This year is off to the races, and Black women continue to drive the political narrative as we look towards the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.
We are all still buzzing over Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes. The billionaire media mogul showed us that we are on the cusp of a new political and cultural era in America led by the nation’s Black women, one in which, as she said: “no one will have to say ‘me too’ again.” Oprah reminds us that Black women have been integral, and continue, to call our nation to be a people of conscience, to transform our moral and political culture. The trending #Oprah2020 hashtag signals a nation ready to heed the call and support.
Last Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee welcomed its first African American members in this century after Democrats added Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to the panel that handles judicial nominations and appointments to the Justice Department.
No African American senator has sat on the Judiciary Committee since the 1990s, when Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat from Illinois, became the first Black woman elected to the Senate. There had been pressure on Democrats to elevate Harris; in the end, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer opted to elevate both of the Senate’s Black Democrats.
Harris’s appointment was possible because Democrat Doug Jones’s victory last month in Alabama shrank the Republican advantage on two committees. A victory won because of Black women voters.
A look at history proves that if the 2016 and 2017 elections have shown us anything, it is that we need to trust Black women—and in this election cycle Democrats face their first major test.
This year Democrats have a momentous opportunity to rally behind Stacey Abrams, the gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who could very well make history as our nation’s first Black woman governor. But will the Party lend its full support toward her campaign to help her win in the primary in May and again in November? Will Democrats fully fund Black-led voter turnout efforts that can turn Georgia blue? Or will they squander the good will created after Senator Doug Jones’s recent upset in Alabama by ignoring Black women’s voices once again, taking our votes for granted when one of our own is poised to lead and make history?
Black women were credited for delivering key Democratic victories last year in Virginia and Alabama, critical wins for the resistance at the end of Trump’s first year in office. Ever since those wins, mainstream media outlets and pundits have been noticeably discussing Black women voters differently because our numbers simply cannot be ignored.
Of the Black women who voted, 91 percent voted for Governor-elect Ralph Northam in Virginia and a whopping 98 percent voted for Jones. Both Democrats ran against Republicans who were waging war on communities of color, queer people, women’s bodies and basic decency (By comparison, 51 percent of white women voted for Northam’s opponent Ed Gillespie, and 63 percent voted for Jones’s opponent Roy Moore). The Alabama results of December, in particular, gave Democrats hope to stem the tide of Trump-era politics.
After Jones’s upset win in Alabama, #ThankBlackWomen began trending. There were calls to thank us, support us, listen to us. Even DNC Chairman Tom Perez joined in the lovefest, calling Black women the “backbone of the Democratic party.” But it didn’t take long for Jones to turn his back on the Black women who elected him and pander to Republicans in saying it’s time to “move on” from Trump’s sexual harassment allegations. Black women across the country began chiming in: We need more than gratitude. We need leaders that represent our interests.
Democrats like Jones win elections on the power of Black voters, especially Black women. Democrats must face this moment of truth—will they invest in Black women as voters and leaders in 2018? Or will they fall back on the same old electoral and political strategies, like spending millions on TV ads targeted at white swing voters—among our nation’s fastest shrinking electorates—that led to crushing losses in statehouses and Congress, not to mention the office of the Presidency?
Abrams is the first woman and person of color to serve as House minority leader in Georgia, and her platform appeals to the growing multiracial progressive bloc. And yet, the Democratic establishment so far has backed moderate white candidate Stacey Evans, forcing a May 2018 primary in their obsession to court white working-class voters.
Abrams is not alone in her predicament. Women of color seeking official party nominations are the most likely to be forced into contested Democratic Party primaries. Georgia, a historically red state, is a new battleground state ripe for Democrats to flip. Though no white Democrat has won statewide in 20 years, Georgia’s changing demographics suggest that a progressive woman of color may be the answer to the Party’s longstanding losing streak. It’s time for Democrats to recognize Abrams for who she is—the future of Georgia politics. African Americans, together with voters from other communities of color, will become the state’s majority electorate within ten years. Nationwide, Georgia ranks third in Black population size. Black voters made up 33 percent of Georgia’s registered voters in 2016, and Black women made up 19 percent.
Earlier this year, I launched the “Get in Formation” campaign, a call to Black women across the country to support Abrams. Three African American-led political organizations—Democracy in Color, Higher Heights for America, and the Collective PAC—are leading the charge; women and men of all colors have answered the call.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost Georgia by only 211,000 votes in a state with 1.2 million eligible voters of color (40 percent). Black women alone made up 39 percent of Clinton’s Georgia votes in 2016 and 60 percent of Clinton’s Georgia votes came from African Americans. The average margin of defeat for Dems in Georgia for all statewide races since 2008 is 230,000 votes. It’s not just about registration in GA, it’s about turnout. There are 909,000 eligible African Americans in Georgia who didn’t vote in 2016. With a strong on-the-ground turnout operation, Democrats can close the gap and win the state.
With Abrams’ candidacy, Democrats have the opportunity to make good on their recent professed gratitude for Black women. When white Massachusetts candidate Elizabeth Warren announced her Senate bid, progressive PACs poured some $1,160,503 million into her campaign. It was a similar story when white Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis announced her bid in 2013: $18.2 million was directed into her campaign. The Party needs to invest similarly in Abrams. By supporting Abrams, the Democratic establishment will signal to Black women across the country that they are putting action, and money, behind their words of gratitude.
The call is loud and clear—Black women should have a larger role in Democratic politics. In 2018, Black women deserve more from Democrats. It’s long overdue. We are the base of its base. Give Black women the stage. Listen and we will guide the Democratic party as its most active and loyal voters to wins—in Georgia and beyond.
Aimee Allison is president of Democracy in Color, host of the “Democracy in Color” podcast and author of Army of None (Seven Stories Press) and the forthcoming book on women of color and politics, She the People.