Barack Obama’s victory last November, improbable though it was, did not come out of nowhere. Rather, his campaign was indebted to the lessons and traditions of community organizing. Of course, before he became a politician,Obama organized the churches of Chicago’s South Side. But there’s a longer lineage. If the new book by organizing guru and former Obama advisor Marshall Ganz is any indication, it’s clear that the Obama campaign was influenced by the 1960s and 1970s organizing efforts of Cesar Chavez.
In Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement (Oxford, June), Ganz details how Chavez emerged from nowhere to lead the fight to unionize farm workers. The similarities between Chavez’s campaign strategy and Obama’s are striking. You could say that Chavez provided Obama with a first draft.
Ganz’s personal history and strategic insights make his argument for him. In 1964, Ganz dropped out of Harvard, and a year later he joined Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association in California, where he soon ascended the leadership ranks. Decades later, things came full circle when Ganz returned to Harvard as a teacher, preaching the gospel of organizing to the American elite. In the summer of 2007, he was recruited by the Obama for America campaign. At several “Camp Obama” retreats for staffers and allies, he explained the principles of community organizing—principles that would later lead Obama to victory against Hillary Clinton and then John McCain.
Why David Sometimes Wins is a look back as well as a look forward. Ganz recounts the gripping story of Chavez and the farm workers and synthesizes Chavez’s lessons to explain why the farm workers triumphed against the odds. He distills community organizing to its most fundamental, and effective, principles.