Chris Hughes is one of the co-founders of Facebook, and was the online strategist for the Obama campaign.
The people who can take credit for Obama's victory are the couple million people who made phone calls and hosted house parties and raised money and knocked on doors and did that by-the-book campaigning. But they were able to do that just a little bit more efficiently because of technology, and the tools we provided for them online.We were fortunate to have an incredibly talented group of people in Chicago who understood the potential of technology. But the general philosophy was much less about what we were doing holed up in our offices, and much more about getting out of the way of the grassroots supporters and organizers who were already out there making technology the most efficient vehicle possible for them to be able to organize. That was a huge emphasis of our program: with people all over the place online-Facebook, MySpace, and a lot of other different networks-we worked hard to make sure anyone who was energized by the campaign and inspired by Barack Obama could share that enthusiasm with their friends, get involved, and do tangible things to help us get closer to victory. The Obama campaign was in many ways a good end to the grassroots energy that was out there.
[Obama's] own background as a community organizer in Chicago meant that from the start, the basic values of the campaign were empowering supporters to take control and responsibility for how the campaign would go. That included everything from helping them self organize on the ground but also having a very open process for coming up with policy decisions. MyBarackObama.com hooked in supporters who took the campaign into their own hands and self organized in their communities-nearly 2 million of them.
The calling tool that we had on the website for much of the general election is a good example of how we were able to make technology work for our supporters and our cause. Making phone calls is something that has always been done in politics; it's one of the most important tools that any campaign has. So we weren't about to reinvent the wheel. But in the past, in order to make call on behalf of a candidate, you had to get in your car, go to the office, get list of potential supporters, and only then could you make those phone calls. It was a real event, and a barrier to participation. We created an online calling tool so that anybody could make campaign calls from anywhere, at anytime. The technology lowered the barrier to access by making it easier to make phone calls for the campaign, so more phone calls were made. Technology made it easier to do something that's always been done.
There is no way that you can look at this campaign and neglect to notice that when an energized group of people is able to really get involved, they can achieve incredible things. Unfortunately, a lot of other campaigns that don't have that grassroots energy, and I don't think there is as much emphasis on harnessing it. I hope that will change, and I hope technology can be one way to make it easier for candidates to access that and to use it to their advantage.
As told to Eric Steuer. Press the play button below to listen to a full version of the interview.
Eric Steuer is the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for creators to share their work with the rest of the world. It also provides tools to make it easier for people to find creative work that's been made available to them-and the rest of the world-to use, share, reuse etc., freely and legally. This is the first in a series of edited and condensed interviews called "We like to share," in which Steuer talked to people who work across a variety of fields who use sharing as an approach to benefit the work that they do.
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