Sunday, September 27, 2009
The Mackinac Experience: Pushing for Conservatives of Color by Akindele Akinyemi
I was amazed of how 2100 Republicans registered for the Michigan GOP Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island. Unfortunately, only a few minorities were at this conference. In fact, it was so noticeable that people started asking me questions as soon as I got off the ferry boat Friday evening.
The question? Where are the minorities at the conference and where are they in the party?
Therefore, a small group of us had an impromptu discussion on this issue Saturday at the Grand Hotel.
I got a chance to hear some of the debate between the gubernatorial candidates early Saturday morning. While they discussed the economy one thing people always forget is how urban communities are instrumental to the advancement of the State of Michigan. They talk about Detroit and bringing Detroit back but there are other communities that need to be bright back as well. However, it seems like the biggest challenge is how Republicans can approach urban areas.
The answer is simple. Just talk about issues that are relevant. I think I brought this up several times in our discussion. Instead of template talking points and foreign platforms I stressed the need for discussions on mental health, family building, global education, and even participating in race relation discussions. The key here is relationship building. You simply cannot just come into the black community hoping to find some votes during election time. It's impossible.
A big point that I stressed is how the GOP must understand the demographics of where they are targeting voters. You cannot take a boiler point platform into the Brightmoor section of Detroit. You will get shot. Instead, find out what community groups and neighborhood associations are over there and build relationships with them first. We wait too long to do this. Not just in Detroit but find out the landscape in all urban areas across Michigan. Find out why their schools are failing. Don't just say the teacher unions are blocking progress. There are other ways to go around the teacher unions.
How many people in the GOP are connected to groups like the Skillman Foundation or Detroit Parent Network? The NAACP? The Urban League? We know the GOP has ties with various Chamber of Commerces across the State of Michigan but are we partnering with other community based groups who have direct access to people in our community? When was the last time the GOP connected with Focus Hope? The North Oakland Republican Club volunteered to work in a soup kitchen in Pontiac not too long ago. Most GOP clubs will not even conduct meetings in urban communities. That alone shows the disconnect.
Have we viewed ourselves as a party that want to cross barriers with other people or are we just simply talking? For example, how many Republicans who were on Mackinac Island talked to our Jamaican brothers and sisters while they were there? I have said repeatedly that we are forgetting about a hidden constituency that we have not tapped into. I got a chance to speak to several Jamaican women on the island. These women had ONE THING IN COMMON. God, hard work, not seeking a handout, honoring the man in the house through God, family oriented, not allowing anger to blindside them, valued educational values, not blaming other races for holding them down and loving life to the fullest. One even expressed the fact that she does not wear skirts to church but long dresses. Out of the 12 women I spoke to 11 of them were married.
That sounds a lot like the GOP to me. Yet, most of us looked at them as just servants and not stakeholders in this party. I can say the same for Nigerians, Ghanaians, Senegalese and others across the globe. If we want to attract conservatives of color into the party then you have to give them a serious reason to consider. We also have to realize that every black or Hispanic that want to participate in our party may not be Christian. Do we alienate them or do we open our arms and agree to disagree and move on?
Civic education forums are needed to inform constituents on the issues as well as creating solutions. I said nothing about bashing elected officials. I said solutions. If the GOP becomes more solution-oriented we will see a positive outcome in urban communities. If we keep up this tirade of bashing people we will not win in 2010.
You cannot neglect urban communities because they are the very instrument that can help revitalize Michigan. Even Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty stated in a luncheon I was at on how poor urban areas are recruiting grounds for new Republicans. Creating jobs and improving schools are goals that resonate with all parents. The message has to be consistent.
But our dialogue was awesome. I enjoyed meeting with the stakeholders in this meeting. We need to have more and actually conquer our fear of one another.