minority outreach

Ethnic Outreach From Conservatives, Done The Right Way

I want my party to do this! From Tim Mak at FrumForum:

In the ongoing Canadian election campaign, we’re seeing a lot of examples for ethnic outreach done right – especially with the micro-targeted campaign ads that the Conservative Party has recently released in minority languages like Mandarin and Cantonese and Punjabi ...

In this election, we now have Alice, Tim, Harry and Nina – all minorities who are Conservative Party politicians, speaking in their native language to members of their ethnic group

The ads are particularly well done. This one was done by Canadian Conservative Member of Parliament, Dr. Alice Wong, speaking to her constituents in Cantonese:

And here's an English-language version from Canadian Conservative MP Nina Grewal:

Why are these ads powerful? Because they celebrate diversity without exploiting it. I have made the case before than some who profess to be "progressives" often use ethnicity as a way to divide and drive voters. These ads and this outreach program clearly serve to celebrate Canadian ethnic diversity while also discussing shared values. In fact, the second ad above makes the point that "things haven't always been fair for" ethnic minorities, yet progress it being made and that it's time to "vote our values."

Both major parties in America have now had extensive experience in Hispanic-language ads. But when will Republicans celebrate our diversity of elected officials and candidates in a way that can serve as outreach tools to Americans of all backgrounds? Will we soon watch TV ads, hear radio spots and see pamphlets in Mandarin, Korean, Farsi, etc.?

Bottom line: the right kind of creativity and strategic thinking can communicate shared conservative values to different ethnic, religious and cultural communities.

Who Dropped the Ball On This?!?!

From John Hawkins at Right Wing News ...

I was talking to a very credible Capitol Hill source (who wishes to remain anonymous) today and that person told me a story that just blew my mind. Well actually, it should have blown my mind, but unfortunately, it is the sort of laziness and terrible messaging that we have too often seen from the Republican Party of late.

He told me the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 19th Annual Legislative Conference will be taking place next week in DC.

Here's the kicker: supposedly, the Democrats have 20 senators scheduled to attend various events and receptions. The Republicans? Are you ready for this? They have no senators currently scheduled to attend. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

As a Republican and an ethnic minority, I've said before that I really hate the paradigm of the "hyphenated American" and I hate talking about race and politics in such limiting terms. I truly think that what we see as ethnic minority voting blocs do not want to be treated as blocs. We can reach out to ethnic minorities, in large groups or individually, not by talking about their identity, but by talking about the importance of freedom and opportunity. Most importantly, ethnic minority outreach means "reaching out" to them where they are, not inviting them to where we are. But it doesn't mean pandering to them based on rhetoric tied to their identity.

But we still have to embrace the reality that communities are formed around common identities while also coming up with an agenda that can reach out to all communities. Apparently, GOPers on the Hill can't even get step number one done: showing up!

A message to GOP candidates and campaigns at the state and local level: follow the lead of 27-year-old Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) who in each of his races was not afraid to go into "urban areas" not only to campaign, but to listen to people's concerns and have a dialogue with voters. Visit the African-American church and knock on the door of an African-American family in your town. Attend a Hispanic community meeting and visit an Hispanic-owned small business in your district. Go to Asian-American potlucks and attend PTA meetings where Asian-, African-, Hispanic-Americans, etc. gather to talk about their children's education.

Don't preach. Don't lecture. Don't get impatient. Listen. Converse. Engage. Be willing to learn from their perspective, both as an American citizen and as a member of their community. And, please, just show up!

The Promise and Peril of Ethnic Minority Outreach

Bottom Line Up Front: Ethnic minority outreach means "reaching out" to them where they are, not inviting them to where we are. But it doesn't mean pandering to them based on rhetoric tied to their ethnic identity.

A very important part of the RebuildTheParty.com platform is to rebuild our grassroots infrastructure. One of the issues to be debated is how much our party has to centralize or decentralize our grassroots operations; but what's clear is that the fabric of our state, county and local parties has been falling apart.

Part of rebuilding our grassroots infrastructure at the state and local levels has to include pressing the "Restart" button on coalition building among a series of constituency groups, including ethinic minorities. Sophia Nelson, an African-American Republican congressional staffer, writes about minority outreach in an opinion piece in today's Washington Post entitled "It's My Party, But I Don't Feel Part of It."

"The problem, former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele told the Washington Times last week, is that party officials 'don't give a damn.' To them, he said, 'outreach means let's throw a cocktail party, find some black folks and Hispanics and women, wrap our arms around them -- 'See, look at us.' And then we go back to the same old, same old.'

