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Obama's Organizing for Action: A Boost for Progressives

President Obama's second inaugural address struck a populist tone, but the real news for progressives came last Friday when it was announced that Obama's campaign organization would continue under a new name, Organizing for Action.

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 President Obama's second inaugural address struck a populist
 tone, but the real news for progressives came last Friday
 when it was announced that Obama's campaign organization
 would continue under a new name, Organizing for Action.
 Headed by Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina, the new
 organization will initially focus on three key progressive
 issues: gun control, immigration reform, and climate change.
 The decision to use the Obama campaign base to mobilize
 around issues reverses the mistake made after the 2008
 victory, when the huge Obama for America grassroots base was
 cut adrift from mobilizing behind the President's first term
 agenda.
 After Obama's 2008 victory I wrote an article, "After the
grassroots campaign that brought Obama the presidency as
constituting the mobilizing base for his presidency. But in a
decision Obama now admits was a mistake, the operation was
cut off after the election.
 My enthusiasm for Organizing for Action (under the
 chairmanship of Messina but whose daily operations will be
 run by Executive Director Jon Carson) is based on two
 factors.
 First, Obama has been much more effective selling his
 proposals on the campaign trail than he has as President.
 Organizing for Action boosts the President's campaign
 mindset, and its clear from Messina and Carson's involvement
 that Organizing for Action will be far more ambitious than
 the limited Obama for America that emerged in 2009.
 Second, the Obama campaign has activist lists whose numbers
 dramatically exceed that of Move On, the AFL-CIO, and other
 external progressive mobilizing groups. In order to win on
 big issues like comprehensive immigration reform, it will
 take such an all hands on deck mobilization.
 Perfect Timing
 Obama's support for Organizing for Action shows that he is
 serious about taking the momentum from November and
 immediately applying it now. And with the debt ceiling issue
 now pushed back until June and Republicans in disarray, the
 timing is perfect for passing gun control and immigration
 reform.
 The question on gun control is whether Organizing for Action
will go into House Republican districts and publicly target
representatives opposing or not adequately supporting key
portions of the bill. As I urged when the President was
trying to get his stimulus package through in early 2009, the
best way to win these legislative fights is through the
Congressional fights over military aid to El Salvador in the
1980's. 
 This means high profile targeting of representatives who can
 be made to feel so uncomfortable about their pro-gun
 position that they will flip. Enough House Republicans' can
 be won over to pass strong gun controls, but this will not
 happen absent strong public pressure in their home
 districts.
 There has been a lot of optimism about immigration reform
 since Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio expressed
 support for a plan not that far from the President's likely
 bill. Yet enacting a strong immigration bill will also
 require resources beyond the coalitions of groups that have
 not been able to get a bill through in the past.
 Organizing for Action can dramatically increase the
 grassroots pressure on wavering legislators by bringing new
 resources and a broader base into the struggle. And for all
 of Rubio's talk, there is a past pattern of Republicans who
 sound open to Obama measures being yanked back into
 opposition by the pressures of the right-wing media machine.
 Climate Change?
 While Messina announced that climate change would be among
 Organizing for Action's early priorities, its not clear what
 this means. Obama highlighted climate change in his
 inaugural address, but left unstated what specific
 legislation he will propose.
 Obama stresses the importance of U.S. energy independence,
 but that's consistent with his failure to reject fracking.
 It's also consistent with supporting the Keystone XL
 pipeline, which makes a mockery of talk about combating
 climate change.
 With the two key environmental positions both open (EPA and
 Secretary of Interior), it's likely that green groups will
 be spending the next weeks working to get preferred
 candidates appointed. Both positions have vast
 administrative decision-making discretion, and Obama's
 choice of appointees will speak volumes.
 Obama increasingly sounds like someone who feels he missed
 opportunities in his first term and does not want to repeat
 past mistakes. We will know by the spring if his efforts on
 gun control and immigration reform have moved beyond past
 attempts, and this will also tell us whether Organizing for
 Action has made a difference.
 [Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist's Handbook and
 Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle
 for Justice in the 21st Century.]