“Stop Disrespecting My President!”
1911 United, a Washington, D.C.-based Super PAC (Political Action Committee) founded by members of Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, is taking that message to a number of presidential election battleground states.
The 1911 United bus was hard to miss when it rolled into Winston-Salem late last week. It features, among other things, a dramatic portrait of the President Obama, the “Stop Disrespecting My President!” theme and “11.06.12,” the day America will decide if President Obama gets four more years or if Gov. Mitt Romney will become the nation’s 45th president.
1911 United’s call to “Stop Disrespecting My President!” resonates with many African Americans, who believe that the nation’s first black president has not been given the same level of respect of his predecessors. Blacks point to the infamous “You lie” charge made by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) as President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress in September 2009 and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s finger-pointing disagreement with the president earlier this year as just two examples of President Obama being disrespected.
But the tour is not solely focused on calling for respect for the president; it is also about promoting what organizers say are President Obama’s many accomplishments, getting out the vote and ultimately, helping President Obama win another term. 1911 United co-founder Sinclair Skinner said his organization is not like a traditional Super PAC, which are controversial because they can receive unlimited donations to promote political causes but cannot coordinate with candidates.
“You look at other Super PACs where they spend money on hate ads, I don’t think you can hate people into voting,” said Skinner, a Kappa. “I think that’s the most inefficient way to activate people: hate and negativity. You can activate them, but I think it’s an expensive and costly way to make people do what you want. You’re going to have to keep telling this hate in order for it to work. What we’re doing is activating people in their communities… So we spend our time spreading the good news; we don’t spend our time spreading the bad word.”
The bus made stops at the Clark Campbell Multimodal Transportation Center, Winston-Salem State University and Wake Forest University to encourage people to vote and volunteer their time to help get out the vote. The bus made a previous stop in Winston-Salem last summer and has visited several other North Carolina cities, including Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro.
Though fraternity members are spearheading 1911 United – which takes its name from the year that both Omega Psi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi were founded – the project is not affiliated with either fraternity, both of which are apolitical organizations.
Skinner says small donations from friends, family members and other Obama supporters are keeping the bus rolling. Most of the seven states the bus has visited or will visit – including North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado – are considered battleground states because polls show a close race between the president and Romney. The other state that the tour is focusing on – Indiana – has never been considered winnable by President Obama. A recent poll showed Romney up by 20 points in the Hoosier State. Kappa Alpha Psi was founded at the Indiana University at Bloomington.
At each stop the bus makes, 1911 United volunteers seek out black voters to provide them with literature, campaign paraphernalia and to stress to them the importance of letting their voices be heard in the voting booth. There have even been times when 1911 United has given voters a lift to the polls in the furnished, air-conditioned bus.
The group also uses YouTube videos and social media sites like Facebook to get its message out.
1911 United’s Ian Conyerf, a Kappa, said the response to the tour has been overwhelmingly positive and that people are ready to step up for Obama.
“It’s been amazing the people we’ve met all across the battleground states,” he said. “You’ve got impoverished areas…you look at people you wouldn’t initially consider political, and they know the issues; they know they’re in a swing state … they want to be involved; It’s exciting to give them the opportunity to do that.”
Most polls in the Tarheel State have shown President Obama slightly behind or even with Romney, but 1911 United organizers said if the local enthusiasm they’ve seen is any indication, they expect the president to win North Carolina again.
“Stops in North Carolina have been good,” said Ernest Robinson, an Omega.“In contrast to what a lot of the media tries to play as far as the Republican candidate being favored, I don’t think it’s necessarily true.”
Only five people travel on the bus, so the group relies on local volunteers in each city to help out. Lionel Etheridge, a local Kappa, lent a hand to the effort last week.
“I think it’s just great that people can come together for a common cause, that members of different organizations can come together for a common cause,” he said.
The 1911 United bus is scheduled to roll through Florida this week, where it will be until after Election Day.
For more information, visit 1911united.com.