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The power of us: Black women deciding elections

This article was originally published in Defender.

Black women have played pivotal roles in voter mobilization and voter turnout for years. More than two-thirds of Black women turned out to vote in the 2020 presidential election—the third highest rate of any race-gender group. Now, with another election just weeks away, Black women are urged to approach this non-presidential election with the same vigor of 2020.

“Black women are a powerful force in the American political system, and their political power at the polls and on the ballot continues to grow and is increasingly recognized as the force it is,” said Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights for America PAC, which supports Black women candidates.

In the Houston area, voters will decide everything from Governor to school board. Elected officials will decide everything from abortion rulings to what our children learn in school. That’s why it’s important to turn out to vote and political are calling on Black women leaders to help get people to the polls.

“We saw millions of folks turn out to vote in 2020. And the truth of the matter is communities of color sit at home and we don’t activate in non-presidential elections,” added Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth. “If we don’t step up and do something about it next year, we will suffer and we will suffer greatly for years to come.”

Beyond voter registration

All across the country, voter registration efforts are forefront. From NNPA’s 10 Million Voters program to Rock the Votes nationwide engagement, there’s been a focus on signing people up to vote. But Dr. Annie Johnson Benifield with the League of Women Voters says getting people registered is only half the battle.

 “Some of the data I’ve been looking at some of the polling data and looking at registration and it appears that there’s an uptick and a surge in women registering to vote. So that’s good news. But women have been determining who was going to win elections for quite some time now. We put a lot more energy in the registration effort than we do in the get-out-to-vote,” said Benifield, who is the first woman of color to lead the League.

Benifield says her organization is reaching out to groups and trying to get their voter education information into the hands of voters, including the Voter’s Guide, which people can take to the polls.

“That’s the other part. We lose enthusiasm for the entire ballot. And sometimes the people who are down ballot don’t get voted on at all.”

What's at stake

As leaders in the community, Benifield says we have to do a better job in explaining what’s at stake for voters.

“We’ve got to get people to realize if I don’t vote, that means the social services in my community are not gonna be readily available. That means the allocation of resources will not come into my community. That means that when you elect a mayor, that mayor picks the police chief and that determines policing happening in your community. When you elect to judge that judge determines synthesis in courtrooms that affect your community. When people come before them in terms of the application of the law. So we need to do a better job in explaining, this is how this will impact you. We need to show people this is how your community will be affected by the people who are elected, who make the public policy, who make the decisions that will determine what happens in your community. And when someone says, I don’t see why I should vote. Ask what’s the alternative,” she said.

Tracey Yvette Scott, president of the Black Women’s PAC agrees that education is key.

“We’ve got educate people as to who is on the ballot, what role they play and how it connects with your life specifically. If your cousin was arrested, who is the judge? Is that person on the ballot? How does that police chief come in play? The mayor, the city council member, take some time and ask, how does this affect my life? Who are these people? And are they on my ballot and then decide how you’re gonna vote,” Scott said.

Black women lead

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, which aims to increase political power in Black communities, says the time is now for Black women to lead again.

“This is what we do,” Brown said. “We want to take it to another level. We see what’s happening in this country. We know how to fight, we know how to win, we know how to transform, we know how to build power. We have everything we need.”

Over the last year, Black women have shattered the glass ceiling from the White House to the Supreme Court. With the midterms election just months away, a record number of African-American women are chasing history, hoping to also break barriers in November.

"It is now that Black women, in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm, are stepping off the sideline in realizing that we can be more than organizers and staffers and volunteers. We can also be campaign operatives, and that we too can be candidates,” said Carr. “We have Black women running for governor across this country in the deep South, to the Midwest. And we are not only looking to send one Black woman to the US Senate, but a cohort. And that is about institutional and generational change that we’re normalizing Black women’s leadership.”

Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., are both running for Senate, hoping to change the landscape following Kamala Harris’ ascension to the Vice Presidency. Since Harris’ departure from the senate, there are currently no Black women senators in Congress. Only two African-American women have been elected to the Senate in history.

In the House, there are a record number of Black women serving in office — 25. None of them are Republican.

Even though Black women are still largely underrepresented in American politics, a recent report Higher Heights Leadership Fund, an organization dedicated to building the collective political power of Black women, and the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, spotlights promising recent strides for Black women in politics, including:

  • A record number of Black women ran for and won congressional offices in 2020. 
  • Between 2020 and 2021, Black women’s state legislative representation increased, though not as much as it did after the 2018 election. 
  • Black women reached a record high in state legislative representation in 2021.
  • Black women now hold the top executive post in 8 of the 100 most populous cities, matching their proportion of the U.S. population, which is 7.8%. 

Tapping into your power

What can you do to help in the election?

  1. Host/work voter registration drives
  2. Text FIVE friends once Early Voting begins
  3. Know who’s on the ballot
  4. Educate your members, colleagues, friends, family
  5. NOT sit idly by

Poll: Power of the Sister Vote

Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR) and Essence Magazine recently conducted a “Power of The Sister Vote” poll, a survey of Black women voters on the issues that matter most to them.  

A prevailing theme of this year’s survey is economic anxiety. Nearly 50% of respondents feel they are falling behind economically. Half of the respondents say economic conditions are worsening. 

Systemic racism was also a top issue, with 33% of the women polled agreeing that the 2022 elections should be most about “combating discrimination and systemic racism.” 

“This is the fourth year in a row that Racism…has registered as [a] top concern for Black women. We are also seeing an increasing rise in concern of economic anxiety for Black women and their families. I believe the lasting economic impact of the pandemic and the heightened partisan environment across the nation are reflected in this year’s poll,” said to Melanie L. Campbell, President of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable,

Other key findings: 

*Improving the economy and increasing wages” took the top spot (34%) in terms of what the elections should be most about.

*Making housing more affordable” was the top policy concern, with 88%

*Protecting Social Security and Medicare was the 2nd most important concern. Although Democrats enjoy significant advantage on some issues, only 57% of respondents say the party “fights for people like you,” and 27% believe there is no difference. In 2018 and 2019, in contrast, 73% of Black women identified Democrats as the party that best represented their issues.

*There are also deep concerns about protecting reproductive freedom, voting rights and crime across Black women of all age groups.

“While Black women have always had a full plate, to manage that plate is now overflowing with an unusually high depth and breadth of issue concerns.  Economically they say they are falling farther behind personally and feel the economy is getting worse not better. Systemic racism and the need for criminal justice reform continues to be a driving concern both personally and broadly with nearly half reporting they experience racism often in their daily lives,” said Karen Finney and Cornell Belcher of Brilliant Corners.