OP-ED: This Year, We Need Black Women In The Senate
Laphonza Butler

One year ago today, I watched my daughter leap toward the television, her high-pitched voice squealing with excitement as she witnessed former Sen. Kamala Harris take the oath of office and be sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States.

My seven-year-old daughter, Nylah Grace, had the opportunity to meet and become acquainted with Vice President Harris when she served as Attorney General and US Senator from California as well as during my time working on her presidential campaign as a senior advisor. In that moment, Nylah was witnessing this kind and capable woman, who she had grown to admire, stand before the nation making history.

And as I looked on, trying to savor the moment, I became excited for the new world of possibility that the moment had just unlocked for women in politics, Nylah, and the rest of America’s daughters.

The inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris did so much for so many, but her accession to the highest ranks of government meant an embarrassing truth had emerged; that in a country in which Black women have given our blood, sweat and tears and, in some cases our very lives, for a more democratic society, there was once again not a single Black woman in the United States Senate.

With reproductive rights, voting rights, and the function of our electoral system, which is central to our democracy, all hanging in the balance, the need to elect more Democratic pro-choice Black women to the Senate is essential to ensure that every community has voice in the important issues shaping the future of our country.

For generations, Black women have been at the very center of social change. Our fingerprints can be found on every movement from abolition, to suffrage, to civil rights to the modern-day fight for Black lives.

And why? Because in almost every instance of injustice and inequality inflicted on American citizens, Black women and our communities have fared the worst.

And I don’t say that as a victim. I say that as a fact – from the disparities in reproductive health care to the ways in which we are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system.  And I say that as a woman who has lived and taken up space in a nation that at its founding and for the majority of its existence has not taken my full citizenship or personhood into consideration.

With this in mind, when a Black woman who truly understands the lives of those who have lived and worked on the margins is elected, she becomes the voice of her community.

And when she casts a vote to protect a woman’s right to choose, she is that woman.

And when she delivers a passionate speech calling for the protection of voting rights, she’s doing so because she is that voter.

So far, this cycle, EMILY’s List has endorsed two Black women for United States Senate, Rep. Val Demings of Florida and Cheri Beasley of North Carolina. Both women have incredible stories of resilience and determination propelling them forward. As a native Floridian, Rep. Demings has served her community as a social worker and as Orlando’s first woman chief of police.  As a former chief justice in North Carolina, Beasley has already run and won statewide, and during her time on the bench implemented paid family leave in the courts.

And both of these women are running and raising the money to have competitive races, and more importantly, both are examples of an American story that is realized when we swim against the current and choose to believe in a future that, as Vice President Harris often says, “is unburdened by what we’ve seen.”

Having great candidates is only part of what it will take to win. It takes us.

It takes voters who see the value in true representation. It takes people who believe that honesty and integrity in elected officials are non-negotiable. It takes people who are ready to get our country one step closer to living up to its founding principles.

I know that voters and activists are tired, especially Black women. Fatigue is understandable when every step toward progress seems to be met with swift backlash. But in my days as a union president, I saw women – mostly women of color – who worked all day, sometimes at more than one job, still fighting for the things that were important to them. So I ask you: what choice do we have?

History tells us that we must keep fighting in order to see progress, so we must continue. And electing Democratic pro-choice Black women to the Senate is one way we do that.

It won’t be the answer to all of our problems, but I guarantee that our presence in the United States Senate will make a difference, not just for Black women or Black people, but for every American citizen.

Laphonza Butler is president at EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics. The mission of EMILY’s List is to elect Democratic pro-choice women up and down the ballot across the country.


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