’ have no ideological frame of reference.  They plan to hunt these seeming exceptions to sales profilers stereotypes and convince them that Oblamblams war on the law, the poor, and unwhites across the planet deserves their support.

The article mentioned a Prius driving registered republican as being the type of human that could be persuaded to vote for this mass murdering piece of shit.  As long as the simple-minded fools working at the coalface of this biggest yet attempt by corporate capitalism to seal control of power, the Oblamblam campaign will go down as a laughing stock.  An exercise in how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Non-conformists such as the aforesaid Prius driver are the most difficult humans to convince of anything.  They pride themselves on their individuality and are unlikely to change just because they receive increasingly hysterical phone calls right at the time they have just walked in the door of their home, or get inundated with cliché ridden, exceptional only for its extreme mendacity, spam.

The easiest people to convince that up is down, right is wrong and Oblamblam is a man of peace are conformists too scared to make their own decisions, those who hide among the other shades of grey at the bump in the centre of a population. 
The trouble is with the hiding bit.  Many of their fellow sheeple over there in the middle are committed partisans to either half of the amerikan empire party. Ringing them up should provide an unpleasurable grind for the volunteers.  They will spend their days locked in battle with fools; debating tiny variations in the implementation of oppressive control of the planet’s rather large population of unamerikans, at home and abroad. Every now and then they will swerve off the path into the weeds of discussion about whether 50% of 8% of amerikans should be able to wed another person from the same half of the 8% as they.  Riveting stuff.

They only surprise is that the Oblammer expects to get the same massive quantities of moolah this time around.  I would have thought that the capitalists, who aren’t known for their predilection for spending money when it isn’t essential, couldn’t care less whether Oblammer or Romney wins.  The outcome will be the same.  The election of someone who got where they are today by doing as they were told.  The point has been made to the ‘allies’, that is it is possible to sell invasion and mass murdering of entire populations as being about caring for the oppressed, if you use the correct front man.

Sure the pr1cks will throw some dosh at both of em, sufficient to put the candidates under an obligation to their donors.  But why spend more than that?  Oblammer is unlikely to get second term disease, that is, worry about how history will regard him.  He’s already had his big historical moment.  The first unwhite prez.  He doesn’t need to do anything more and he’s not the sort of human who would ever identify with the less fortunate.  He picked the dems because they were the only mob who seemed likely to let an unwhite through the gate back when he began this thing, not because he has a shred of empathy for his fellow humans.

Report this

By gerard, April 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

And one more thing:  Support whistle-blowers!
  They are our lifeline to a more honest future and
they are facing very severe risks for their efforts.
It is cowardly to stand by and let them be abused.

Report this
prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, April 6, 2012 at 10:31 am Link to this comment

One more thing… I really object to Mr. Obama’s picture in front of the American flag….

It’s an insult…

Report this
prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, April 6, 2012 at 10:27 am Link to this comment

Ok then Gerard lets start with this…

I won’t accept the life you want to hand me.

I won’t believe the lies you have to tell me..

I won’t go quietly, or provide any support to those that wish to destroy this country and
its people from the inside…...

Report this

By gerard, April 6, 2012 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

Since it appears that we are stuck with Obama, (sor worse), let’s work over, under, around, through and above Obama to bring our country back from committing suicide and restore life, liberty and honor to ourselves and our posterity—who deserve better, by the way.

Report this

By oregoncharles, April 6, 2012 at 9:49 am Link to this comment

Several crucial reveals in this article, intentional and not:

1) The Obama campaign is SPYING ON YOU.

2) They’re now making their pitch to Republicans.  Apparently they’ve given up on progressives.  They were Republicans all along, but it’s now too obvious to conceal, as Robespierre and Vector have pointed out before me.

You DO have an alternative:  the Green Party, http://www.gp.org.  Who knows - you might get fewer annoying calls from the Obama campaign.  But remember, if you do:  that’s a volunteer on the other end.  CONVERT HER.

