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Four years later, South L.A.'s zeal for politics has faded

The number of volunteers has dwindled since President Obama's first campaign, but the message is unchanged: vote.

November 04, 2012|By Angel Jennings, Los Angeles Times
  • African American voters at the Los Angeles Sentinel voting precinct in the Crenshaw district on Nov. 4, 2008.
African American voters at the Los Angeles Sentinel voting precinct in… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

Full of hope and excitement, voters in South Los Angeles flocked to the polls in record numbers four years ago to cast ballots in the historic election.

Since then, though, some say they have learned a thing or two about politics — and they are not impressed.

"Back then I was a lot more Democratic than savvy," said Christal Young, 30, of Inglewood. "I think that hope has diminished."

Hundreds of volunteers with the nonprofit organization Community Coalition are spending the last days before the election trying to reach 22,0000 new and occasional voters in South Central L.A.

Their message: Even if the excitement has faded, they still need to vote.

"We got out of the hole that we are in," said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of Community Coalition. "But we are just putting the building blocks down."

Organizations, including Community Coalition, have held debate and mock election parties to educate voters on the local propositions and national issues that affect their communities. And although the turnout remains strong at these events, the college-age crowd has been notably absent.

Jeanne Blaker, 77, a Democratic organizer, said she orchestrated thousands of volunteers in 2008, many of them young and excited. Nowadays, she's working with hundreds of volunteers; few are between the ages of 18 and 32.

"This is a different crowd all around," Blaker said of the hundred people who are volunteering this weekend. "Majority are more mature. We don't have a youth movement here in Inglewood."

Jefferson Jeffords recalled the fervor from that election — and the promise of change —- that propelled him to campaign tirelessly for Barack Obama during the last presidential election.

The then-26-year-old taped a large Obama poster on the rear window of his Honda, donated part of his meager college student wages to the campaign, and spent hours at a call center urging people to cast their vote for the Democratic candidate.

These days, it's hard to tell if Jeffords even endorses the man he helped win a first term. When asked what he's doing this year to help Obama's reelection efforts, he formed a zero with his left hand.

"My feelings have not changed," he said. "But I feel like ... he could've done more."

This time, Obama wins his vote by default: "Sometimes, somebody gets the vote because you don't believe in the other person's policies."

Michael Spaulding, 65, of Ladera Heights remembers the enthusiasm during the Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam war protests. Back then, he was a bright-eyed college student who believed that the world's changes started with him — a feeling that faded as political and civic leaders were assassinated and the Vietnam war dragged on.

Today, he sees history repeating itself.

"What young people have to understand is that getting Obama in office is just Stage 1," he said. "If you want things to happen you have to stay engaged in the long run."

angel.jennings@latimes.com

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