"'The party has simply not understood the importance of having highly visible black Republican operatives, elected officials and political spokespersons working for it on an ongoing basis,' adds an African American who worked for the Republican National Committee during the administration of the first President Bush. 'It's not our message as much as it is our messengers that are killing us.'

"It didn't have to be this way. Only a few years ago, then-RNC chairman Ken Mehlman was aggressively reaching out to the black community. At the NAACP convention in 2005, he apologized for the party's past embrace of racial polarization to gain political advantage. 'We were wrong,' he said. But Mehlman's efforts, like those of George H.W. Bush and President Gerald R. Ford in the 1970s and, ironically, Lee Atwater in 1989, have never really been followed up on in a way that has successfully made inroads and attracted black voters to the GOP fold."

Steele is right! (I have yet to be impressed by any of the candidates for the Chairmanship ofthe RNC, but Steele is starting to impress me.) While having highly visible ethnic minority operatives is nice, we make no effort (no matter what race our party leaders might be) to go to visit African-American churches, Hispanic community meetings, etc. I'm convinced that it has to do with the fact that Republican leaders today don't have the self-confidence and/or feel uncomfortable going to what they perceive as "hostile territory." Whenever I've mentioned the idea of visitng ethnic minority churches to GOP candidates and campaign managers, they've always told me it's a waste of time. This is the type of mentality we need to purge from the GOP: a risk-averse, institutional protectionist attitude that's a disease in our party.

But we have to engage in minority outreach the right way ...

"Consider the comments of Shannon Reeves, an African American who started a college Republican chapter at Grambling State University in 1988. In 2003, he wrote an open letter to the party after it was disclosed that in 1999, a newsletter published by the then-vice chairman of the California Republican Party had carried an essay suggesting that the country would have been better off if the South had won the Civil War.

"'I am tired of being embarrassed by elected Republican officials who have no sensitivity for issues that alienate whole segments of our population,' Reeves wrote. 'This embarrassment is different for a black Republican. Not only do we have to sit in rooms and behave professionally towards Republicans who share this ideology, we have to go home to a hostile environment where we are called Uncle Tom and maligned as a sell-out to the community because of our membership in the Republican Party.'"

While there might be some truth to the need to develop certain sensitivities, we absolutely cannot engage "whole segments of our population" with a message that panders to their identity. Republicans cannot talk about "Black issues" vs. "Hispanic issues" vs. "Asian issues" like the Democrats do. Just take a look at Barack Obama's campaign website: under the "People" tab, there are policy agendas for different ethnic segments of Americans, which I find offending because it is antithetical to Obama's campaign rhetoric of coming together as "one nation."

Nelson provides some other steps, in both the public policy and political realms, that future party leaders should consider:

"Republicans need to go to black churches, colleges and other organizations to make the case for the party as a viable option for African Americans. It should mentor and nurture young black Republicans on college campuses, teaching them to canvass, providing paid internships and encouraging them to attend party rules and platform meetings, where real political power resides. It should introduce elected black state and local officials to the national donor base to help them build their coffers for future elections. It should recruit blacks in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic and in urban districts, offering a Marshall Plan of sorts to rebuild our cities, encourage entrepreneurship and small business start-ups and promote lower taxes for job creation."

These are great ideas. The only problem is that most of these ideas, including invitations to party meetings, would never be accepted by current GOP leaders who want to protect their status. A question to all of the candidates for the RNC Chairmanship: are you willing to take risks? Are you willing to engage in real outreach efforts that don't concede any large segment of voters?

Instead of trying to be creative with a message and tailoring policy around that message (a characteristic that we saw during the McCain campaign), let's be creative with domestic, economic and social policy and tailor our message around those policies. An agenda of "equal opportunity" might be able to reach out to different ethnic groups (and even to centrist constituencies across the board) without pandering to their indentities.

So what are the next steps?

  • Embrace the reality that communities are formed around common identities while also coming up with an agenda that can reach out to all communities. (I've discussed this at length about the Asian-American constituency.)
  • As Patrick discusses, use Web 1.0 and 2.0 platforms to build the netroots of the Right that can merge with a rebuilt grassroots infrastructure. Recruiting activists and educating them about these tools will be critical.
  • Visit every church, every potluck, every ethnic coalition meeting, etc. at the local level to talk about local issues. Any strategy to build a GOP Farm Team must include candidates and party officials that are willing to step outside of their comfort zone.

To put it in twelve words: the next leaders of the Republican Party need to grow a pair.

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