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7 Things the DNC Should Do to Encourage Higher Than Expected Voter Turnout from its Base

Getty Image/Mark Wilson

I joined about a dozen Black bloggers (some in person & some conferencing in) at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) last week and met with DNC chair Tim Kaine & his staff.

The purpose: to engage and strategize with the Black Blogsphere, its influence and reach  in order to assist the DNC energize & mobilize some of the 5 million new Black voters who helped elect President Barack Obama in 2008  and encourage them to get out to the polls this mid term election cycle.

I participated as a contributing columnist for Politic365.com, an online media outlet that covers political issues pertaining to the African American community.

The conversation was engaging, sometimes heated and impassioned but that tells you about the energy in the room that morning.  Throughout the dialog, the bloggers expressed their frustrations and tried best to relay the concerns, fears and expectations of their reader communities.

For the most part, the exchange was positive.

Though I am a conservative African American, I like President Obama and still do.  I am able to root for him because of his place in history, his intentions to want to right the wrongs of the past and because unlike many conservatives who have been on the attack mode since 2008, I respect the office of the president even if I do not agree with some of his policies or positions on certain issues.

I have a unique perspective because I am a person who empathizes with the challenges of the Democratic party but am also attuned to the dialog of conservatives.   Since the Republicans didn’t ask me or any Black Blogger our input, as far as I know, I can only assume we are not within their radar and they are not interested in what we have to offer.

Thus, without allegiance, I offer my summary and suggestions for current Democratic administration.

These thoughts and recommendations are based on the sum of various perspectives and suggestions shared at that meeting including my own. Those ideas can be summarized into the following 7 tasks  that need to be done in order for the DNC to encourage higher than what is expected mid-term election turn out:

1. Re Launch its Champion Social Media campaign – The DNC needs to re energize the social media campaign that got them the majority Congress and the office of the President two years ago.  Obama broke all sorts of records for online fundraising.  His campaign was trailblazing in terms of how effective it used electronic means of communicating with the electorate and various demographics.  Whichever rock star strategized that campaign has been asleep at the wheel.  The time is way overdue to fire up the old electronic databases and dust off the social media manual.  I give them credit for starting the effort by meeting with us Black Bloggers, but that is but a very small part of social media activism.

2. Climb down from the Ivory tower and get back on the ground. I get a feeling that some, now in power, have forgotten their days of pounding the pavement, leafleting, and hosting small local fundraisers.  Now that the fruits of their hard work have netted cushy insider government jobs, they are having a difficult time connecting with the common man.  The Dems certainly do not want to come across as aloof as Obama is often accused of being.   While Obama has tried to shake the perception, people still do not feel he is really connected to the problems of the average American. His ivy league connections and pedigree are often thrown back in his face even though he has humble roots and several of his predecessors came from privileged backgrounds.  Granted he comes across less professorial than in months past, it’s still a tough sell.  If anything he can learn from Jimmy Carter’s failed attempt to address the public during a period of economic downturn during his administrations  is that you NEVER want to come off as you are talking down to the American people.

The good news is that even if the President is unable to relay that empathy in his addresses, there is nothing stopping him from pulling a “Bill Clinton” and dragging out a few real life examples with him on the road. I saw a little of that during his second Backyard town hall this week.  At that event, several members in attendance shared how specific legislation pushed by Dems has  helped them out. That is a step in the right direction. More face time for these examples the better. Americans love to see their story through others.

