A Balanced Viable Plan to Create Opportunity for All

 

This is a multi-entry blog about the American Rising Electorate, authored by a Sr. Advisor, Analyst, and Strategist (#PoppingTheCLUTCH).

By Kirk Clay

Evidence based civic engagement is a fairly nascent field. In fact, up until 20 years ago what people now think of as civic engagement for “people of color” was characterized naively as just minority outreach. Therefore, it’s no wonder that many organizations and efforts struggle to identify what an effective civic engagement plan is and by what method to execute one successfully. Above the CloudsFirst, it’s tough to pinpoint a distinct all-encompassing explanation of what civic engagement is. Second, it’s equally as difficult to find an all-inclusive formula for putting together a viable program. Lastly, the moment an approach is successful it’s dismissed as predictable or characterized as a chance occurrence so we can’t learn anything new from those experiences.

This line of thinking is incorrect. On the contrary, civic engagement is the act of balancing priorities and tactics while executing an intentional plan in places where you intend to score a victory. An effort can give rise to a “balanced viable plan” by designing and cherry-picking a unique suite of tactics to capture the attention of people who are ready to take action. As a result, true civic engagement calls for connecting and supporting clusters of people who have broad networks of their own.

Additionally, true civic engagement calls for assembling platforms of engagement around those communities of shared interests. In a nutshell, civic engagement is opportunity. In fact, true civic engagement is a multicultural effort that intentionally creates value for those communities in an attempt to generate opportunity for all involved.

Creating opportunity is a difficult task. The concept of “opportunity” itself may run counter to an organization’s short term aspirations. From our stand point, a great deal of organizations and efforts are too unintentional in creating opportunity when creating their plans. They start with good intentions and after a few bumps in the road or after a small set back they lose conviction. Furthermore, the leader of an effort may become overwhelmed with “urgent but not important” issues and set aside what’s really important for the organization. Sometimes it seems as though these leaders are awe-struck when presented with a flurry small short-term fires and respond by abandoning thoughtful long-term opportunity building work.

Too many organizations and efforts deal with this problem by using “ineffectual methods” as a substitute for creating opportunity, For example, when they first set out to engage communities of color they define civic engagement as an aspiration. Aspirations are the building blocks of a good civic engagement plan however that’s not all there is. Then the organization doesn’t put forward a “viable model” or of a clear path forward. If they do put forward a vision it’s usually an outline and it does not take into account the aspirations of the diverse communities and geographies the organization intends to score a victory with. Meanwhile, there certainly is not enough attention paid to what creates opportunity for those communities of interest.

Let’s look at how this plays out in an organization with a goal of increasing people of color civic representation.

  • Immediately following the Civil War over 600 African Americans occupied various elected offices across the nation.
  • By 1965, only 300 African Americans occupied elected offices.
  • In 1970 there were about 1,500 African American elected officials.
  • In 2000 the number of African Americans in elected offices had reached about 9,000.

Based on the number of elected officials reported by the Census Bureau in 1992 – 513,200 – in 2000 African American elected officials were 2% of all elected officials. African Americans were 12.3 % of the population. Overall, that number has declined in most categories for every election since 2000.

This kind of analysis is critical for connecting with communities of color. What these communities want and need is an opportunity to grow. To tap into the power of the “Rising American Electorate” you have to have a comprehensive strategy that spells out everything your organization will do to create that opportunity and where you will do it. A balanced viable plan can be the foundation of a successful effort if it’s rooted in evidence based data.

The demographics in America are changing so rapidly that it’s unfeasible to assume that business as usual will win the day. Instead, it’s the organizations and leaders that learn to embrace these changes that will succeed. Also, they will be the best equipped to capitalize on new opportunities for engaging communities that share the same interests.

###

Kirk Clay is a partner at Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.

Opportunities to Effect Change

Opportunities to Effect Change

This is a multi-entry blog about the American Rising Electorate, authored by a Sr. Advisor, Analyst, and Strategist (#PoppingTheCLUTCH).

Kirk Clay Pic

In the end, this is a blog about opportunities, as well as strategies for engaging “communities that share the same interests” and ways to encourage them to become a part of the solution through donations, volunteering, social, academic, and civic engagement. Although this blog pulls from my experiences in the organizations listed below, in no way does that render our model ineffective for other non-profits, charitable institutions, businesses, government agencies, or for-profit institutions. Truthfully, I’ve witnessed these strategies effectively applied in just about every organization and effort conceivable. I learned these strategies while working for the institutions listed below and each provided me a unique set of issues, demographics, geographies, and resources to pull from.

 

Within these organizations we will explore the nuances of “non-ethnic” vs “authentic” engagement tactics and learn if they work or not. We believe the problem a current collaborative faces is that they’re one-dimensional in their approach. Their work is based on an assumption that “non-ethnic” civic behavior is the standard. Therefore, the behavior of people of color is viewed as “deviant” versus being understood as behavior rooted in and reflective of a different set of values, beliefs, experiences and world view.

 

One problem with this approach is that we fail to recognize opportunities to understand the complex nature of political behavior by people of color. This makes it difficult to learn from experiences that vary from the so-called standard and that makes it almost impossible to put into practice policies that will empower the progressive community to move forward.  Instead, we waste time on forcing a square block into a round hole. We direct resources to develop programs, services, methods and frameworks that ultimately do not deliver the desired outcome and do not develop leaders of color who speak the language of the desired voter. Our approach is different and the blog that I have chosen to write will be rooted in our experiences and presented within that context.

 

Before yours truly arrived in this town, I had no idea that I would become a Sr. Advisor, Analyst or a Strategist. In fact, I came to Washington more than 20 years ago as an intern in the office of Presidential Personnel. Functioning as an intern at the White House not only expanded my capabilities but also set in motion a series of experiences that laid the foundation for what would become the opportunity of a lifetime. As a result of that opportunity I became a Sr. Advisor for PowerPAC+ where I was groomed to be a political tactician. While there, we perfected our work to transform the nescient “Rising American Electorate” to what is now a driver of American politics. This blog gives an account of that conversion and in what way our approach shaped it.

 

Our methodology was cultivated by way of my personal journey, from the White House, People For the American Way, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation to Common Cause, the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Tavis Smiley Foundation, Maryland Leads and PowerPac+. The tactics learned in these organizations consequently develop into a point of reference for most of our handiwork through the decade. Throughout my time in Washington, I’ve toiled and tinkered with many strategies, methods, and systems to create a structure to hang our ideas on while we refine and develop innovative ways to edify the models. Within PowerPAC+, there were five people in particular who were significant in advancing these ideas. At the NAACP there were dozens of leaders, members, activists, unit leaders, state presidents, and board members — including individuals whose anecdotes are recounted later in this blog. Note that each and every one played an important part, especially the board of directors for the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and people I regard as friends, they were all ground-breaking innovators who molded these theories and efforts. It is our aspiration that over the course of the next several months you will find something in our learning to help you connect with the information and resources you need to support and further your mission.

###

 

Kirk Clay is a partner at Capitol View Advisors a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.