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How the Obama Campaign Makes "Two Minute Volunteers"

The Obama presidential campaign made waves last week when it announced Obama '08: The Official iPhone Application. This free application hit the iTunes App Store Top 10, and has generated nearly 700 reviews so far. Whether you're an Obama supporter or not, it's an interesting move: the campaign is using technology to decentralize the campaign effort, effectively turning thousands of individuals across the nation into micro-call centers. This effort is likely to be mirrored by future campaigns, and I wouldn't be surprised if the McCain campaign was working on something similar right now.

So how does it work? Well, the Obama '08 application's most innovative function -- labeled "Call Friends" -- looks inside your address book and organizes your contacts by battleground state, with buttons allowing you to call those contacts. This is really clever, but in retrospect pretty obvious -- you've got a device that makes phone calls, and you've got a list of people's phone numbers and addresses inside the device: put these things together and you've got a call center on the go. The application also ranks the battleground states (sorting the most contentious at the top of the list), and allows you to track statistics about who you've called and how they intend to vote. The idea is to encourage individuals to perform a function usually left to old school call centers, in which staffers and volunteers call down the voter rolls, trying to get out the vote for their candidate. Presumably the Obama campaign's hope is that legions of iPhone owners will call their friends in battleground states and convince them to vote Democratic. Project director Raven Zachary dubs these callers "Two Minute Volunteers," for the tiny slices of time required to call a friend and talk politics. (Having said that, I suspect it'll take more like ten minutes to really have a discussion. Or you might be a "One Minute Volunteer" and just leave a voicemail.)

But what about privacy?

Well, the designers of the Obama '08 application are very careful to disclose that the application doesn't "phone home" with any personal or private information -- its privacy policy is displayed inside the application, in a detailed screen that appears before you begin calling anyone (you have to opt in, in other words). The application does record anonymized statistics about the number of calls made through the application, and reports those statistics back to home base. There's no personally identifying information about who was called or who made the calls, but the campaign is able to measure the aggregate usage of the application and per-user (anonymous) statistics. Five days after launch, the application reports a nationwide total of 19,072 calls made by 4,211 people. The most active user called 100 people.

Obama iPhone app - IssuesBeyond the "Call Friends" feature, the application contains a complete list of issues that effectively constitutes the Obama/Biden platform. Labeled "Issues," the list is divided into a long series of categories including Education, Economy/Taxes, Faith, Healthcare, Iraq, and (my favorite) Women. The issues screens include direct quotes from Obama himself, along with detailed information from the campaign about the platform on that particular subject. The detail is impressive: there are pages of content for each issue -- enough to get a good idea of the specifics of the candidate's plans. Each issue can be emailed to a friend (the iPhone does email, remember) or further explored on the web. I think this is a great idea: it lends substance to the debate, and allows you to check up on what exactly the candidate thinks about a specific issue. It's the ultimate cocktail party conversation resource (as long as your cocktail parties are Obama-themed).

Other features include news, audio and video, local events, volunteer information, and of course a "Donate" button. But I think the "Call Friends" and "Issues" sections will have the biggest impact on the political process, and many of the reviews on the iTunes App Store have focused on these functions. You can learn more about the application from the Obama campaign's website, or read various developer blogs about the project.

Full disclosure: I'm friends with a few of the developers who volunteered their time to build this application. I haven't contributed to it and (as you can hopefully tell above) I'm not taking sides in the political debate -- but I am interested in technology and how it affects our daily lives, hence this blog post. In any case, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Have you used the app? Do you love it, hate it, think it's weird? Are you a McCain supporter who wants to see something similar? Let us know.

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Collection of the New-York Historical Society, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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History
20 Powerful Quotes From Frederick Douglass
Collection of the New-York Historical Society, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Collection of the New-York Historical Society, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In his 1845 memoir, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, the famed abolitionist wrote that, “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.” Later in life, Douglass—who was born into slavery in Maryland—chose February 14 as his official birthdate, with some historians speculating that he was born in 1818.

