Black Women At the 2016 DNC Share Key Concerns: Social Justice and Voter Registration Top List

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For some of the African-American women attending this week’s political confab, the ideas that Democrats are putting forth offer hope and potential solutions, during a turbulent time.

Areva Martin is a Civil Rights attorney and lifelong Democrat who has donated time and raised money for various party candidates’ and causes. This week, she flew across the country from Los Angeles to attend the Democratic National Convention—her first.

“I wanted to be part of history,” said Martin, who was tapped by Hillary Clinton’s team to serve on the 2016 convention Rules Committee, which sets the agenda, drafts a report on party rules, recommends officers and more. “I feel that this year’s Democratic platform now reflects a much more progressive agenda for our country.”

Earlier this week, Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings addressed a packed hall of convention delegates in his role as Chairman of the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee. That body has held months of public hearings in Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Phoenix, and Orlando, listening to policy experts and a diverse group of everyday Americans whose views have helped to shape the party’s official platform.

Sweeping in scope, the Democratic agenda encompasses myriad topics from hot button issues like climate change, universal health care, and gun violence, to “fixing” immigration, and reforming the criminal justice system, as well as Wall Street.

The platform calls for abolishing the death penalty, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It addresses education and college affordability; upholding Affirmative Action, protecting voting rights, “ending systemic racism,” and LGBTQ issues.

The Democrats vow to continue fighting for veterans, recipients of Social Security and Medicare, a woman’s right to choose, the pensions of American workers, and the dream of homeownership for millions of families.

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“I am proud that our party’s platform will help not the wealthy, not the top one percent, but instead it will help our struggling middle class, our working families, the disadvantaged and the disabled,” Cummings told the convention audience. “It will help the less fortunate.”

For some of the African-American women attending this week’s political confab, the ideas that Democrats are putting forth offer hope and potential solutions, during a turbulent time.

“It provides a stark contrast to the Republican platform which does not mention the freedoms being abridged in our communities right now,” said Angela D. Alsobrooks, a convention delegate, who is also the State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, Maryland. “Individuals are feeling afraid just to walk down the street. And that’s completely unacceptable in a free country.”

Janaye Ingram, an activist who’s worked on policy and grass roots issues in her former role with the National Action Network, called the overall platform “good” but wanted to see even stronger language pertaining to Civil Rights, discrimination and related topics.

“It’s definitely better than the Republic rhetoric, and it’s extremely important the Democrats are addressing it, but you need more than a few paragraphs,” said the New Jersey resident. “When it comes to criminal justice, racial profiling, policing for profit and mandatory minimums—issues that activists have been fighting for the last few years—we need to be more blatant about how to move the ball. All of the deaths have led to increased vigilance, but it also creates a heightened sense of responsibility. Our country and the Democratic party must be held accountable.”

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Melanie L. Campbell heads the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, a nonpartisan organization based in the nation’s capital. The group, which also convenes the Black Women’s Roundtable, hosted a packed forum during the convention that drew women from across the country.

The discussion ran the gamut from Black voter mobilization and voter protection to galvanizing Millennials, and sustaining the power of the `sister’ vote which has outsized other groups in recent elections. Indeed, African American women helped President Obama clinch his historic bid in 2008 and again in 2012.  

“We are deeply interested in how the platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties reflect the needs of African-Americans,” Campbell said, citing economic parity, affordable health care, reproductive rights, social justice and criminal justice reform. “We are optimistic both presidential candidates will address those issues and the needs of all Americans.”

Michele Jawando is vice president of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress, a public policy think tank whose issues run the gamut from paid family leave to the crisis in Turkey.

“We have really been pushing issues about reproductive rights with economic justice frame,” said Jawando, who is attending her third convention. “The reason we felt so strongly about this, particularly when you think of women of color around this conversation, is that the choices we make around contraception and the full suite of reproductive health is tied to our overall economic security.”

Alencia Johnson is director of constituency communities for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political action side of the organization. 

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They brought a team to the convention, and have so far signed up more than 1,000 supporters.

She says the stakes are high in this election in terms of women's reproductive rights. "We have not endorsed in the past, but we backed Hillary Clinton early on because we have seen dangerous rhetoric on the Republican side such as repealing Roe vs. Wade," she said. "And we know for women of color, there have historically been barriers to access--be it for contraception, sex education or breast cancer screenings."

Women’s issues were at the forefront for Martin, who has two daughters, aged 18 and 21. She appreciated that Clinton emphasizes her role as a mother, and that the Democratic platform addresses wage equality and issues that impact families.

“We (the party) are not just playing lip service to women’s issues. It’s not just about one person, but bringing others behind you. I feel hopeful that we’ll have a president who recognizes the beauty and brilliance of women leaders and leadership.”

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