Friday, May 23, 2008

Texting with Obama on the campaign trail

The small figures on the stage are Rep. Robert Wexler and Commissioner Stacy Ritter.

The parking lot at the Bank Atlantic arena in Sunrise was full to the brim when I arrived – late, having also heard Barack Obama’s earlier foreign policy speech in downtown Miami. Other late arrivals were still streaming in. The lobbies were busy with concessions but missing something, I thought: lots of desks where people could sign up to volunteer for and donate to the Obama campaign.

Inside, the seats were full almost to the rafters and a thousand or so standing people milled around the stage. It’s a great crowd, but a missed opportunity to sign up 10,000 people, I thought.

Sorry, Larry. That was the old way of doing a campaign. Here’s how they did it instead, no paper to get lost, no rustling up scores of tables and banners and a vast staff to collect the names and enter them in a database.

Before the presumptive nominee arrived, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler and Broward Commissioner Stacy Ritter warmed up the crowd, and Ritter, the chair of Obama’s campaign in Broward, got many in the crowd to volunteer without effort – the Web 2.0 way, the SMS way, via text messages.

“Everybody has a cell phone, right?” she cried.

“This is Florida, Broward, everybody has a cell phone, right?” she repeated. “Get it out. Text FL to 622-62.”

That’s how you volunteered: text FL to 622-62. Takes 20 seconds. I saw tons of people do it in the upper balcony where I sat, and they did it happily. A woman in front of me wasn’t yet a texter, so she had her husband do it on her mobile. And she laughed and enjoyed her enrollment in Obama’s volunteer corps.

That, to me, was the news of the event – something new. The speech was great, so was the one earlier to the Cuban American National Foundation in downtown Miami, but I had heard the ideas before. This smooth use of technology in front of 16,000 people (est. by the Sun-Sentinel) was confirmation of what we’re reading about the Obama campaign.

This has been in The Nation and also, more recently, in The Atlantic. We might have been more familiar with this if there had been a lot of campaigning in Florida, but no, we’re getting it late in the game. And it’s impressive.

Let me refer you to a summary in The Atlantic, June issue, where the author opines that Obama’s use of technology puts him in a league with other presidents who became powerful through new communications media. The examples were Andrew Jackson (improved printing presses and the use of the postal service), Abraham Lincoln (vigorous growth of newspapers), Franklin Roosevelt (radio chats), John Kennedy (television).

Now we’re in the Web age, and if we hadn’t had a Republican dolt for president for eight years (It’s on the internets, he ventured) we might be like some countries with a lot of public WiFI, or like Britain, with a Web address to petition the government.

“If Obama wins,” the article concludes, “and if he can harness the Web as a unifying force once the voting is done, he could be a powerful president indeed – the kind that might even deliver on some of the audacious promises that Obama the candidate has made.” It goes on to say that the Web could stall him, too, but I prefer to dwell on the delivering of audacious promises. Of which I heard plenty Friday in two speeches.

And by the way, Text FL to 622-62. And don’t forget to volunteer for your local Democratic Party, too.


Richard Charman said...

I agree with this post entirely.

I attended both events: the CANF at the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami (although I didn’t seat for lunch) and the Rally in Sunrise.

At the CANF I was able to make contacts with supporters from other countries attending the event, with whom I exchanged ideas about the Obama’s campaign and his possibilities of seizing the presidency and delivering as promised.

Truly, the Rally for Obama in Sunrise was a missed opportunity of starting a great database of supporters. I have videos of the diverse crowd. People of all ages, social levels and ethnic background gathered to hear and to cheer Senator Barack Obama.

I interviewed a Jewish veteran, enthusiastic about being able to see Obama sworn as president. I also met a family from Dominican Republic, all of them supporter of Barack Obama and willing to volunteer for his campaign. Angelica, the youngest member of the family, knowing that I am working with Dave Patlak in the Nationwide Voters Registration that started on May 10, 2008, wanted a picture taken together.

She was offered a printed sign of Obama but she gently declined the offer stating the she preferred the one reading “Florida Loves Obama” because it was handmade by her for Obama. I got the printed sign.

On my way out I found a woman with four children. She was wearing a T-shirt of Obama and approached me, asking for my printed sign. I stated that this was given to me and was the only one that I had.
She looked sadly and said “I wanted to have one to put on my wall at home for my children and family to see”. After that she said goodbye and walked away. I called her and gave her the sign at which time her face brightened and the children shouted “Yes we can”.

If you want to exchange videos and pictures and team up with me, my contact information is Richard Charman, telephone number (305)636-4400. I posted videos and pictures on my Webstore at, my Youtube account and on my blog on my profile at .

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