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 Democrats and the Black Vote – Part 1

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Date d'inscription : 28/05/2005

10102006
MessageDemocrats and the Black Vote – Part 1

Democrats and the Black Vote – Part 1
DNC Chair Dean: Reaching young people key

Just weeks away from the upcoming 2006 midterm elections, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, stopped by for a chat with Black Enterprise editors. In Part 1 of our conversation, Dean talks about the Democrat Party’s message and how the party is trying to reach out to younger, African American voters.

Pictured: BLACK ENTERPRISE Founder and Publisher Earl G. Graves Sr. and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean

Photo by: Keenya Land

Black Enterprise: With just weeks before the 2006 election, what is the unifying theme for the Democratic Party and how are you communicating that theme to the public, specifically to black voters?

HOWARD DEAN: I think the unifying theme is that we want a competent government that’s interested in social economic justice. We have a series of issues that we’re talking about. One [is] honesty and openness in government; a strong national defense, but one that depends on telling the truth to the soldiers and citizens, before we send troops somewhere. We want American jobs that will stay in America, using energy independence as a new industry to create those jobs. We want a healthcare system that works like 36 other countries have, where everybody is included. We want a public education system where we have opportunity and optimism, for all students in America. Finally, we want real pension security, not just in the public sector, but also the private sector. We want folks who have been working all their lives, not to be able to lose their pension in bankruptcy courts or because of CEO’s and shareholders. We think that money belongs to people who have earned it, not to the corporations.

The Republicans have made a foray in the African American community, saying ‘Give us a chance.’ My main thrust is to get the Democrats out of the ‘60s and the ‘30s and into the 21st century. We believe there’s a whole new generation of African Americans, probably a lot of them read Black Enterprise, who get out of college and they’re very respectful of the doors the Democratic Party has opened to the black community, but they want to hear what we’re going to do in the future, not what we have done in the past.

BE: How do you make sure candidates across the country are communicating this 21st century message uniformly?

DEAN: Well that takes a little time. The first [step was to] remodel the Democratic National Committee. I think the best way to deal with issues, such as affirmative action, is you don’t have to worry about it if you have people in positions who are doing the hiring, who are as diverse as America. So, we restructured the DNC. These are decision makers. These aren’t people who are put in positions so we can have the proper window dressing.
There’s a generation change going on in the black community too, which makes it harder for us. It used to be the politicians, the preachers and so forth. Now there’s a whole group of young people coming up who don’t want to wait. They don’t want to wait their turn. We need a way to directly communicate with the new generation, as well. That’s why when we go the Urban League, we just don’t meet with the leadership, we meet with the young professionals. Reaching out to the new generation, it’s complicated. It’s tough. I think we need to do a better job.

BE: What are you learning from talking to younger black voters?

DEAN: Well, it’s the same message that I get from every group that I talk to that is young, which is that race still matters, but attitudes toward race have changed dramatically. White voters will vote for African Americans and other minority candidates.

My eyes started to open to this about a year ago. I was in Tennessee and met with the black caucus in Tennessee, of the Tennessee legislature. There was a guy who got elected from a 99% white district in northeast Tennessee. I asked, ‘How did you do that?’ He said: ‘I spoke about my values.’

Again, I’m not trying to pretend that the issue of race doesn’t matter anymore, of course it does. But, it’s a different issue than it was. I had two African American roommates at Yale when Martin Luther King was killed and Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.

It transformed my life, in terms of being able to see what other people see, through eyes that are different. But, it was a whole different time then, than now. I think, in general, the Democratic Party struggles to make the transition from what it was then. My guess is that an awful lot of people in the black community take voting and civil rights, as they should, for granted, but it’s a different time. So, the language has to be different.

I tell candidates, white candidates, do not go before black audiences and start off talking about civil rights and Martin Luther King. Everybody is respectful of that legacy, but half of them in the room weren’t alive when Martin Luther King was killed. You have to talk about opportunity, you’ve got to talk about college, you have to talk about things of general, social justice interest that have to do not just with the black community but with everybody, because the way that the younger generation looks at race is a lot different.

The other thing is there’s a whole new, different generation of politicians coming up, in the black community in the Democratic Party, which is really important to us. Deval Patrick (Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate), Harold Ford (Tennessee senatorial candidate) and Barack Obama (senator from Illinois and currently the only African American serving in the senate)—and there’s jealousies inside the community about what that means. But, it’s happening and it’s exciting and that’s the generation that we need to reach because, in the future, that generation is going to control what happens and that’s the generation that’s going win elections. We need to reach out to those folks in ways that we haven’t before. Often, it’s still the same old [thing]: you go to the churches and you go to the politicians, and that still matters a lot. But, there’s also a whole new group of people coming up that you can’t communicate with just by doing that.

Monday: In Part 2 of our conversation with Howard Dean, he talks about the 2008 presidential election and the Democratic response to Republicans success garnering voters who choose candidates based on religious beliefs.

http://www.blackenterprise.com/ExclusivesekOpen.asp?id=1914

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