Message to the Grassroots


The Importance of the Ground Game

Educate Activate Mobilize

THE PROBLEM: We Need a Ground Game

In the weeks following the most recent Presidential election, many attest that it was President Obama’s “ground game” that won him the white house for a second term. Many argue that while Romney/Ryan focused on their self-promotion or on challenging Obama on the issues, Obama’s campaign, took to the social media networks, even encouraging supporters via facebook and twitter to solicit their friends who resided in swing states to get out and vote. This victory highlighted two important things: 1. Money is required, but it is within the mobilization of individuals wherein true political power lies and 2. Our poorest and most disenfranchised communities can effectively harness our political power to create global change. The victory also illuminated a harsh reality - due to the focus on the wealthy and the great disparity in partisan philosophies the issues facing our communities may linger longer than we would like, and far longer than many of us had hoped when we cast our vote.

Relentless poverty, chronic unemployment, soaring high school drop out rates, the increasing proliferation of guns and drugs, homicides, mass-incarcerations, homelessness, the emotional and psycho-social impact of displacement and being uprooted, as well as the divestment of institutions have impacted the mental/physical health and well-being of African Americans in traumatic ways and have left behind the by-product of interpersonal and structural community violence.

The disparities that plague our communities were not created over night, and have root in even the earliest Darwinian notions of the nation’s first immigrants who arrived on Plymouth Rock. However, regardless of the reasons for the disparities, it is time to acknowledge that our communities are still not receiving the dividends from the loyalty and commitment shown to the nation’s political parties.

Poverty didn’t seem to make it onto this election’s political agenda. It seems that no matter who we work tirelessly to place in the white house, we continue to have school systems that are over-populated and under-resourced (just to name one symptom in this systemic illness). We have a domestic situation that has been festering and it is time for the grassroots leadership to mobilize and make the changes required for advancement.

We are doing a poor job of holding this system accountable once we have rallied to support its principals. There exists a gaping hole between community representatives and community needs. This gap must be mended. There is a great deception that could incline us to believe that politicians, and organizers, civic leaders and community residents could work hand in hand with school administrators, bankers, local businesses and that provided all of this work…our community would remain the same. There is a great deception that would encourage us to believe that our communities are beyond repair and although we are working hard together, there is no fruit because of our demographics or cultural predilections. This is a lie. The fact is that with unified work, will come change. With sincere interest and with focused efforts, our communities can be habilitated and rehabilitated. Just as Obama worked a strategic grassroots plan that led to his victory, we must initiate and execute our own “ground game” which will be vital to our ability to habilitate our communities.

THE HYPOTHESIS: Grass Root Habilitation

In the mental health profession, “it is important for [a] clinician to always consider the question, ‘Has this person ever been better than how they are today?’ If the answer is 'Yes,' rehabilitative work is appropriate. If the answer is 'No,’ the work of building something that was never there, or 'habilitative' work is the direction to be taken. People cannot be restored to something they have never attained. The distinction [highlighted in a mental health online resource], is more than simply one of semantics.”

Habilitation is required within our own communities. While some of us may recall a time, during segregation, when our communities were thriving, the fact is that many generations of our young cannot recall a time when violence was not prevalent. For many who have never witnessed healthy communities, and for those of us who have lost faith that they can be re-built, we must begin the process of habilitation and creating sustainable healthy families and communities. This is only possible through our own empowerment and proper stewardship of resources.

To be empowered is to be involved, engaged, and to be an advocate for the expansion of opportunities for ALL people. Political empowerment is the ability to influence and shape policies that impact lives.

The ownership is not only on the community members (voting and non-voting), but on the political representatives who must be committed and dedicated to legislating enforceable policies and an agenda that will guarantee quality education and employment opportunities within urban epi-centers, thereby working towards the elimination of poverty and its effects. Faith-based and community-based organizations, universities, schools, communities, and parents must leave their silos, collaborate and take responsibility for working together to break the cycle of disparities in our communities. Service provider, academics, community driven organizations and residents as well as public officials must be at the table in the development stages, share information, knowledge, and resources in decisions making and in development of interdisciplinary and scientifically sound strategic plan. Once formulated this plan must have resources attached as well as projected timelines for the implementation from a pilot program to full implementation with the community.

One can look to Congressman James E. Clyburn who represents the 6th District of South Carolina and his proposal for the 10|20|30 amendment to understand the importance of “leaving no community behind.” In his amendment, legislation required that ten (10) percent of federal investments were committed to communities where twenty (20) percent or more of the population had lived below the poverty line for the last thirty (30) years.

We must realize that the issue of poverty and violence is not only plaguing black communities, but communities nationwide – and communities that are culturally unique both far and wide. “In the United States, there are 474 counties where 20 percent or more of the population has been living below the poverty line for the last 30 years. The counties are as diverse as our great nation; Appalachian communities in Kentucky and North Carolina, Native American communities in South Dakota and Alaska, Latino communities in Arizona and New Mexico and African American communities in Mississippi and South Carolina. They lack access to quality schools, affordable quality health care and adequate job opportunities.”

These facts prove that this is not a partisan issue. In 2009, the counties mentioned above were represented by 43 Democrats and 84 Republicans in the Congress. Democrats represented 149 of them, with a total population of 8.8 million; Republicans 311, with a total population of 8.3 million; and 14, with a total population of 5.3 million, were split between Republicans and Democrats.”

Both parties have benefited from the active political engagement and involvement of African Americans, but our communities have not reaped the benefits from this investment. We have used our political capital to expand opportunities for others, but we have not used it to expand our own opportunities.