3. Re-engage the Youth. At the Congressional Black Caucus panel I sat on last Friday about government’s use of social media, a young college student rose and said that she and her friends were excited about being engaged so much during the 2008 presidential campaign season, but now feel abandoned. That 18-25 range is the group most open and receptive to what the President and DNC have to offer.  Unlike many of working Americans who are feeling the pinch of the recession and are quite scorned by their own respective circumstances, students, for the most part are blissfully going on with their lives on campuses nationwide.  They are not as pessimistic and I suppose because they do not bear the same burdens of having to get a job, provide for a family or pay for a mortgage.  The young African American girl at the panel mentioned something key; that she, her friends and classmates live on their mobile devices.  Once upon a time, a young energetic DNC would send ongoing targeted emails, text messages and other electronic communication that provided updates, suggestions on how to get involved and requests for help and support.  The Youth turned out in droves in 2008 but are less likely to if they are not made to feel they matter and their vote is needed.  The DNC needs to be organizing events that are hip and fun. I remember being invited to and attending many small brunches, happy hours, cocktail parties and dinners by active and engaged friends in their late 20s and early 30s.  It may not be too late to give youth an excuse to get together and feel they are helping the campaign.  After all, students have much more discretionary time to do this type of impromptu fundraising and campaigning.

4. Paint a Story . Recently, the administration started a strategy of going after leaders in the Republican party and calling them to task to present their own proposals for America; all the while reiterating every chance it could the message that the Republicans are the party of “no.”  This recent offensive included attaching a face to the opposition, Minority House Leader John Boehner.  That is a start, but more Americans may resonate with living examples of how better life has become or will become once some of the Democrats’ policies and recent legislation start taking effect and impacting them or people they know. There may be several people out already.  I for one, have benefited and taken advantage of some of the policies and legislation already, though I do not share my story with others often. I have clients who have benefited as well.  Stories like mine, my clients and others must be weaved throughout and used in the state and local campaigns.

.  Show what’s at stake. Today, the Republicans revealed their 21-page 2010 Contract with America and in it, is a pledge to repeal the health care act.  Ironically, the announcement is being made around the same time that some of the provisions of the Act are taking place. It is difficult to show as an example of success the story of a person who was going to be dropped but was not because of the Act. Proving the negative is hard.  However, there must be more stories like those that were relayed at the Backyard Town Hall meeting.  People may not understand all the nuances of a 200-page legislation, but they can resonate with a cancer patient living a longer life because of the legislation. The real life examples must be weaved into the larger marketing strategy.  Place some of these families on  billboards in major cities – and some smaller ones too.  Have them star in YouTube videos and push for some to go viral.  Do more to engage the millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook with links to these people’s stories.  I follow the president and some of my state and local elected officials who are up for re-election on Twitter and Facebook and their contact and outreach to me have been minimal, at best.

6. Personalize the Message. For the segment of the population who give Obama a high approval rating, the Black community for example, messages must be created in his voice specifically pleading with them to get out and vote. They may not do it for the right reasons, to elect a local or state official, but they may do it as a mean of supporting the President.  If they want his agenda to thrive and flourish, he would need the support of Congressional representatives in Office to do that.  His staunchest supporters need to hear that message – in the president’s own voice.

7. Support the Social Media Warriors. Bloggers asked to promote a message should be given the option of deciding what message to relay on behalf of the Party.  If a message is not organic to us, and we cannot hear it coming naturally from our voice, the readers will surely pick up on it. Further, it is wonderful that the power of Bloggers is finally being recognized and appreciated by policy makers and elected officials. One way to signal to us that we are taken seriously is to provide us with access to state and local candidates for interviews. What a way to introduce our readers to candidates by affording us access.  If there is advance or embargoed copies of a speech or policy being distributed to mainstream media, why not offer a few copies to trusted bloggers with wide readership?  We don’t want to feel that we are being used, as another blogger mentioned in her post reporting the meeting but without given the full respect as other mainstream media.  Further, if there is a funded national marketing and advertising campaign, it would be a slap in the face to not also purchase ad space or sponsored posts on those blogs that get the most viewership in the target market. The power of the “share” and retweet button means that your message is promoted exponentially throughout the Twittersphere, Blogsphere and Facebook.  Blogs can provide more bang for the buck compared to local newspapers and other archaic marketing tools that are not even accessed by youth and communities of color much.

At the end of the day, though the campaign is behind the 8-ball, there is still time to implement some of these suggestions.  Only time will tell if it works well and enough to actually make a difference.

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