Laphonza Butler Becomes First Black Woman to Lead Influential Political Organization EMILY’S List
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The list of groundbreaking women whom EMILY’S List has endorsed or helped elect reads like a who’s who of political leaders, past and present: Vice President Kamala Harris. Former U.S. Senator, Carol Moseley Braun. Stacey Abrams. Women in Congress, from Rep. Maxine Waters to Reps. Lucy McBath, Jahana Hayes, and Lauren Underwood.  

Now, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics has made history by naming Laphonza Butler its new president. When she assumed the post on September 13, Butler became the first Black woman to lead EMILY’s List in its 36-years.

The newest leader is just the third president of the organization, succeeding Stephanie Schriock, whose tenure spanned 11 years. Ellen Malcolm, the founding president who launched the political action committee (PAC) in 1985, coined the name. It’s an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast”— i.e. “it makes the dough rise.” To date, EMILY’s List says it has raised some $700 million to elect Democratic pro-choice women candidates up and down the ballot nationwide. 

“As someone who has spent her entire career empowering women, I am excited to continue that work as the leader of an organization that has changed the face of American politics at all levels,” Butler told ESSENCE. “As the first woman of color and first mother in this role, I am proud to bring my lived experiences along with my organizing and political experiences to the job. Every day I am driven by my mother’s example and my daughter’s future.” 

Butler grew up in Magnolia, Mississippi and attended Jackson State University, an HBCU. 

“Many of my college professors were SNCC activists who poured into all of us to create a different future,” she recalls. 

The institution’s academic standards and nurturing environment prepared her well. Today, Butler brings her broad experience from electoral politics, labor, and community activism to meet this moment of historic activism by women all across America. 

“EMILY’s List was founded to create change and diversify our elected leadership. We’re proud of the work that we’ve done and know that Laphonza is the right person to expand that work,” said Malcolm. “I’m thrilled to welcome [her] as our new president and know she will help us build a democracy whose leadership more accurately reflects America at every level of government.” 

Prior to joining EMILY’s List, Butler served as Director of Public Policy and Campaigns in North America for Airbnb. She was also a partner at SCRB Strategies, a political consulting firm where she was a strategist for candidates, and a senior advisor to Vice President Harris’s presidential campaign.

Butler spent a decade as president of the largest union in California, and the nation’s biggest homecare workers union, SEIU Local 2015. In that capacity, she led efforts to address pay inequity for women in California and was a key advocate for raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour – the first in the nation to do so. 

Additionally, Butler spent seven years as President of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers (ULTCW), and as its Property Services Division Director. She was responsible for the strategic direction of more than 250,000 janitors, security officers, window cleaners, and food service workers across the country. 

“Her years of experience winning tough battles and her commitment to making impactful change are unmatched,” said Rebecca Haile, a fellow woman of color elected the Board Chair of EMILY’s List in 2020. 

With a grassroots community of some five million members, EMILY’s List helps Democratic women win competitive elections by recruiting and training candidates, helping build strong campaigns, researching issues that impact women and families, and turning out women voters to the polls. 

Since its inception, the organization has not only helped elect the country’s first woman and Black/Southeast Asian American vice president, but 158 women to the House, 26 to the Senate, 16 governors, and more than 1,300 women to state and local offices.

More than 40 percent of the candidates EMILY’s List has helped elect to Congress have been women of color. Its Run to Win program has trained thousands, and there are partnerships with Black-led political organizations such as The Collective PAC and BlackPAC.  On Tuesday (September 21), EMILY’S List co-hosted the 8th annual #BlackWomenLead virtual reception with Higher Heights for America, Emerge, and #VOTEPROCHOICE. The event highlighted the work of women leaders and the ongoing thrust to elect more sistas to office. Congresswomen Cori Bush (D-MO) and Stacey Plaskett (D-USVI), and New York Attorney General Letitia James were among the speakers. 

Such representation is crucial, Butler said.

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“Our long term strategic planning is centered in the ways the organization intends to engage and create a space for every woman…as a political organization they can call home. We want to make a place at the table for everyone.”

Butler plans to use her professional prowess as a highly regarded strategist who’s spent time in the trenches alongside women candidates. Besides Harris’ presidential campaign, she served as a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in California. And recently, Butler was a campaign operative behind the effort to make the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors an all-women slate for the first time.

She looks forward to working closely with the EMILY’s List team (about 112 staffers) to write the next chapter. One goal is amplifying its reach beyond D.C. Beltway politics. 

“The organizer in me wants to bring EMILY’s List to where women are, who wanna make a change,” Butler said.  

The organization’s future will be also about expanding its base even more, be they members or donors to candidates and voters. “We want to ensure that more young women and women of color and immigrant voices are bringing their political engagement to EMILY’s List and helping us do what we do best: win.”

While it’s still early in her tenure, Butler is dreaming big. She believes her demonstrated record of leadership and commitment to empowering a diverse group of women in politics will expand the electoral pipeline. And perhaps inspire other women, too. 

“I’m a Black girl from a small town with a funny name,” she said, sharing her full birth moniker: Laphonza Romanique Butler. She smiles. “I hope everyday women can see a bit of themselves in me.” 

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