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Political organizers aim for the roots

Most of the time, presidential "get out the vote" efforts in African-American neighborhoods consist of, "Here today, gone tomorrow."

But if a new statewide effort has its way, it could be "Hair today, here tomorrow."

Let me explain. Canvassing efforts typically involve backpack-wearing college kids invading the state and walking neighborhoods in flip-flops. Nothing wrong with that, but after the election, they move on to the next state and the next campaign.

Sisters United For Change, a statewide coalition of African-American elected officials and community leaders, wants an effort with deeper roots, longer connections and stronger ties.

"The empowerment of black women constitutes ... the empowerment of our entire community," says Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa. "We plan to educate African-Americans to prepare them to vote their interest in the upcoming election."

The effort, which rose from a conference call of leaders, also includes Tampa councilwoman Gwen Miller, Rep. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, D-Miami, North Florida Democratic Party Chair Judy Mount and Democratic National Committee member Janee Murphy, who lives in Tampa. The group supports Barack Obama, but hopes to sustain itself long after the November election.

The idea is to utilize long-time grass-roots leaders in areas of familiarity, such as churches, restaurants and beauty salons. Next month, the group plans to hold a "Sisters Going To The Salon Day" in several Florida cities, sending out members to speak with a captive audience: black women getting their hair done on a Saturday afternoon.

"Every neighborhood has that woman who knows where to go to connect with people," Murphy said. "We're talking about leaders going in who have had relationships with these women for years. You could never see your average get-out-the-vote worker walking up into our beauty salons.

"At the same time, we'll be publicizing these women's businesses. To me, it's a win-win."

The outreach effort mirrors a number of the group's plans. Last weekend, it held six kickoff meetings from the Panhandle to Miami. Jacksonville's Shamika Baker created a Facebook page to help launch Young Sisters United For Change, an effort to reach African-American women between the ages of 18 and 35.

The group isn't looking to produce huge rallies. Murphy said she believes the organization can be most effective through the networking of smaller but more dedicated core groups.

"It's about being there for each other and being there for the community," Murphy said.

"It's a movement."

Eventually, Sisters United wants to identify new candidates, stage seminars for election workers and maybe even contribute to campaigns.

It's ambitious, to say the least, but I love the fact that leaders are pulling together for a greater good. Sisterhood may be just what we need to improve neighborhoods.

That's all I'm saying.

For more information about Sisters United For Change, email

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Political organizers aim for the roots 07/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 10:33pm]
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