Douglass would, of course, go on to become one of the most powerful leaders of the anti-slavery movement, working as an advisor to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and later becoming the first African American citizen to hold a government position. In 1872, he was Victoria Woodhull’s running mate in her bid for the presidency (even though he never officially accepted or acknowledged the nomination). He was also a dazzling orator, as these 20 quotes prove.

1. ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PROGRESS AND STRUGGLE

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

2. ON THE UNIVERSALITY OF SORROW

“A smile or a tear has not nationality; joy and sorrow speak alike to all nations, and they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man.”

3. ON THE VALUE OF EDUCATION

“Some know the value of education by having it. I know its value by not having it."

4. ON THE DENIAL OF JUSTICE

“The American people have this to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither person nor property is safe.”

5. ON MEASURING INJUSTICE

“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

6. ON EMPOWERING YOUTH

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

7. ON MORAL GROWTH

“A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.”

8. ON THE SECURITY OF A NATION

“The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”

9. ON THE NEED FOR POWER

“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”

10. ON FREE SPEECH

“To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

11. ON REBELLION

“The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.”

12. ON THE CONSEQUENCE OF SLAVERY

“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”

13. ON RIGHT VERSUS WRONG

“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

14. ON WORKING FOR WHAT YOU GET

“People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.”

15. ON THE POWER OF KNOWLEDGE

“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”

16. ON THE NECESSITY OF IRONY

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.”

17. ON REMAINING TRUE TO ONESELF

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

18. ON THE IMPENETRABILITY OF ONE’S SOUL

“The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”

19. ON THE COLOR OF ONE’S CHARACTER

“A man's character always takes its hue, more or less, from the form and color of things about him.”

20. ON USING THE PAST TO MAKE A BETTER FUTURE

“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.”

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James Dean and 12 Other Celebrity Quakers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though you probably remember learning all about Quakers and their doctrine of the "Inner Light" in middle school, your teacher probably didn't tell you that James Dean was one. To celebrate what would have been the Rebel Without a Cause's 87th birthday, here are 13 famous Quakers.

1. JAMES DEAN

Sent off to be raised by his father's sister in Fairmont, Indiana, James Dean was raised Quaker. And though the faith may not have played the biggest role in his life or career (there are tales that it was through befriending a Methodist reverend that he was encouraged to pursue his loves of bullfighting, car racing, and theater), today he's buried in a Quaker cemetery.

2. RICHARD NIXON

US president Richard Nixon (L) toasts with Chinese Prime Minister, Chou En Lai (R) in February 1972 in Beijing during his official visit in China
AFP/Getty Images

While the nation made a big deal about John F. Kennedy being Catholic, it's interesting to note that old Richard Milhous Nixon was born and raised Quaker. He was raised with strict conservative Quaker values, which included no swearing, no drinking, and no dancing. When he couldn't afford to go to Harvard, despite earning a scholarship, he attended California's Whittier College, a local Quaker college, where he became class president, started a fraternity, practiced with the football team, and even spent his Sundays teaching Sunday school to kids.

3. ANNIE OAKLEY

Annie Oakley—the sharp-shooting female who was rumored to split playing cards edge-wise, then shoot through them a few times before they hit the ground—grew up a dirt-poor Quaker. In fact, her early skill with the gun came from having to hunt food for her impoverished family.

4. DANIEL BOONE

American settler, hunter, and folk hero Daniel Boone was born and raised Quaker. In fact, his family emigrated to the U.S. from England partially for that reason. What's more interesting, however, is why the Boone family didn't stay within the fold. Daniel's sister Sarah made waves in the community when she married a non-Quaker. What's more: she was visibly pregnant at the time she did, which led to her being disowned by the Society. The family publicly apologized for their daughter's behavior, but after their son Israel also married a non-Quaker, the Boones became a famiglia non grata and up and moved to Carolina.

