Obama's Missed Opportunity
by Melissa Ryan, Fri Apr 04, 2008 at 07:08:07 AM EDT
Campaign emails don't usually excite me. I'm on so many lists that some days it's all I can do to even glance at them. But the subject line of Obama's latest email caught my eye. It read: Organizing Fellowship. The word fellowship got me interested.
From the email emphasis mine:
I got my chance on the South Side of Chicago, as a community organizer, and it was the transformative experience of my career.
It allowed me to put my values to work and to see that real change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, when ordinary people come together around a common purpose.
The experience changed the course of my life -- and I want to share that kind of opportunity with you.
That's why we're introducing a program that's going to train a new generation of leaders -- not only to help us win this election, but to help strengthen our democracy in communities across the country.
The Obama campaign has set up an application page on their website and included a video with the Senator urging people to apply. The email ends with Obama saying that by working together ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
But there's a problem. The fellowships don't pay a salary and they don't offer a stipend. How many ordinary people, excluding students but honestly most students can't afford to do this either, do you know that could apply for an unpaid three month position?
I'm stuck on the word fellowship. At first glance it looked like the campaign was creating something along the lines of The Campaign Corp that Emily's List runs or Students for a New American Politics. But the closer I looked the more it seemed like another internship, with an emphasis on community organizing.
I hate to be critical because the idea itself is good. But it could have been so much better. Does the fellowship create any new opportunities or is it just another avenue for the usual suspects who would otherwise be interns? Most campaigns and organizations can't afford to pay stipends or wages for these positions, but Obama is working with a much larger budget (and vision?). If anyone can afford to create a genuine fellowship program within a campaign, Obama can. If anyone understands the importance of grassroots activism in local communities it's Barack Obama.