The Movement for Black Lives Conference in Cleveland, Ohio a couple weeks ago ended with a officer pepper-spraying a large group of #BlackLivesMatter activists, but what’s not getting attention is the brave Black women who were on the front-lines of that protest.
This is no surprise. Dynamic Black women - Shirley Chisholm, Diane Nash, and Angela Davis to name a few - have a legacy of serving as the change agents behind social movements, but their histories have been rendered invisible and swept under the rug. The #BlackLivesMatter Movement was founded by three Black, LGBT-identified women - Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors. Today, Black women are showcasing their true electoral potential. In 2008, Black women voted higher than any other racial or ethnic constituency and increased those numbers in 2012. Black women are expected to demonstrate the power of the Black women electorate in 2016. While Black women have drastically increased their voter participation, they are vastly underrepresented in elected office.
It’s our choice: Black Women Can Win Us Back the Senate
Women of color, particularly Black women, are coalition-builders across constituencies on key issues, such as abortion, mass incarceration, and equal pay.They are prepared to coalesce women and other racial and ethnic constituencies, and Democrats should give space for Black women to represent us on a range of social and economic issues in the 2016 election. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has focused on state violence and other issues (unemployment, health disparities, poverty rates, etc.) pertinent to Black people. I observed while attending the conference that while Black women were the frontline organizers of the conversations, we lacked critical conversation about their roles, or lack thereof, in elected office.
There have been nine elected African-American senators, only one being a woman. In Florida, for example, Sen. Patrick Murphy and Rep. Alan Grayson receive most media coverage on the 2016 open Senate seat, but has left Pam Keith, a viable candidate who happens to be a Black woman, relatively unnoticed. There are only six non-white U.S. Senators; I’m certain that a majority Black and Latino state can elect a non-white senator. Democratic senatorial candidates Donna Edwards (Maryland) and Kamala Harris (California) are also pivotal to electing a diverse Senate in 2016.
The Democratic Party needs to demonstrate our commitment to electing Black women into local, statewide, and national office by providing needed financial and organizational support for these women. Their votes are one thing, but it’s vital that they are represented in office. 2016 is around the corner, and if we fail to make room for Black women leadership, we risk the ability to build a broad coalition of voters of color and progressive white voters that we need to win.