Opinion: Why we should be learning lessons from Howard Dean

Howard Dean is coming to town! Barack Obama certainly has two up on him in the Presidential election stakes – Obama got the nomination and got the Presidency – but for many interested in the question of how best to engage with the public and with active supporters in the internet age, Howard Dean is the real inspiration.

What Obama did last year was truly impressive – but impressive in quality and scale and eloquence rather than in innovation. When it came to breaking new ground in picking technologies to use and structuring a campaign around involving people rather than ordering them around, in many ways it was Dean who the innovator, whilst Obama was the hugely successful implementer.

Part of Dean’s appeal was and is his understanding of the sort of grassroots campaigning that immediately feels familiar to the Liberal Democrats. Brian Robson posted up yesterday this great quote from him:

Every day I’d leave work and drive directly to the ward to knock on doors. I knew if I went home first I’d find all sorts of reasons not to go back and pound the pavement. You’ve got to screw up your courage to go and knock on strangers’ doors. Every day I’d bang on a hundred doors. I knocked on every door in the ward twice over the summer and fall. One woman answered the door and said, “You must really want this.” “Yes I do”, I replied.

Absolutely! And what Dean did so well, both in much of his Presidential bid and then in his term as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was to find ways to take that enthusiasm and hunger for grassroots
engagement and inspire others to follow the same path. His 50 states strategy – not wanting to neglect weak areas whilst not taking away from the importance of key states and key swing districts – is something I think we can learn much from (and is a topic I wrote about last May).

The way he inspired people to get to their keyboards and help write the software his campaign needed – with the Coders for Dean – is also the spark behind the drive for volunteers we’ve started through our new Technology Advisory Board.

And his path-breaking work on the use of emails is something that we can learn from too, not just centrally but in all our local parties too.

So I’m really looking forward to Howard Dean’s visit – and if you can make it to our conference in Harrogate, I hope you can take the opportunity to enjoy it too at first hand.

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This entry was posted in Conference and Online politics.

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