When Barack Obama was elected a little over a month ago, he spoke on the shores of Lake Michigan about what it would take to reassemble our country.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers – in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

And with that context, I’d like to take a look at something Mike brought to our attention on Thursday. Thomas Bates and Jason Carter from Democrats Work, an organization that aims to mobilize grassroots Democrats to work on visible, tangible service projects in their local communities, penned a piece in Roll Call this week encouraging the DNC to restructure itself to emphasize service instead of politics as usual.

This would be a brilliant move for a couple of reasons.

  1. It obviously keeps the large grassroots activism of the Obama campaign alive. Many of those people who were in Obama’s organization were some of the most fervent supporters we have seen in recent campaigns. We can’t afford to let them fall by the wayside as past campaigns have done. We need to harness their energy by asking them to do something. As they invest more time into these projects and the Democratic Party, we build brand loyalty with the Democratic Party. These supporters are not only watching the Democratic stars on TV, hoping they’ll vote the right way, or sign this bill into law, etc.; they’re out in the streets, donating their own time and taking ownership of their party.
  2. As we all know, Millennials are fanatical about service. There is no better way to not only maintain — but increase — the number of those identifying with the Democratic Party among 18-29 year olds. There are many people our age who have the typical Millennial progressive views on issues, but they don’t see them in the operation of the Democratic Party because the fundraising and ads look too much like the GOP in action. A party rooted in service to others would be a large magnet for most Millennial voters — already one of the most important voting blocs in our electorate. This approach would it make much harder for people to say Democrats don’t stand for anything.
  3. Finally, it would make the Republican Party look incredibly self-centered and ancient. While the Democrats would be doing canned food drives, cleaning up communities, and establishing relationships with residents at the street level all over the country, the GOP would be relying on the classic 20th Century direct mail-fundraising and ad strategy. Fox News, subtly telling voters that Democrats are angry people who want to orchestrate the demise of the United States from within, would suddenly turn into a parody of itself, thanks to these voters looking out their windows and seeing young, impressive Democrats having fun outside, picking up litter. People would see Democrats doing something. Alternatively, Republicans, trying to pick between Neiman Marcus-wearing Sarah Palin and venture capitalist Mitt Romney to find a standard-bearer for 2012, would alternatively seem too focused on achieving short-term political gain to responsibly take control of the country.

Back in the middle part of the Nineteenth Century, party organizations were a community affair. Picnics and dances and dinners were held, not just to get votes, but to cultivate relationships in the local community. Of course, this social dedication to one’s party through the investment of time would lead to increased support on election day.

At a time when the nation again seems to be trending toward being more civically engaged, the Democratic Party has a chance to re-define patriotism, restoring it to something closer to its original meaning: the service and responsibility Obama called for in his Election Night address. Should the party fail to do this, it would be doing itself and all of us a disservice. (No pun intended.)

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