Category Archives: massachusetts

OFA: Harnessing Obama’s grassroots network in Massachusetts

A couple of weeks ago (on May 16), Organizing for America [OFA], the grassroots network that was called Obama for America, had an organizing meeting in Massachusetts that drew over 400 attendees.  [I’ve written earlier about the challenge and promise of OFA, the 13 million person network from the campaign, that is unprecedented and the question of whether they will be field troops for the Obama agenda or enabled to have their own input into policy.]

Marshall Ganz provided a historical context for OFA.  He noted that social change in our history is not a constant, it is episodic: “”Change is slow except when it’s fast. We’re in a fast movement now so let’s not lose it.”  This is the first time, Ganz noted, that a social movement gave birth during a political campaign.  Successful social movements have to act national but be locally rooted, and to translate national action into local change. Ganz believes that more civic capital has been created through this campaign than ever created through our nation’s history; we have to be creative about using this civic capital.  We need to make sure that it is not a one-way arrangement.

The theme of OFA members wanting input on policy came up at the OFA-MA event, both in questioning of Mitch Stewart (national director of OFA) and in informal discussions throughout the day. Mitch Stewart noted that OFA’s prime agenda was “to support the President’s agenda.”  During Q&A a woman  shouted out “We want input in that agenda!” to large applause.  Stewart tried to siphon the OFA interest in policy by encouraging people to express their input on or by communicating with their members of Congress.  He noted that he was not a policy expert and OFA was not a policy organization.  But it is clear that the audience wasn’t comfortable with that resolution.

A number of speakers highlighted a theme that I have discussed earlier about the importance of marrying technology with “social capital” to have optimal effect. Ethan Winn (software developer) summarized it as  “organizing practices apply online” and commented that once you build the trust through F2F encounters, you can give people responsibilities.)  Marshall Ganz, Harvard lecturer, former community organizer and train-the-trainer for the Obama grassroots effort, in response to a question about how to reach low-income people through technology, replied: “It’s important to distinguish between carpenters and tools. The best tools in the world don’t build a house. The campaign made the tools and equipped people to use the tools. The Dean campaign was successful in using technology to fund raise but the Meetups were not successful — no one knew what to do. The Obama campaign did that part well. People were hungry for tools to work with one another successfully. The technology AND the leadership together were what made the campaign successful. Also, the use of YouTube to enable people to tell their stories was extraordinary. That tool has just begun to realize its potential.”  And Sarah Compton (field organizer in MA for Obama) observed:  “I hope that technology never replaces face-to-face contact. When canvassing to NH, we tried to have a carpool in every town. Those carpools were also meetings and got people engaged. A proof that that was more successful in some ways than technology, the national campaign sent out a blast email about Drive for Change, but we got thousands more people to canvass through word of mouth.”

Here is a thoughtful post on the OFA-MA meeting by “Bottom Up Change”.

Here is video of “Grassroots Organizing: Harnessing the Obama Movement” [panel featuring Sarah Compton, Marshall Ganz, Juan Leyton (director of Neighbor to Neighbor), Ethan Winn and Alan Khazei ( and co-founder of City Year)

OFA-MA has many other resources from the recent meeting including a live-blogging account of the day.

Governor Deval Patrick Signs Law Creating Commonwealth Corps

Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill on Nov. 27, 2007 creating the Commonwealth Corps, a program that creates a state youth service corps permitting Massachusetts citizens to work on improving and rebuilding their communities through service.  This was the first bill submitted by Gov. Patrick when he took office in January, 2007.  Civic Engagement is one of three priority areas for the Patrick Administration that was ushered into power on one of the largest grassroots political campaigns ever mounted in Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts has a strong history of community service, volunteerism, and civic action and I am proud that the Commonwealth Corps will become a new chapter in that history,” said Governor Patrick. “Through volunteerism, citizens have the ability to alter lives and communities while also experiencing the pride that comes with such service. I am excited about this new opportunity and look forward to the work ahead.”

The Commonwealth Corps will start with 250 corps members and aims to rise to 1,000 corps members within the first 5 years. Corps “[me]mbers will dedicate at least one year of service to a nonprofit organization, civic initiative, or public entity, providing direct service to people or communities in need….Members of the Commonwealth Corps will provide direct service including but not limited to teaching in after-school programs, mentoring underprivileged youth, assisting the elderly and cleaning up parks and beaches. Members will also recruit and organize additional volunteers to meet urgent community needs. ”  The projects will be locally managed and led.

