SixFifty

lessons from America

Florida calling

“If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world, you’d do it”

So opens Sarah Silverman’s brilliant video promoting ‘The Great Schelp” – a massive co-ordinated effort this past weekend for young Jews to visit their grandparents or other elderly Jewish relatives in Florida and try and persuade them to vote Obama.  And for those who can’t afford the airfare, a phone call instead. For the targets are supposively non-internet savvy.  Not all of them though, as my 92 year old relative in Florida checks her emails daily, in-between sessions on the tennis court, the golf course and the pool. 

As figures quoted on the BBC suggest, the Great Schlep has been huge:

“1.5 million people have downloaded the file. And more than 2.5 million people have viewed comedian Sarah Silverman’s welcome video. The group has more than 18,000 friends on the social networking site Facebook.”

The scale. The audacity. The humour for a serious purpose.  The successful tapping into a cultural network.  The mobilisation for an electoral cause.  The cheap cost of setting it all up. And the use of web-organising for an offline activity, especially one that is about individual face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact.  I am so impressed … and jealous.  This is political activity at its best: making activism very accessible, and  also trying to persuade voters one-by-one based on the personal recommendation of someone close to them. 

Outside of the trade unions, we don’t here really have any non-party actors making the case for voting for a particular candidate/party, and mobilising people to do so.   Our political parties are tainted as brands, either distrusted or simply not seen as relevant or appealing to most people.  So how do you go about making a more credible pitch?  You don’t do it with party branding and official sanction.  Instead, as done here with The Great Schelp, supporters create their own groups and brands – made easier by the power of new technology – and away into their communities they go.  We do have “Scientists for Labour”, “Society of Labour Lawyers”, “The Jewish Labour Movement” and others that my Labour Party diary lists. But the difference is two-fold: (i) they all have the party name in their title and (ii) they are all officially affiliated to the Party, have voting / representation rights etc.   A supporter group like “Africans for Labour” at least is getting closer, but not being an affiliated organisation.

Incidentally, the Republicans had a counter-effort, led by that infamous Democrat, Independent, turncoat and wannabe McCain’s no:2 Joe Lieberman.   He represents the old school in every way: from the way he operates and thinks about politics, to his hawkishness on foreign policy.  The trends are very much going away from him: both in his own state of Conneticut, in Florida and amongst the Jewish population as a whole.  As quoted in that same BBC article:

“Nationwide, Jewish people are twice as likely to vote for Mr Obama than Mr McCain, according to a national survey carried out by J Street, a pro-Israel pro-Middle-East-peace organisation, in July.”

And that mirrors views in Israel itself. “Israelis for Obama” perhaps surprisingly seems to be more than norm than Israelis for McCain.  Though it should be noted, having spoken with my mum who has recently returned from 3 weeks in Jerusalem, that the US elections are not the highest political concern in that country.  They have their own scandals, elections and new leader to worry about.

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October 13, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, lessons from America | , , , , | 2 Comments