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Get out the vote, Detroit

Black Press Week is the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual event, where over 125 African American newspaper publishers gather in the nation’s capitol to meet with public officials and policymakers about issues as they relate to Black America. In March, the group met with the Obama administration. At that meeting, publishers from across the nation pushed the administration on what they believe is the lack of a Black agenda. One publisher from Florida asked, “What has the Obama administration exactly done for Black people?”

Undoubtedly, the Obama campaign will be dealing with this sentiment and question throughout the nation, but especially in Michigan, where the dismal, local economy may mean many will stay home, apathetic, unenthused and unlikely to vote. In 2008, President Barack Obama benefitted from a surge of nontraditional voters — youth, African Americans, Independents — with the promise of change. The lack of change and a poor economy may mean some of this once-energized base will not return to the polls in 2010.

President Obama’s campaign has started to take shape in Michigan. This past week, the campaign has rolled out numerous events’ week including a Faith Leaders Meeting in Detroit and voter registration events. Brandon Jessup, of Michigan Forward, a fresh face and emerging political organizer who helped gather more than 200,000 signatures to repeal Public Act 4, has been appointed African American state vote director of Michigan.

Obama’s 2012 political organization already appears more organized and able than 2008. Yet, we imagine the campaign is going to have a hard time energizing Detroit and turning out the vote.

Firstly, many of Obama’s initiatives, including the stimulus funds, have not been felt by isolated, inner-city residents. Gov. Jennifer Granholm hijacked the stimulus funds, meant to benefit distressed urban communities, to plug a statewide budget hole. Many of the Obama initiatives, including healthn care and money for infrastructure projects, didn’t benefit people who were unemployed or underemployed. Much of Detroit, like an increasing segment of America, lives outside of institutions that much of the money to benefit people is funneled through. So, the people who need the most help aren’t getting it and, as a result, are becoming further isolated, disillusioned and, again, less likely to vote. Yet, these are the people Obama needs to care more than ever.

Making things even worse, in Southeastern Michigan, the democratic political infrastructure has been destroyed. Between the Kilpatrick and Ficano administrations, the old go-to political institutions don’t exist. Additionally, Michigan’s Democratic Party works hard to alienate Detroit and African Americans. It has become so center-right, the party, led by Mark Brewer, has refused to take a real stance against PA 4, which disproportionately affects Black and democratic communities. The Obama campaign will find the usual institutions useless.

Campaign leaders will need to go deep and be resourceful in Detroit and Michigan, hopefully bypassing the usual suspects who show up during election cycles but lack the ability to get real people — block clubs, community organizations — to turn out. Hopefully, the 2012 campaign will create new opportunities for leaders who have strangled by Michigan’s same-ole way of doing politics. Additionally, the campaign should forgo television advertising-only budgets and opt for community-based events at parks or other places where community people go — the old school way of doing politics. Detroit’s local political capacity must be rebuilt and, presumably, this campaign will be able help. New political leadership is badly needed in Detroit. We are in need of new political institutions. The time is now and we hope this campaign will be a catalyst for the change we have all been waiting for.

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