Obama’s OFA refusing to help on Keystone Pipeline

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):

keystoneMy 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.

At the home of a pro-green, anti Keystone XL Pipeline billionaire, Obama set up an excuse for approval:

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!)

À la résistance,

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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  • emjayay

    OK fine. I get your point, and you do have one. But there is indeed a lot that environmentally oriented people can do to reduce their own footprint by a lot and support bigger stuff like enivonmental laws that change things in the big picture.
    Minor point, but I’m guessing people with plug in hybrids or electric cars are the same people who pay a little more for electricity from wind power like I do (without the electric car). And buy more expensive organic food raised without fossil fuel derived and produced fertilizers and without impacting the environment with fossil fuel derived and produced pesticides, etc. etc. Even if the farmer does use a tractor, not horses.
    The reactionary righties are correct (!) in screaming about Al Gore’s big mansion. But not as loud as they will be screaming about the multitrillions of tax money that we will soon be spending to move cities away from coastlines. And abandon Florida.
    The earth is grossly overpopulated with humans, and most of them live on almost nothing anyway. The millions that do use a lot of energy could use half as much and generate it with half the pollution quite quickly if we all decided to do it. We just wouldn’t have as much (things would cost more) because of not treating the commons as a much as garbage dump. Obviously we have moved pretty far since 1970 but could go a lot farther in a short period of time if we wanted to.
    they’re: contraction for they are
    their: something belongs to them
    you’re: contraction for you are
    your: something belongs to you

  • cole3244

    he stands with the 1%, election time is over after all.

  • http://twitter.com/BillFromDover Bill from Dover

    “…and there are no viable alternatives that can replace it as a feedstock.”

    How many animals should we send to Arkansas?

  • GaiusPublius

    Every word a true one. Thanks.

    GP

  • indep_in_la

    The first mistake is to believe that Obama is an environmentalist. He is not, as was evident by his handling (mishandling) of the Gulf oil spill. Now he will blame the economy and needing to create jobs as the reason for permitting the pipeline. Remember, he’s doesn’t have to run for another election, so our concerns aren’t that big of a deal anymore.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    You forgot to replace heating oil with cow dung

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    If human civilization depends solely on fossil fuels to survive and won’t stop until the last drop is burned, and there are no alternatives to speak of worth pursuing. we are doomed.

    That’s your position. Mine is different.

  • Dtweet

    I suppose you walk everywhere you go, have a garden and never go to the supermarket, raise your own animals to eat (unless you’re vegan), take cold gravity fed showers, light youre home by candlelight, built youre home with hand tools that you forged with a wood fire, and wear clothes that you’ve knitted with cotton, leather, and wool that you raised and processed by hand, and don’t own anything chemical or plastic? nah I have a theory that anti fossil fuel people enjoy the heck out of they’re oil derived modern goods but to feel less guilty speak out against the same.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Like+++

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    When they change the name to Obozo For Armageddon, I will take notice. Until then it’s Hopeless and Changeless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    I suppose the most charitable interpretation that can be offered is that Obama and his partisans think that they can apply the usual method of agonizingly slow and incremental change. We’re going to let the Keystone Pipeline through for now because it creates jobs &c. but, trust us, we’re raising awareness of environmental issues that will pay off down the line! The same attitude has poisoned legislative attempts to deal with other issues.

  • Ford Prefect

    OFA was always a top-down hierarchy. It’s dedicated to Obama’s agenda and always has been–they even state so up front. We have BO’s entire record showing us what that agenda is. He just gave the fracking industry everything it could reasonably want. He just appointed a corporate funded frackster to be Secretary of Energy. He has always leaned towards approving Keystone XL and will almost certainly approve it. That’s just scratching the surface.

    On the plus side, he’s enough of a coward that he seems a tad nervous about it, which is good.

    Obama is a corrupt corporatist. That means OFA is also a corporatist front, a bit like the Tea Party orgs, but more tasteful in their demeanor. By all means, lobby them to your heart’s content, but don’t expect anything from them. They’re corporate foot soldiers, not policy-makers and that goes 99% of the way to explaining their position thus far. They do what they’re told and their managers are not going to bite the hand that feeds, ruining their career prospects.

    OFA will rally their troops to whatever cause they are assigned. As such, undermining them through delegitimization would probably be the most helpful to the cause–indeed, if anyone still cares about the future of the Democratic Party, delegitimizing OFA is a no-brainer, since they’ll suck the life out of any intra-party debate about anything. Reduce their influence and you reduce their power. That would reduce their impressive corporate funding and their impressive “caging” operations’ influence.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Unfettered, unregulated capitalism is like an undisciplined toddler.

    They see a giant frosted cake on the table. You tell them they shouldn’t eat it, that it needs to be saved for later, and that if they do eat it, they’ll get terribly sick.

    As soon as you turn your back, they are all but compelled to eat it anyway, and then spend the next several hours throwing up.

    Unfortunately for us, the ‘cake’ is the Earth’s biosphere. And ‘eating’ it (i.e., gorging on more burned carbon, especially tar sludge) could kill us all.

    For a slightly more humorous take on my particular metaphor, I offer Allie Brosh:

    http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-of-cake.html

  • nicho

    Yes, Obama scammed us the same way Reagan scammed his “base.”

  • GaiusPublius

    Thanks, Kim. Citizens and voters, take note. This is how you do it.

    GP

  • Kim_Kaufman

    Some friends and I checked out OFA after 2008 and one meeting in this new configuration. I am proud to say the “leaders” of Hollywood OFA group in 2009 hated me. They wanted to push Obama health care crap and I would not shut up about single payer. I also learned it’s best to go to these things with at least one friend and not be the only voice. A few people came up after and said they appreciated what I said but they were too timid themselves. This new version’s meeting in 2013 was a disorganized mess with me and a friend thumping no cuts to SS and Medicare and she on the Pipeline. I don’t think it’s met again or we have been disincluded. But I suspect it’s the former. I don’t think they’re organized enough to even take our names off their list. What I think OFA doesn’t realize is the people most likely to show up at these things — activists — are knowledgeable and against most of Obama’s policies. Of course there were plenty of uninformed Obamabots too.

  • clarenceswinney

    NEW–PLAYING GAMES WITH WEALTH
    The second term of Obama shows an average deficit of 500 Billion.
    Why cannot we have a progressive tax topped at 50% and start paying down the horrid debt?
    It is possible but not as long as the wealthy have control.
    They are not willing to sacrifice as was done 1945 to 1980 as we paid down the WWII Debt.
    Good paying jobs have gone overseas along with health care insurance and pensions.

  • Indigo

    Well, no. The political process is the political process. Translation: he won’t do a damn thing because the pressure isn’t there. I’ve come to think that President Obama is nothing more than another Reaganite, The solid center of his thinking is self-interest supported by the advisers and investors that surround him. The Street has invested heavily in him because, and maybe it’s slightly true that we supported him with enthusiasm, because he makes good window-dressing. That’s a Reagan. Let’s not do that again. As for serious issues on the climate, we’ll have to go through the Koch Brothers and, unless, I seriously misunderstand their message, that door is warded with spells and demons and the incessant mutterings of George Will.

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