“In a time of constrained resources, the Commonwealth Corps will tap a deep reservoir of talent and idealism to tackle pressing priorities in our communities,” said Eric Schwarz, president and CEO of Citizen Schools, a Boston-based national non-profit focused on afterschool programs. “One of the best things about the Commonwealth Corps will be its ability to mobilize tens of thousands of additional citizen volunteers to support student learning and solve other pressing problems.”

‘[T]he legislation also creates a pilot Commonwealth Student Corps, a program developed to expand opportunities for students interested in service learning opportunities’ in order to build on the research that shows how service learning (learning through curricular-tied service) improves student learning. The program will match students at up to 5 public colleges or universities with service opportunities dovetailing with their educational area of concentration.

The Corps will consist of members from diverse backgrounds who are 18 years or older, from high school-age students, to mid-career workers to retirees. Corps members will serve in a part-time or full-time capacity.   The Commonwealth Corps will be overseen by a newly-created Commonwealth Corps Commission.

Massachusetts has middling civic engagement levels that are disappointing given the levels of education in Massachusetts, and Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray aim to try to change that which they announced recently at the Massachusetts Civic Engagement Summit.

See press release here.

First Ever Massachusetts Civic Summit

The following e-mail is from Patrice Keegan:

A Call to the Massachusetts Volunteer Sector
“One of the great joys of the work we do is knowing that people are making an incredible difference in our communities through their volunteer service – and one of the greatest frustrations is how little is known, beyond our immediate circles, about the scope, impact and power of volunteerism.

Let’s Change That!

“On November 16th, 2007 people will come together in Worcester for the first-ever Massachusetts Civic Summit, to raise awareness about the importance of civic involvement among government, business, and community leaders, and engage them in finding effective ways to work together. The Summit will focus on major civic engagement sectors including volunteerism, neighborhoods and networks, civic education, and electoral politics and policy. The Summit is expected to attract several hundred participants, and..Governor Patrick…will be among the speakers.

Who’s Behind This?

“The Civic Summit is being planned by a collaborative group of leaders representing organizations including: AARP, Boston Cares, The Boston Foundation, Brandeis University, City-wide Dialogues, Civic Ventures, Common Impact, Corporate Volunteer Council, The Community Youth Alliance, Human Services Forum, Generations Incorporated, The Governor’s Office of Public Liaison, Jumpstart, Leadership MetroWest, Massachusetts Campus Compact, MassInc, Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership, Massachusetts Service Alliance, Mount Wachusett Community College, MYTOWN, Social Capital Inc., Twin Cities Latino Coalition, United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley, UMass Boston’s Center for Collaborative Leadership, UMass Civics Initiative, and many others.

“I am writing to encourage you to save the date for the Summit, and to invite your participation in the planning process. I am especially hoping you will be interested in the Volunteer Track, which I am co-chairing with Theresa Ellis of Common Impact. Specifically, our committee is looking for colleagues interested in teaming up to develop the day’s actual program…the Volunteer Track…[which we envison] will bring a range of volunteer stakeholders together, establish baseline understandings about our field, convey how our seemingly disparate efforts combine into a critical service sector and challenge one another to begin building an inspiring volunteer movement in our Commonwealth. The morning session, Painting the Volunteering Landscape, will focus on presenting what we know about “the state of volunteering in our State.” The afternoon session, Building a Game Plan to Inspire a Volunteer Movement in Massachusetts, will serve as a call to action, crafting an idealistic vision of what’s possible that can be tackled in achievable, bite-size pieces. The tone for both sessions will be upbeat, engaging, dynamic. Target Audience:

  • Volunteer program representatives from any setting
  • Deeply engaged volunteers
  • Representatives from entities that promote volunteering
  • Representatives from entities that support volunteering
  • Graduate students or others whose research and studies focuses on volunteering

“The First Step of Many to Come: While we have no illusions that the Volunteer Track’s morning session will provide an exhaustive picture of “the state of volunteering in our State,” we know whatever we present will be a huge step forward in establishing shared baseline knowledge of the Massachsuetts volunteer sector. This will also set the stage for the afternoon session, which is about envisioning a volunteer movement in Massachusetts (how audacious!) and articulating practical action steps to move things forward beyond the Summit.”

Click here for a one page overview of the Massachusetts Civic Summit and to register.

Governor Deval Patrick will speak at the Summit.

Contact Patricia Keegan (Boston Cares), 617-422-0910 x201, if interested in helping with the planning of this event.