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, April 6, 2012 at 7:56 am Link to this comment

I wonder if this is really true, that Obama’s volunteers, are a rag tag, group of idealists,
out to do battle with the murders right wing?

Then what happened to all those billions of dollars, of money donated by the corporate
reich?

Or is this just one more attempt, to convince the American people that Mr. Obama is for
them? One more move, in Mr. Obama’s magic act of turning lies and bullshit into facts,
that fit the image he wants to project.

Mr. Obama’s carefully crafted image, of himself, his political massage for the gullible
electorate, creates a mirage to hide his betrayals behind.

Vote for Mr. Obama and he will rip your heart out with steel teeth, all the while trying to
make you feel good about it. The truth would be hard for anyone to vote for.

Report this

By gerard, April 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm Link to this comment

To keep up uith Occupy people you have to go to Occupy sites. Other media aren’t current. Here’s just a tiny sample from New York, so don’t think they aren’t busy:
  1,  Occupy Boston and union supporters inside the Boston State House yesterday. Following Wednesday’s National Day of Action for Public Transit that saw Occupiers and unions take part in coordinated actions across dozens of cities,
  2.The Great Meeting -Wednesday, April 4th 630-930pm
  Union Square, the large assembly area at the  
  northmost end at 17th street.  After weeks of  
  arrests and wounds, eamazing action and
  incredible solidarity, we want to come together
  to discuss political questions surrounding
  anything ranging from economic equality to food
  and health care justice to upcoming actions
  3.Train the Trainers, Educate the Educators, 
  Facilitate the Facilitators w/Jason Ahmadi
      Sunday April 8th, 5pm-8pm
      220 E 23rd St. 7th Floor
  This Easter Sunday,members of Direct Action will
  be hosting a workshop to share skills in giving
  what is known in the activist scene as Non-
  Violent Direct Action trainings. The workshop
  will cover issues of popular education, non-
  hierarchical learning, radical pedagogy and
  .direct action.
  4.Occupy Wall Street and the Amalgamated Transit Union have declared today, April 4, a National Day of Action for Mass Transit. Demonstrations are taking place in over 20 cities including New York, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Denver, and Portland.
  Just because you don’t see it in the headlines doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And the problems are as multifaceted as the happenings.

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vector56's avatar

By vector56, April 5, 2012 at 8:15 pm Link to this comment

“Drone massacres in Pakistan, assassinating US citizens without due process, expanding the drug war in Latin America, yes very progressive! “


I would like to augment Robespierre115’s above statement by adding:

Pushing old previously Heritage Foundation ideas like:

Cap & Trade
Pay Roll Tax Holiday (back door to defund SS)
Individual Health Insurance Mandate

Also, appointing Alan (cat food) Simpson to a commission on dept reduction.

Going after “Whistle Blowers” with more zeal than any other administration in US history; protecting the Banks from the consequences of their fraud; and not bothering to hide the outright contempt he holds toward the Left in general.

I almost lost my lunch when Obama referred to the Republican budget as a “Trojan Horse”! The Republican budget is nothing more than a refection of who they are; they never pretended to be something that they were not. Obama on the other hand is the true Trojan Horse who duped the Left 3 years ago; will we be fooled again?

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By bigchin, April 5, 2012 at 8:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Correction… I think you meant to say “Obama’s disappearance from the political stage is essential to the survival of progressive politics.”

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, April 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm Link to this comment

“Obama volunteers are also a movement that is essential to the survival of progressive politics.”

Drone massacres in Pakistan, assassinating US citizens without due process, expanding the drug war in Latin America, yes very progressive!

Report this

By gerard, April 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment

Frankly, I think Boyarsky sadly misrepresents the Occupiers when he says “the Occupiers wouldn’t agree”
with strenuous (Democratic) campaign work. They may not see themselves as primarily intersted in traditional politicking, but they certainly are no champions of the Republican nonsense! It is true that they are looking more for new and creative ways to “win hearts and minds” and make profound political changes, and that’s all to the good. There’s no conflict.

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