Once we have voted, we must remain engaged. We must not walk away and leave other people to exploit the utilization of our political power and capital. There is no reason why we should vote for someone – President, congress city council or magistrate – and not receive any benefits. Not only are we worthy, as citizens, but we are past due on the payables owed to us. Politicians must be held accountable for pre-election promises.

Government, corporate and public officials must begin to reinvestment in our urban communities in terms of economic community development, workforce development and training, employment opportunities, housing, education, mental and physical health, and public safety. There has to be an equitable, fair, just and transparent process in the distribution of resources and reinvestment dollars. Political leaders must invest in the poor resourced poor communities and not just so that new upscale urbanites can benefit from the locals and their proximities to business centers, but simply for the benefits of those who are living in impoverished conditions. We must revisit our commitment to Veterans and re-establish the proper usage and availability of section 8 vouchers, for example.

It is imperative that we occupy a seat at the bargaining table within the political market place where ideas are shared and political power is utilized to help to keep the status quo or expand opportunities for all people.

THE HISTORY: An Urban Marshall Plan

In the early 1980’s John Edward Jacob, the then President of the Urban League, helped to develop a plan for urban recovery similar to the 1947 Marshall Plan initiated to assist Europen nations after World War II. Aid was sought from private sectors to facilitate entry-level job training programs, and Jacob proposed the League give direct assistance from its own resources to poverty-stricken minorities and whites, including housing and job placement.

In addition Jacob recommended the federal government institute full employment through substantial public works and job training programs, along with other civil rights groups, supported economic pressure in the corporate world to develop markets and jobs for minorities.

This history affirms the need for a local and national commitment to revitalize urban centers. We have provided this type of support on a global level and it is time to fight the domestic war on poverty and its effects. For years, urban scholars and activities warned that our cities were ticking time bombs, waiting to explode. When the Los Angeles riots erupted in April 1992 (the worst civil disorder in American history) many hoped that it would catalyze a major national commitment to revitalize the cities. However, as soon as the fear subsided, so did the professions of support.

The Urban League's Urban Marshall Plan also called for the creation of an investment bank to rebuild the nation's infrastructure and strengthen its economy. This would be done by paying for education, employment and training programs with the proceeds from a ``peace dividend'' - anticipated savings in approximately $50 billion dollars in defense spending.

Jacobs was once quoted as saying that ``if America is serious about her vested interests, she must do this - not because she loves African Americans, or in terms of social responsibility, (but because) she simply will not be able to compete with the Europeans and the Japanese unless America develops her [own] human resources.'' He noted that 80 percent of those entering the work force in the year 2000 were black, Hispanic, Asian and female. Twelve years later we are still suffering from the disparities in unemployment, healthcare, violence, and economics despite our contributions. There is an active assault on our civil rights, our communities and our people and we are steadily reverting back to the 1960’s in terms of our access and influence on the politics and legislation for particular communities housing particular individuals. Unlike the Jim Crow era, our national leadership is fully fragmented and we must ask who will take the helm and what should be the primary items on the urban agenda that will reverse this process of mass destruction.

THE SOLUTION: Agenda & Action

We need a very clear black agenda. We have to ask ourselves some very hard questions about two things: political strategy and urban policy. What lessons have we learned in the past 20 years that we can apply to these issues? What should we – planners, organizers, activist, scholars, and teachers – be doing differently? Where is the debate on urban issues?

This debate may not be televised. It may not be star-studded and complete with pretty marketing materials and parting gifts, but it will be effective. If we mobilize those who have been maintaining the light in the dark alleys of neighborhoods that are crumbling under violent and impoverished duress, we will be able to change the course of our communities. Primary to this agenda must be the decision to rebuild our own historical institutions (schools, banks, business centers, health and wellness offices, etc.).

Movement, not a review of motives and past memories will be required. Continued commitment on behalf of the community and timelines and benchmarks for political officials and decision-makers must be drafted and managed.

THE CALL TO ACTION: January 2013

Reactionary forces are still at work. There is the presence of the new tea party and the movement of some democrats toward the right in response to the nation’s economic plight. However, what must remain in the forefront of our minds are the fundamental principles of democracy. We must solidify and build our base. Our ground game was most effective in the re-election of President Obama. In January of 2013, Community Empowerment Association will launch a roundtable discussion and series to discuss and strategically plan the steps that grassroots workers must take in order to habilitate and rehabilitate our communities.

This new and relevant urban agenda must be policy driven and action/outcome driven.

We must forge a public space for black leadership dedicated to a common cause. We must think creatively about how to solve the problems within our power and how to leverage our power when we require the external resources and fortitude of leaders outside of our communities.

This “message” is actually a call for progressive thinking African Americans, those of us who have worked tirelessly on behalf of our communities, to join in this roundtable discussion with renewed energy and belief. It is our duty as citizens, as well as the action that corresponds with that position. To RSVP or to be more intimately involved with the movement, email T. Rashad Byrdsong at


What Does Obama Re-Election Mean for Ad Industry?

Four More Years of Incumbent as Ground Game Trumps Super PACs. Ad Age Staff Published | November 06, 2012.

Mental Health Help: Habilitation Vs. Rehabilitation: Creating or Restoring? That is the Question. David A. Reinstein, LCSW, Yahoo! Contributor Network

Urban League Calls For `Marshall Plan' To Aid Black Americans -- Reductions In Defense Spending Would Underwrite Program. Dallas Morning News: Knight-Ridder Newspapers – The Seattle Times, Wednesday, January 10, 1990

'Marshall Plan' Urged for Nation's Cities, Poor : Social programs: The Urban League would finance the plan with $50 billion taken from defense spending. It wants to cure

domestic ills before aiding Eastern Europe. SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITER | January 10, 1990.

Last modified on Monday, 03 December 2012 16:18