Seven months before Election Day, the Obama campaign is seriously searching for Black staffers to work in its predominantly white Chicago headquarters and field offices across the country.
In an e-mail labeled “Urgent,” Stefanie Brown, director of the campaign’s African-American voter outreach initiative, recently appealed to the Black community for help.
“The Obama for America campaign is in the process of really staffing up in states around the country, and I need your help to find qualified, African-American candidates for some of these positions,” Brown wrote to supporters last month, according to POLITICO.
Brown’s e-mail comes as a photo of the Obama campaign surfaced that showed dozens of White staffers in the Chicago office and not one African-American in the room.
The push by the Obama campaign to hire more Black staffers took on greater significance this week as President Barack Obama traveled to three colleges speaking to students about reducing college loan interest rates while also courting young voters.
When I visited the Obama campaign headquarters six months ago, I watched a room-full of enthusiastic young white staffers sitting under large cardboard signs of most American states, working the phones and rallying Democrats from coast to coast. I also saw several senior Black staffers typing furiously on their laptops, analyzing polling data, and talking about innovative ways to increase Black voter turnout.
But the question that continued to echo in my mind was this: Why aren’t there more African-American young people working for the campaign when President Barack Obama is in the White House? It’s a legitimate issue, especially since Obama campaign manager Jim Messina says racial diversity is an important component of the 2012 election-year crusade.
Jones’ “urgent” e-mail to the Black community was noteworthy because, for the first time, civil rights activists learned that assembling Black staffers is now a pressing issue for the Obama campaign.
With a new poll that shows Obama taking a slim lead over Republican Mitt Romney — 49 to 42 percent — Obama’s aides say every vote in November is important and voter turnout is critical.
Speaking privately, several influential Black Democrats in Washington, D.C., have expressed frustration with the Obama campaign’s lack of African-American staffers, with one Black professional saying “the campaign is three years too late” with its Black recruitment efforts.
So what’s the problem?
With the economy slowly recovering, many young African-Americans are looking for paid jobs and cannot afford to volunteer for months at a time while many young Whites have parents who subsidize their public service projects. In addition, unlike some Black households, many young White volunteers come from families that have long histories of working with political campaigns.
For the Obama campaign, the key to hiring more Black staffers is tapping into civil rights organizations that have spent years cultivating young Black professionals and preparing them for political and civic-minded careers.