Sunday, April 26, 2009

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part CVIII: Karin Robinson

Karin Robinson was the Regional Field Director for the Obama campaign under the Democratic Party during last year's Presidential campaign. Currently she is Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad UK and working as an independant consultant on communications strategy and member engagement. She was born near Boston Massachusetts, lived in Washington, DC for many years but by now has pretty much settled here in London. Karin blogs at

What made you decide to start blogging?

Sheer practicality – I wanted to make sure that anyone who was searching for a way to support the Obama campaign here in London would be able to find us. The Obama London blog seemed the ideal way to make our presence Google-y. I only discovered after I got the thing started that writing it was actually a lot of fun. By now I’m sort of hooked – can’t seem to stop myself!

What is your best blogging experience?

I remember one time we were organising a rally for Obama to raise our visibility, to be followed by a canvass on the South Bank on a beautiful sunny Sunday. My co-organiser and I arranged to be there a little ahead of time, and about 10 minutes before we turned to each other and admitted that we weren’t sure anyone was actually going to turn up – our confirmed RSVPs were really low. 15 minutes later we had a throng of about 75 people and some solid chanting going on. And they almost all stayed to canvass the whole afternoon, plastering the town in search of US voters.

Seems a bunch of people really had been following our promotion of the event on the blog, and eventually a bunch of them became ongoing phone bank and canvass volunteers. It felt like a real vindication.

And your worst?

I had to switch on comment moderation in the last two weeks of the campaign because I was getting some pretty offensively racist anti-Obama spam turning up in comments, and even some personal abuse against myself. But overwhelmingly blogging has been a great experience and I meet 100 wonderful new people for every anonymous jerk that pops up – so no complaints.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

I wrote a piece making the argument for national healthcare in the US from the point of view of Americans abroad, which got cross posted quite a few places. I was even approached by a book publisher about getting it republished as an article in a series on the issue.

What I was proud of was the way I was able to combine personal experience with data to make a less well known argument for an issue that’s already really well known.

Favourite blogs?

Obviously, I’m obsessed with American political blogs. Andrew Sullivan’s blog at the Atlantic,, (a sports statistician turned political analyst – best poll analysis anywhere), and Matthew Yglesias at In terms of UK blogs, I like yours. Also, the Daily (Maybe), I do like Alastair Campbell’s and I always check out LibDemVoice and Liberal Conspiracy.

How did you get involved with running the Obama Campaign in the UK?

I’ve been working with Democrats Abroad here in the UK for many years, and had met a lot of expats through that work. So early on in the Primary when I decided to support then-Senator Obama for the nomination I was in a good position to pull together a grassroots supporter group. That group grew and thrived, working on fundraising but also voter registration and get out the vote work. So when the general election started they approached me and asked me to take on the staff role under the Democratic National Committee covering all of UK plus Ireland, Scandinavia and South Africa.

How would you define the American blogosphere?

Gosh – that’s like saying, “How’s the weather on Earth?” I’d say on the whole left wing blogs are a little more successful than they are here. There’s also been some amazing examples of real journalism conducted by some US bloggers – for instance, Talking Points Memo, which I mentioned before, was responsible for an important story about the firing of 7 US Attorneys for political reasons. They pieced together the story by asking readers around the country to send in local reports of firings, and were able to work backwards from there to prove the pattern. Of course, we also have quite a lot of bloggers whose role is just to have a good rant now and again. Which is cool too!

What are the lessons Labour as a Party can learn from the Obama campaign?

I think Labour has a massive problem in that it’s turned off the bright young progressives who ought to be the heart and soul of their efforts going into the general election. The Obama campaign was all about recruiting and motivating activists, and frankly I think the fact that we had an intensely fought primary within the party was helpful for that – our activists genuinely had a say in the direction the party went in. So... try to do that.

To some extent, this is also about demonstrating sincere appreciation for your supporters, and also respect for the voters. Treat your activists like real partners, giving them lots ways to help you every single day (not just the occasional organised canvass) and treat the voters who aren’t currently supporters like thoughtful adults.

Apart from that, I also think it helped that Obama had a really clear vision from the beginning about what the race was all about – “changing the way Washington works” – and he stuck by it relentlessly through the storms and squalls of the campaign. I don’t think Labour (or the LibDems, or the Tories) have yet presented us with that overarching rationale about what the election means and why it matters. Maybe they don’t have one, but if they don’t then I fear nothing they can learn from the Obama campaign will be of any help to them.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

Oh everywhere! South America – Brazil especially, if I can ever persuade my husband to go with me. I’d like to see more of Scandinavia, having loved it when I visited for the Campaign. Especially the Fjords. (I like saying “fjords”.)

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

I can’t imagine I would ever tire of Tuscany. And the Greek Islands. And the South of France. And Barcelona. And... hmmm... now I’m feeling seriously stir crazy. Must do some travelling.

Do you have a favourite political figure in history?

I’ve always had a thing for Elizabeth I – if she counts as a political figure. She’s fascinating in how she understood but surpassed the limits then imposed on women, and the cunning way she played the games of court to ensure a long a successful reign, but failed utterly to make provisions for her own succession. As I say, fascinating, powerful, flawed, and human.

Which figure has been your greatest inspiration?

Barack Obama, obviously. I just think he’s the exact right person for this exact moment in history.

Favourite Bond movie?

Goldeneye. I love the attempt to come to terms with a post-cold war world, and the introduction of Judi Dench as M., giving an elegiac feel to the dead old world of glamorous sexism and Boys Own Adventures.

As you can probably tell, I’m not normally a huge Bond fan.

Favourite Doctor Who?

I’ve hated Doctor Who my entire life until Russell T. Davies rescued it from tedium, and I’m now obsessed. And I’ve seen David Tennant play Hamlet, so he’s obviously my guy. I like him muchly. But I always did like men tall, pale and European. Yes, Scottish counts as European.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?


Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

Hmmm... late eighties Queen?

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?

Barsby. Because I’ve never even heard of it, and change is good.

Favourite national newspaper?

Washington Post. In the UK – a pox on them all. I read the Times, when forced.

What would you say your hobbies were?

Reading. Hiking. Swimming. Blogging. Obsessing over my cats.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

A Change is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

Fairytale of New York, The Pogues

Alison, Elvis Costello

Possession, AS Byatt

The Sandman (Graphic Novels), Neil Gaiman

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

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