Obama Volunteers Trained in Organizing
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
The next big moment in the race for the White House comes on Tuesday. Four states hold primaries, and in this part of the program we're going to visit two of them, starting with Texas, which also holds caucuses.
That's where the campaign of Democrat Barack Obama is training thousands of volunteers in the rudiments of community organizing. It's an old-fashioned concept enhanced by a modern computer network.
NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.
INA JAFFE: Anyone who's heard any of Barack Obama's stump speeches knows that, after college, he worked as a community organizer on Chicago's Southside.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): And it was the best education I ever had because it taught me ordinary people can do great things when they're working together.
JAFFE: This retelling of his story took place last month in Nevada, but the focus on organizing is evident every day in his campaign offices in Texas.
Ms. LINDA CROACHER(ph) (Volunteer): So I'm hoping that everybody's here for precinct captain training. Does that sound like what you came in for?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes, ma'am.
Ms. CROACHER: Okay, then. Super. All right.
JAFFE: Linda Croacher is a volunteer from Idaho, now in Austin to train other volunteers as Obama campaign precinct captains. At lunchtime on a weekday, there are about 20 people here, black, white, young and old. This is what to expect, Croacher tells them, when they sign up on the Web site, texasprecinctcaptains.com.
Ms. CROACHER: Twenty-four hours later you're going to get a call from someone out of this office, a field organizer. And you now have a resource back here at the campaign headquarters. But what you can also get online is basically tutorials, there's video training, and most importantly, there's a list of voters in your precinct. Reach out and wrap your arms around them, okay?
JAFFE: That information is power, says Buffy Wicks, who's in charge of field organizing for the Obama campaign in 14 western states.
Ms. BUFFY WICKS (Head of Field Organizing, Obama Campaign): We are giving folks access to our most precious commodity, which is the voter file. You know, and a lot of people wouldn't do that. But we think that in order to really utilize the strength, which is our people, we need to give them the training and the information. And we say to them, this is your campaign; here's the keys, you're driving.
JAFFE: In Barack Obama's autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," he writes about the advice he got from the guy who hired him as an organizer. Go towards people's centers, he tells him, the stuff that makes them tick, otherwise you'll never form the relationships you need to get them involved.
In Austin, Linda Croacher tells the new precinct captains that the best way to persuade the undecided is to reveal their own centers.
Ms. CROACHER: I was wondering about this to be honest with you. This is a little Kumbaya-ish for me, where you sit down and you say, hey, let me tell you why I'm doing this or my personal story about getting involved with the campaign.
JAFFE: So they break up into small groups and practice. Most of their stories are variations on the one that Leslie Charming(ph) tells.
Ms. LESLIE CHARMING (Obama Volunteer): I was in the Peace Corp for almost a decade but I became cynical and bitter, and I resisted getting into this election at all, until I heard him talk and I saw his face. So I have to tell you I am back with a vengeance and a passion and I…
JAFFE: Once the new precinct captains leave this room it'll be up to them how they reach out to their neighbors. Maybe phone calls, maybe canvassing. Last Saturday Obama precinct captains hosted 260 house parties across Texas.
Mr. TOM NYLAND(ph) (Obama Precinct Captain): Four-hour shifts, if you can make a four-hour shift or if you can only make part of that…
JAFFE: Tom Nyland, the precinct captain in a new South Austin development, used his house party to organize his neighbors to get out the vote next Tuesday.
Mr. NYLAND: And if you have an aversion to anything - if you don't like the phone bank, if you don't want to stand on a corner holding a sign, we're not going to make you do anything you don't want to do.
JAFFE: Some of the people were here because Nyland got their phone numbers from the voter rolls. Some came because they saw his party posted on another Obama campaign Web site called Mybo(ph). It'll show you campaign activities within 20 miles of your house. None of these people had met before this afternoon. But as they chatted over chicken salad sandwiches and soft drinks, Tom Nyland said he doesn't think of this as the Barack Obama campaign; he thinks of it as the Barack Obama movement, and he expects it to continue past election day.
Mr. NYLAND: Once he's president we are going to be the ground force to make sure that our local reps understand that we are totally behind him. So we are going to keep organized. And I think we all realize that it's going to take effort on our part but it's going to be worth it, that's for sure.
JAFFE: But first things first, Obama's not even the nominee yet. So the party ended with Nyland and some of his neighbors piling into a car and heading off to one of the locations where they can cast their ballots early. They needed to get that out of the way. They expect to be really busy on primary day.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
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