Black Lives Matter and Color of Change may be the two most prominent means for “ordinary” black feminists to engage in political action, but the traditional pathways to power remain alluring to a number of people. In the wake of Trump’s election to office and his blatant, unashamed moves to stack his administration with white supremacists and casual racists, there has been a groundswell movement of “ordinary” women running for elected office.
The offices they are pursuing vary. Certainly, there are many federal-level posts in electoral contention, with twice as many women running for Congress in 2018 as ran in 2016. But it’s outside the Beltway where things are getting really interesting, especially in the Southern states, where black women and, in particular, black feminists, have long been at the extreme margins of social and political life.
According to The Observer, “nationwide, nearly 600 Black women are running for elected office…” It is a number that has been described as unprecedented. US Senator Kamala Harris, in the foreword of The Chisholm Effect: Black Women in American Politics 2018, wrote “Black women are central to a strategy for potential progressive gains in 2018,” and she added that she was excited and proud to see so many black women running for office.
“American voters are witnessing a thrilling moment.”
The room for growth, she noted, was immense, given the fact that while black women constitute 7.3 percent of the US population, they represent less than 1 percent of statewide elected officials, and zero governorships in the entire history of the nation. As this book goes to press, American voters are witnessing a thrilling moment.
Not only have women generally shown up en masse to run for elected office. Black women, in particular, have thrown their proverbial hats in the ring. As of this writing, the group Black Women in Politics has documented 375 black women running for elected office across the USA. One of the most fascinating and important elections is that of Stacey Abrams, a Democratic State Representative in Georgia. Abrams is running for governor of Georgia. Abrams has clinched the nomination of the Democratic party for that position, and continues to actively campaign for the election, which will occur on November 6, 2018.
If elected, she will be the first black woman governor in the history of the USA. The groundswell of black feminists running for office—and their increasing viability for winning—has given rise to organizations like Higher Heights, which “was founded by black women for black women’s political growth and equity, [with] a winning plan for building collective political power and expanding black women elected leadership in 2018, 2020 and beyond.”
Centering black feminists, Higher Heights not only supports black women candidates; it provides black women and woman-identified voters with information and tools they need to make informed decisions.
“The group Black Women in Politics has documented 375 black women running for elected office across the USA right now.”
While the Trump presidency and his gang of white supremacist cronies are inevitable downers and necessitate our ongoing concern, attention, and activism, the locus of our attention should be focused primarily on these groups and efforts: Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, and the fierce and fearless black feminists, especially in Southern states, (Stacey Abrams) who are running for electoral office.
The future is female—black female—and in a moment when this administration would upend everyone’s liberties, it is crucial that we both protect and assert this fact continuously, without ceasing.
In May 2017, a group of black women wrote an open letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez requesting that he meet with black women politicians and policy makers. The letter noted that the 115th Congress has “20 black women—the largest number in history” and reminded Perez that in 2008 and 2012, black women were the party’s most loyal voting bloc. The DNC refused to even give black women an official response to the letter.
The DNC is engaging in the kind of moral dishonesty that is rooted in a devaluing of black women’s clear and consistent contributions to the stability and health of the party. In 2016, black women, the ones who have been called to take the scraps handed to us by the nation and painstakingly build communities, families, and institutions, did the work of showing up.
But continuing to bear the cross of the Democratic Party is not our work. In the age of Trump, with two hundred years of tradition, black women are reclaiming our time.
Excerpted from the book Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Trump (2018) by Professor Duchess Harris and out via Palgrave MacMillen.