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Team Obama Steps Up Their Ground Game to Mobilize African American Support, Part One

Kelley Chunn
Team Obama Steps Up Their Ground Game to Mobilize African American Support, Part One
For updates on and a copy of the President’s African American Agenda, go to the following links:

Have you ever wished you could connect to the Obama White House in a meaningful way? Join the conversation? Influence public policy – with a particular focus on the African American community?

Well, when Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s key senior advisor, takes the stage to welcome you to the White House Office Of Public Engagement “Policy in Action Leadership Conference, “ you know you are sitting in “high cotton.”  So began a surreal day for me in dialogue with President  Obama and his senior staff at the White House on November 9th – not by accident the day after Election Day 2011. It was a journey that started at a breakfast meeting in Boston which was organized by Carol Fulp of John Hancock. (She is also an Obama appointee to the United Nations.)

A Move to Mobilize

In D.C. , I joined some 200 people from around the country for the White House Office Of Public Engagement Policy in Action Leadership Conference. We formed an eclectic mix of business people, elected officials, academics, media,  civic and civil rights leaders – from grassroots to global.

From Boston I was joined by Donna Latson Gittens of causemedia and Pamela Everhart of Fidelity. Also on hand were Mayor Michel Nutter of Philadelphia, Michael Eric Dyson, noted author and speaker, Suzanne Taylor, editor emerita of Essence Magazine, Martin Luther King III, and Reverend C.T. Vivian, a living legend of the Civil Rights movement.  Our host, Michael Strautmanis, Deputy Assistant to the President, kept the morning moving and told us to leave our egos on the Washington Mall , refrain from “speechifying” and voice our concerns in a constructive way.

Connecting the Dots

The Administration used the conference to officially announce the release of a report called, “The President’s Agenda and the African Community.” Its contents look at Team Obama’s achievements over the past two years and how they have impacted the African American community, …”from promoting job creation to making sure that every American has access to quality health care to reforms that strengthen education to fighting for the civil rights of all Americans.”

The daylong conference was a recognition that somehow these achievements

have gone unrecognized by some African Americans who feel abandoned by the Obama Administration.  Team Obama knows they must energize the base as they move forward into the presidential election year.

Access to the Top

This was our moment to connect with the Administration and offer our thoughts on how best to connect the dots with voters nationwide.  We caucused and spoke with a host of high and mid-level members of the administration including Attorney General  Eric Holder, Melody Barnes, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Estelle Richman, Acting Deputy Secretary, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Administrator Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency.

A Strategic Use of Executive Power

President Obama did not phone in his appearance. He took to the podium briefly to encourage us to brainstorm with his staff and share our ideas on how they can be more responsive to the needs of African Americans.

President Obama cited some recent victories that especially resonate with small businesses (1) Passage of an act that would allocate tax credits for qualified businesses who hire veterans and; (2) an executive order that expedites federal payment to businesses from 30 to 15 days.

Aside from highlighting the Administration’s positive impact on African Americans, the key messages of the day were twofold:

-passage of the jobs bill is critical; and

-use of the executive power is a key strategy is going around a gridlocked Congress.

2012 Calling

The conference was the start of a dialogue that is now continuing with monthly conference calls as we work on next steps with Jon Carson, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Heading into 2012, the focus will remain on the policy priorities we discussed at the conference:

-education and job training,;

– the economy, jobs and business development;

-anti-poverty strategies;

– prevention and health disparities;

-fatherhood, prevention and reentry issues; and

-housing and urban affairs.

On the Ground

Carson plans to host a series of round tables and regional leaderships summits around the country to focus on the key policy concerns noted above.

Stay tuned for blog updates as the White House public engagement process moves into high gear in 2012.

-Link to video of POTUS remarks: www.youtube.com/user/whitehouse?blend=1andob=4#p/u/0/iJacvNRWDWo

-Link to panel discussions: www.youtube.com/user/whitehouse?blend=1andob=4#p/u/2/xCFfbqZqFSA   

-Link to remarks: www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/11/09/remarks-president-african-american-policy-action-leadership-conference

-Link to Af-Am policy report: www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/af_am_report_final.pdf

-Link to Af-Am page on Whitehouse.gov: www.whitehouse.gov/africanamericans