Was the Obama campaign grassroots?
IWhile it had high levels of volunteer involvement, the overall campaign strategy was decided from the top.
This top-level leadership made strategic decisions and set clear goals and plans for voter identification, volunteer recruitment, voter persuasion, and get out the vote. These came from the central campaign office and local field organizers and volunteers helped carry them out.
This is very different than the common image of grassroots organizations where the key strategic decisions come from the bottom up.
Still, I think the Obama campaign was grassroots, but it was also centralized.
I think people often confuse these two terms. You can have a grassroots campaign with high levels of volunteer involvement that is centralized (like the Obama campaign). You can also have a professional organization with no volunteeer organizaiton that is decentralized (some think tanks operate this way).
For me, as a grassroots volunteer, I appreciated the centralization. I could show up at the campaign office and be put to work. They had already figured out what I needed to do.
And if I wanted to improvise, Yes, there was room for bottom-up innovation, as will.i.am and Obama Girl showed.
My point here is not to say that there is one “right” type of grassroots organizing. Quite the opposice, both centralized and decentralized grassroots organizing have their benefits and their places.
My point is that we should know what we mean when we say we want a grassroots organization or a grassroots campaign. The answer will depend on a lot of things such as the organizations values, goals, and constituency.
Think this all through before you decide if you will depend on or reject strategic guidance from volunteers–or from professionals.