“We got used to the politics of disappointment -- figuring out how soon we were going to be let down. ... There’s a different dynamic in the ... politics of hope. It’s much more challenging. It means you’ve got to get up and do something. There’s opportunity. If you don’t take advantage of that opportunity, you really have to bear responsibility for not doing so. That’s how I see the time we’re in. ”
One of the most unique and exciting elements of the 2008 Obama campaign was the distributed leadership model. When we were starting out, during the spring and summer of 2008, we had so many volunteers to organize, so much work to do, and no full-time staff, that we had no choice but to embrace the distributed leadership model.
The challenge of distributed leadership is that responsibility spreads out far beyond the campaign staff. So individual volunteers can take on leadership roles. These can be functional roles like phone bank coordinator, canvass coordinator, and data entry coordinator. They may also be geographic roles, like town, or ward, or precinct coordinator. People use a variety of terms - captain, lead, organizer - but the resulting responsibility is the same.
On reason that Cambridge-Somerville for Change has adopted this model is that it allows part-time, unpaid organizers to take turns in leadership and responsibility, sharing the workload. As people have more time, they can take on more work. When more tasks come up, we can share in the decision-making, and share in the resulting workload. This requires a fair amount of communication and collaboration. It tends to work because we share the same goals - supporting progressive candidates, advocating for progressive policies, and building the progressive movement.
The challenges we face, as an organization, tend to be most difficult when our goals don't all align around a single course of action. But one of the great qualities of the distributed leadership model is that, as long as we don't all go in different directions, organizers can vote with their feet, spending time on the projects which are most important to them. When we get together to make plans, we can advocate for spending more time with, for example, the Elizabeth Warren campaign, or more time with the Obama campaign, or more time supporting like-minded activist groups.