5. EDWARD R. MURROW

Famed news anchor Edward R. Murrow was born on April 25, 1908 in Polecat Creek, North Carolina to Quaker abolitionist parents. For the first six years of his life, he grew up in a log cabin with no plumbing or electricity. His parents, who farmed for a living, made only a few hundred dollars a year—at least until they picked up and moved to Washington state.

6. JOAN BAEZ

Folk singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan perform during a civil rights rally on August 28, 1963 in Washington D.C
Rowland Scherman, National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

If you're wondering how folk singer Joan Baez's religion might have played into her development as a political activist, you might want to take a look at her father's life choices. Albert Baez converted to Quakerism when Joan was just a kid, and despite being a co-inventor of the X-ray microscope and a well-known physicist, he refused to work on the atomic bomb project in Los Alamos. He also turned down lucrative job offers from defense contractors during the Cold War.

7. JOHN CADBURY

If you love Cadbury chocolate, you definitely owe a note of thanks to the Society of Friends. As a young man, John Cadbury hoped to pursue a career in medicine or law. But because Quakers were discriminated against by all of the major universities at the time, Cadbury decided to focus on business. Believing that alcohol only exacerbated society's ills, he decided to focus on a happy alternative: chocolate and drinking cocoas. In addition to his views on temperance, Cadbury was also a bit of an activist: He led a campaign to stop the use of boys as chimney sweeps, and he founded an organization to prevent animal cruelty.

8. DAVID BYRNE

 David Byrne poses in the 'Listening Lounge' during the Meltdown Festival launch at Southbank Centre on August 17, 2015 in London, England
Ian Gavan, Getty Images

According to a 1992 issue of Goldmine, music and "the tolerant philosophies of Emma Byrne's Quaker faith" were among the most frequently heard sounds Talking Heads frontman David Byrne heard growing up. "David's parents encouraged his own interest in painting and music (which intensified after the Byrnes visited a cultural exposition in Montreal during his fifteenth year), and he took up the guitar, violin, and the accordion."

9. JUDI DENCH

Though her parents were Methodists, Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench converted to Quakerism after attending The Mount, a Quaker school in York, England. What initially attracted her to the faith? "I liked the uniform," she admitted. "I used to see these girls with their white white collars and blue uniforms, and I thought, 'That’s where I want to go.' Luckily, I got in." In 2013, she told YorkMix that while “I haven’t been to a Meeting, shamefully, for such a long time ... I think it informs everything I do. I couldn’t be without it."

10. BONNIE RAITT

As musician Bonnie Raitt told Oprah: "I think people must wonder how a white girl like me became a blues guitarist. The truth is, I never intended to do this for a living. I grew up in Los Angeles in a Quaker family, and for me being Quaker was a political calling rather than a religious one."

11. JOSEPH LISTER

1855: British surgeon and founder of antiseptic surgery, Joseph Lister (1827 - 1912), as a young man
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The British surgeon who promoted cleanliness and sterility (and the man for whom Listerine mouthwash is named) grew up in a wealthy Quaker family. Of course, this didn't stop him from being discriminated against. In fact, Lister studied medicine at the University of London precisely because it was one of the only institutions at the time that accepted Quakers.

12. PIERS ANTHONY

While agnostic today, best-selling science fiction author Piers Anthony grew up in a fairly devout Quaker family. During the Spanish Civil War, Anthony's parents left young Piers and his sister to their grandparents' care, and then went to "fight" in Spain. In his own words, "my parents were helping to keep those devastated children alive, by importing food and milk and feeding them on a regular basis. It was worthy work, and I don't fault it, but there was a personal cost."

13. CASSIUS COOLIDGE

Cassius Coolidge—the painter behind Dogs Playing Poker—was born to abolitionist Quakers in upstate New York. Side note: He's often credited with creating Comic Foregrounds, those novelty photo scenes you pay $2 to stick your head into, to make your body look muscle-bound at the beach.

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