With the news that OFA is refusing to get involved in the Keystone XL Pipeline debate, the world just got interesting for someone like myself, who covers Barack Obama, billionaire capture of government, progressive coalitions and pushback … and climate crisis. This is where the Obama rubber meets the Keystone climate road.
Let’s start here. The organization widely called “OFA” used to be “Obama for America,” the 2008 Obama political campaign’s outreach arm to all the believers in “Hope and Change”. Then they rebranded as Organizing for America, and more recently re-rebranded as “Organizing for Action.” But as near as I can tell, they’re still Obama’s outreach arm to the hopey-changey market.
Wikipedia (my emphasis and paragraphing throughout):
Organizing for America is a community organizing project of the Democratic National Committee. Founded after the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, the group seeks to mobilize supporters in favor of Obama’s legislative priorities. …
The formation of Organizing for America was announced by then-President-Elect Obama on January 17, 2009. The group officially began operations on the third day of the Obama administration, January 23, 2009. On the same day, it was announced that Mitch Stewart would serve as the first Director. Jeremy Bird, a former Obama for America field operative, was named Deputy Director.
In mid January 2013 the organization was transformed into a nonprofit group Organizing for Action. The president’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, was announced as the group’s national chairman, and White House official Jon Carson will leave the administration and become the executive director.
Get the picture? Two name changes, but as of now Obama operative Jim Messina is running the joint, and the mission is still to “mobilize supporters in favor of Obama’s legislative priorities”. They will even tell you that themselves.
Is OFA a top-down or a bottom-up organization?
A number of progressive activists have had the impression that OFA would be a two-way street, a way for them to influence the White House, in addition to being a way for Obama to influence them to execute his own agenda.
(Note from John: We gays have had our own run-ins with OFA. In the first year of the Obama presidency, OFA refused to weigh in on the repeal of gay marriage in Maine, yet had no problem asking Mainers to help New Jersey Democrats re-elect Jon Corzine as governor. But, since the President came on board the gay marriage bandwagon last year, OFA is now getting involved in local marriage equality battles, starting in Illinois. And that’s great. But it seems to confirm that OFA is not a vehicle for us to influence the White House. It is still following the White House’s agenda.)
One of those activists who had the wrong impression about OFA is the writer quoted below, who attended an OFA outreach meeting in Minnesota in order to move them to oppose the Keystone pipeline (again, my emphasis):
My friend Sharon Sund passed me an email this morning about an Organizing for Action meeting in South Minneapolis to discuss climate change activism. Sharon and I had been talking about local climate change activism earlier in the week so she thought I’d liked to go to this meeting and see what they are up to.
Organizing for Action (OFA) is an offshoot of the Obama campaign, a grassroots non profit that is separate from any campaign committee (so they don’t support or run candidates) that organizes in favor of Obama’s issues like getting some sensible gun regulation or immigration reform passed in Congress, or keeping Obama care intact. [This is the writer giving you his impressions of OFA.]
The organizer of the event described OFA’s structure and purpose, gave a bit of a pep talk, and then opened it up for discussion.
I was the first person to speak up, and after making a brief remark about some interesting climate science related news I won’t bother you with here, I brought up Keystone XL pipeline. I noted that it would be awful nice and a lot easier to get a climate change component of OFA going if Obama would just come out and say “no” to Keystone.
The official OFA response, blew me away. Keystone XL might be someone’s personal issue, and that was fine, but since the President was neutral on it at the moment, OFA was as well.
Do you think Obama is “neutral” on Keystone? Didn’t look like it last year. And it doesn’t look like it this year either:
Obama Hints at Approval of Keystone XL Pipeline at SF Fundraiser, Blames Middle Class Priorities
While President Obama didn’t address the Keystone XL Pipeline directly at a San Francisco fundraiser on Wednesday, he did give a hint that political reality – or his perception of it — will compel him to approve the final portions of it.
He said, “The politics of this are tough.”
“[T]he thing that I’m going to have to try to work to persuade the American people a little more convincingly on is this notion that there’s a contradiction between our economy and our environment is just a false choice,” Obama said at a San Francisco fundraiser.
“If we invest now, we will create jobs, we will create entire new industries; other countries will be looking to catch up, they will be looking to import what we do,” Obama said at one of two fundraisers supporting Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee efforts to retake the House next year.
Obama’s remarks came at the home of billionaire Tom Steyer, a major supporter of green energy and climate initiatives who is planning to play an active role in the 2014 elections.
Obama said earth’s temperature probably isn’t the “number one concern” for workers who haven’t seen a raise in a decade; have an underwater mortgage; are spending $40 to fill their gas tank, can’t afford a hybrid car, and face other challenges.
The remarks of the president didn’t mention Keystone, but given the recent State Department Report — written with input from pipeline consultants — that gave the project a green light, Obama appears to be preparing even a billionaire opponent for the inevitable: approval of the last segments of the Keystone XL Pipeline because of “the politics.”
“Written with input from pipeline consultants” — a tell, right? Not only does Obama look like the same Obama who wanted badly to let Hillary Clinton’s State Dept approve the Keystone Sludgepipe last year (yes it’s sludge; it has to be heated the whole way or it won’t even flow) — he’ s singing from the “jobs” playbook to divide the left this year.
Mark my words — “jobs” will be the number one way to divide the left on Keystone. Activists, be prepared. Which brings me back to OFA.
OFA tells Keystone activists they won’t play ball
Why would an organization tied to Keystone-hungry Barack Obama even attempt to lead a “climate” movement? Do they think that climate activists are swayed by State of the Union addresses with no follow-through? I can’t answer that, but the collision is coming, and soon:
President Obama’s grassroots operation has a message for environmentalists upset with their refusal to get involved with Keystone XL pipeline: Go someplace else. “The people who want to work on that issue, they should go work with 350.org and the organizations that are doing great work [on Keystone],” a senior official with Organizing for America told BuzzFeed.
“We’ve been explicit about that,” the official added. “You can’t go into an organization and say, ‘Well, I want to work on something else,’ when the organization says, ‘No, we’re not set up to do that.’”
Despite launching a national climate change campaign, OFA has come under fire from progressives because it has refused to become involved in the fight over the pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast for refinement. Instead, their new effort will target members of Congress who deny the science behind global warming.
Although OFA has made clear it won’t weigh in on the controversial project until Obama’s administration does, activists complain that’s not good enough. With several actions this week — a 500-person anti-Keystone rally outside the president’s Manhattan fundraiser Monday, and a call for advocates to storm OFA planning sessions with questions about the pipeline — the progressive community hopes to push OFA to not only start talking Keystone, but to pressure the White House to reject it.
Eddie Scher, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said it was only a matter of time before activists push OFA to more directly address the issue. “They’re gonna have to deal with it. We’re all gonna have to deal with this one,” said Scher. “This is the front line right now in this fight, and you can’t ignore it. You have to grapple with it, and there’s no subtle way out of it.”
I don’t share activists’ “hopes” that pushing OFA and Obama will have an effect. But I love this battle. Eddie Scher is right — “They’re going to have to deal with it.” And it’s a battle we can win. As with the battle over benefit cuts, they’re wrong on the policy and wrong on what people really really want.
What you can do
Do you care about the climate? Here’s where the Obama rubber meets the activists’ Keystone road. Now is the time to make a difference by making a fuss. Resistance is not futile — in fact, according to Chris Hayes it’s necessary.
I’ll have more ways to act as they come onto the radar. Trust me; this will get big, and soon. Keystone was stopped last year, and it can be stopped now. You just need to help. (And if you do, thanks!)
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