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Harry C. Alford of the National Black Chamber of Commerce
Published: 10 September 2008

The times are quite different now.  Gone are the days when the Chairman of the Republican National Committee would make deliberate outreach efforts within the Black community.  Former chairs Jim Gilmore and Ken Mehlman would aggressively attend events, make speeches and order their staff to recruit aggressively. 

It was RNC co-Chairwoman Pat Harrison who came to the 2000 National Black Chamber of Commerce annual convention and asked our participants to give the Republican Party a try. Former Chairman Ken Mehlman came to our annual event in 2005 along with Lt. Governor Michael Steele of Maryland and Secretary of HUD Alphonso Jackson and demonstrated sincerity and inclusiveness. We were impressed and it made our political outlook balanced. 

Some of us were Democrats and some were Republicans. Most were actually undecided until election time.  Now those who are Republican are keeping it quiet. It is not just because we have a dynamic African American on the Democratic ticket, but there appears to be a definite indifference shown by the RNC. You get the feeling that we aren't wanted anymore.  As I write this I cannot recall the name of the RNC chairman as opposed to Gov. Howard Dean for the DNC.  That says a lot.

In 2004, the RNC seated a record number of delegates at its presidential convention. This year they had the lowest Black representation in 40 years, according to Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. In 2004, the convention had Black delegates that comprised 6.7 percent (167 delegates) of the total. 

This year, that number was a dismal 1.5 percent (36 delegates) which equates to a 78.4 percent decline.  By contrast, the Democratic National Convention had over 24 percent Black participation. There was a majority female population among the delegates and Hispanics reached the 14 percent level.

Gays and Lesbians held a higher percentage of delegates at the DNC event than Blacks at the RNC event.  The DNC was undoubtedly and proudly inclusive and the RNC appeared to be very old school.

Yvonne R. Davis has this to say about the trend: "Since the 2000 and 2004 Republican conventions, a lot has changed for African American Republicans. I was a vice chairwoman for Bush in Connecticut, a national co-chairwoman for African Americans for Bush, a surrogate spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee and worked on Latino outreach efforts nationwide…. There were rainbow coalitions of interns and delegates.  Featured speakers such as Colin Powell, J.C. Watts Jr., Condoleezza Rice, Black actors and ministers and gospel singers played a role on prime-time television….I've gone from having VIP seats sitting in the Bush family box to having a premier seat on my living room couch…. Real or perceived there was an effort to engage us."  Things have certainly changed now.

A close friend of mine, who I won't expose right now, is a former "Eagle" in the Republican Party. That's a person who contributes at least $50,000 per year to the party.  This time around, he is quite active in the "Veterans for Obama Committee."  He has done a complete turnaround and is actively recruiting Black Republican veterans.

Raynard Jackson, a long-standing Black Republican advocate, has now started the "Black Republicans for Obama" movement. He is populating the Internet with his message and throwing it right up into the RNC's face, as though he is saying, "You dis us; you will miss us."

Senator Obama's charisma and Senator Biden's statesmanship contrasted to Sen. McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin, who appears to be an "outback nut case" replete with "Red Neck legacy." Their lack of appeal makes things rather noncompetitive in the Black community everywhere. The movement amongst Blacks all over the world is overwhelming. Prosper Adabla, an entrepreneur in Ghana, wrote me, "Hope you are well. My family and I cried uncontrollably for most of the speech period (Obama's acceptance speech).  The only other time I cried so, was when South Africa held its first election. We saw people, sick and able, grandmothers and parents, sinners and the saved, the oppressors and the enslaved standing in long procession, waiting to cast their votes, with the national Black anthem echoing in the background." 

This equates to the same moods I detect in France, England, Brazil, Spain, and throughout the rest of the world.  The RNC is being viewed as the "oppressor" and the DNC as the "liberator." 

How could the Republican Party let this happen and to what success do they think it will lead?

I have polled close relatives of mine who are Republicans.  The majority of them have recently officially changed their registration to Democrat or Independent. I haven't seen such a sea change in my lifetime. It reminds me of the historical change that was led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Maybe next time, the RNC will return to inclusiveness and open up that big tent once again.  Right now, I am finding more and more disappointment and hurt.  Isn't this 2008?

Harry Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO, of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.  Website:  www.nationalbcc.org.

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