The New Obama Campaign E-Mails, From Immigrants

Immigrants hold American flags and listen to the national anthem during a naturalization ceremony at the district office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Jan. 28 in Newark, N.J. Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images

Organizing for Action, the new tax-exempt political apparatus that President Obama’s former campaign staffers set up last month to push for his legislative agenda, is beginning to blitz supporters with casual, personal e-mails much like those that became a hallmark of Obama’s reelection campaign and drove millions of people to pour almost $690 million into the effort.

This week’s OFA e-mail came from an undocumented Mexican immigrant named Jose Magana and started with a simple question: “Where’s your family from?” Magana says he slept on couches for the first 17 years of his life and that he attended college until a change in his state’s law—he doesn’t say which state or law—forced him to drop out. He says he and other undocumented immigrants began advocating for the Dream Act, facing plenty of opposition along the way. Telling personal stories changed people’s minds, though, he writes. “At this critical moment, will you share your immigration story?” Organizing for Action needs the stories to “move the conversation forward” on immigration reform, as Magana puts it. Click over to the group’s site and you see it also “recommends” sharing your photos and videos when you send in your story.

What the political group will do with all that stuff isn’t clear. Could a tale make it into the president’s State of the Union address next week? Will the photos be used in ads pushing Obama’s immigration agenda? (Organizing for America hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.) What is clear, based on the submission terms and conditions, is that once you do hand over your personal content, it no longer belongs to you. OFA can use it as it sees fit, without compensating you, indefinitely.

Some supporters may balk at the notion of turning their digital data over to the president’s surrogates. According to a recording of a recent conference call that OFA’s national chairman Jim Messina held with former Obama campaign staffers and volunteers (Messina headed up the president’s re-election campaign), OFA has some experimenting to do to figure out what types of messaging will motivate supporters now that the election is over. As during the campaign, Messina said, the group will be rigorous about testing different approaches. “You know we don’t have all the answers about how we are going to build this organization yet,” he said, adding that “everything that we plan to do long term … will be tested and structured around the best data and evidence we can assemble, so that what we build works.” Amassing as much information as it can on supporters will certainly be a big part of that.

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