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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Track & Field Grassroots?

Runnerville recently linked to a political article and asked the following question:
Barack Obama, whether you like him or not, has created one of the greatest grassroots movements ever. Can our sport learn from this?
Some important points from the article in case you're not a political junkie such as myself (I read this a week before it hit Runnerville).
Obama's successful recruitment of outsiders was born of necessity - Clinton enjoys endorsements from Ohio's popular governor and many Democratic officeholders. If she retains her (albeit shrinking) lead in the polls, it will mean that a traditional, top-down campaign rooted in the party establishment still can win in the clutch. But if Obama scores an upset, it could prove that a new breed of grassroots campaign - viral, internet-based, built from the ground up by neophytes like Antoinette McCall - is finally ready for prime time.
All winter, the heart of Hillary Clinton's campaign in central Ohio was Jamie Dixey's apartment in the affluent Columbus suburb of New Albany. She started by inviting nine friends over to listen in on a national conference call with Clinton. She organized two monthly meetings, both of which attracted about 10 people.
Dixey's counterpart on the Obama campaign, Valli Frausto, signed up to volunteer for Obama on Feb. 11, 2007, the day after he announced his candidacy. Immediately she found the social networking section of Obama's website,, which campaign insiders affectionately call "MyBO." Frausto posted a personal profile, just as she would on MySpace, and met other supporters online. Within six months, her group of three women had grown to over 200 members. Together they used the website's event planning tools to organize Obama for President picnics, neighborhood cleanups, phone banks and a 5K fund-raiser run.
Across the state, Obama's 300 web-based groups started canvassing neighborhoods three days to a week before Clinton's campaign...
Now, the results of yesterday's election are not necessarily a referendum on this system--I voted for a candidate, not an organizational chart. But six months ago, the conventional wisdom was that Clinton would more or less have it in the bag before Super Tuesday and it hasn't quite worked out that way. A strong and widespread grassroots organization has been one of the many factors that made a supposed non-contest into a highly competitive affair.

Enough with the political dissection. Can track & field take advantage of the internet in the same way? In some ways, it already has.

The strongest case can be made by Let's Run, which I think has transformed the domestic running community. Through the late 80s and well into the 90s, when I was young and pushing my limits, the conventional wisdom was lower milage/higher intensity and the name "Arthur Lydiard" was as dated as bellbottoms. I rejected all that, took the old-school approach, and got a lot out of my abject lack of talent, but I hardly knew anyone else under the age of 40 who agreed with me on the importance of milage. You wouldn't say that's true anymore. The Brojos are more responsible for the change of attitude than any other single entity.

I doubt this is what Matt Taylor is thinking about, though. He's all about raising the profile of the professional and major collegiate ends of the sport. Before we try to start up a grassroots effort to do something, what exactly do we want to do? Answer this question, and then we can try to get somewhere.

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