Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Economic Recovery Meeting (and what we really talked about)

A small but engaged group turned out for the Seacoast for Change Economic Recovery Meeting at The Friendly Toast on Wednesday, February 11. The Portsmouth event was one of approximately 3,500 gatherings organized by grassroots volunteers in over 1,500 cities in response to a call by Organizing for America (aka "OFA 2.0") to gather friends and neighbors to share fact sheets and talking points on the Obama administration's stimulus plan. The main focus of the meetings, according to the event hosting guide, "is to share your story, the story of your neighbors, and collect the stories of your community during this economic crisis" -- and report it all to OFA 2.0 through the organization's web site.

As OFA 2.0's first official attempt to enlist the pro-Obama masses to support the President's agenda, the economic recovery meetings have received considerable press attention (WMUR sent a news crew to cover our Seacoast get-together). Not all media reports have been positive (there's a good summary here on the FiveThirtyEight blog), with several news stories and commentaries painting OFA 2.0 as dead on arrival. Even the most optimistic coverage acknowledges that convincing a diverse and independent-minded grassroots base to amplify President Obama's message with a single voice is going to be tricky, and the whole thing could fall flat if the budding army of citizen activists grows disenchanted with OFA 2.0's not-so-inclusive approach to social movement organizing. But it's also clear from reports that Seacoast for Change is one of dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of well-organized, ready-to-go grassroots groups planning action in communities around the country.

On the topic of media reporting, it was pretty obvious that the WMUR reporter who covered Wednesday night's event had been assigned a story on public reaction to debates about the stimulus plan in relation to NH infrastructure spending -- which is an important and timely issue, but I can assure you that those of us who gathered at the Toast last night did not spend the entire evening to talking about the sad state of the Memorial Bridge, and what to do about it. We did, however, talk about the need to increase education spending and create new jobs by investing in green industry, solving the health care crisis, filling the gaps in publicly-funded safety net through community service, and the causes and consequences of extreme income inequality in the United States. (Due to a technical glitch, we did not view a short video of DNC Chair Tim Kaine responding to questions about the stimulus package and announcing the soon-to-be launched web site, which you can watch here.)

With the stimulus bill on track for a final vote before the end of the day, it's worth noting that although far from perfect, the recovery package is -- as Bernie Horn writes for the Campaign for America's Future blog -- "the biggest and boldest progressive legislation of the past 40 years" and a Darn Good First Step.