The Democratic National Committee has launched a new initiative, the Seat At the Table Tour, a Black women outreach tour designed to “rebuild relationships, restore trust, and strengthen infrastructure within communities to champion Democratic values and build towards electoral victories,” Refinery29 has learned.
Black women have been the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting bloc since the 1990s. Doug Jones’ win over Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate special election in December especially highlighted Black women’s power; they were largely credited to lifting Jones to victory through on the ground organizing and voter registration efforts.
Despite this, however, the Democratic Party has been criticized for neglecting the needs of Black women and not adequately supporting Black women who are running for office. Many Black women candidates, particularly in Alabama, have been operating with little institutional support, as Refinery29 reported in June.
According to the DNC, the tour, in collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus and Black women mayors, will consist of listening and training sessions for Black women.
“This is the Democratic Party’s opportunity to show that we want more than just Black Women’s votes. We also need and want Black Women’s input, ideas, and organizing power,” Waikinya Clanton, the DNC’s director of African American outreach, told Refinery29. “We want to hear from Black Women across this country about what keeps them up at night and what we can do to help fix it. Whether it’s training candidates on how to address certain issues, training organizers on how to advocate on issues locally or connecting Black women Democrat. We want to connect and work with Black women to help move this country forward in a real and meaningful way.”
The tour officially kicked off June 16 in Brooklyn, where the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, was honored.
According to Black Women In Politics, a database of Black women running for office, there are 603 Black women candidates this year.
“This is our chance to invest in more than just candidates and state parties but opportunity to invest in infrastructure and people who help sustain communities,” Clanton said.
Black women wanting to enact positive change is nothing new. But “Grabbing Back” is a particularly inspiring project given the recent uptick in African-American women’s political ambitions. Black women are showing up — exemplified when the nation witnessed the astounding turnout and overwhelming support of 98 percent of black female voters for Democrat Doug Jones, turning Alabama’s senate seat blue for the first time in twenty five years. Inspired by this historic move, filmmakers Pamela French, Shareen Anderson and Wendy Missan have turned their lens toward the powerful movement of African American women across the nation wanting to make a difference and a run for office.
According to the Washington Post, nineteen black women hold seats in Congress, including one in the Senate. An additional two black women are non-voting delegates in the House. Three black women hold statewide offices, including lieutenant governors in Kentucky and New Jersey. And in 2017, voters in New Orleans and Charlotte made history by electing black women as mayor. A film chronicling the journey of African American women seeking office is certain to inspire.
“Grabbing Back” shadows Tanzie Youngblood, Tamara Harris and Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding, three determined first-time congressional candidates from New Jersey and Colorado. Youngblood, a retired schoolteacher and widow, was motivated, like many women running today, by the present-day political climate and Hillary Clinton’s defeat. “With what’s going on now, I have to get involved,” Youngblood said. “People say things need to be done. I’m actually doing something.” Since she got off the sidelines and announced her congressional bid for New Jersey’s 2nd District, Youngblood has gained some serious recognition both from her constituents and the media; Tanzie was one of the “Avengers” on the Time Magazine’s January 2018 cover story. And in a recent Newsweek article, Youngblood explains one of her biggest challenges is getting her own party’s support, “I’ve been very loyal to this party, but I don’t feel the loyalty back. They don’t see the value in a candidate like me,” Youngblood said.
Like Youngblood, Tamara Harris who is running in New Jersey’s 11th district, says she “became severely concerned for our democracy. What I realized was that if I didn’t step up…the foundations that underpin the advocacy that I care about so much would be under attack and greatly at risk.” Harris brings a tremendous wealth of attributes to her candidacy as a children’s and family advocate and former businesswoman with international finance experience.
Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding sees her run for office as yet another call to service. As an educator, a person of faith, and an active member of the community, Spaulding hopes to genuinely represent and serve her constituency to bring inclusion, innovation, and a voice to each person in Colorado’s Congressional District 5. The electrifying International Women’s March drew huge numbers of people and convinced her CO5 deserves a new, fresh representative who will be responsive to the unique needs and concerns of the people.
In addition to the three main candidates, “Grabbing Back” will season the film series with three other formidable women also seeking a seat at the table: Navy Veteran Pam Keith from Florida’s 18th District; Councilor Ayanna Pressley (who was first elected to the Boston City Council in 2009 and is the first woman of color ever elected to the Council) and Shion Fenty, a Republican from Virginia’s 4th District. The filmmakers feel that the story wouldn’t be fairly told without crossing the aisle to include a Republican candidate. Shion believes, “The 4th District deserves a representative in Washington who will fight to empower our communities and our families to chart their own path in achieving the lives they’ve envisioned for their families. That is why I am running for Congress.”
You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. – Shirley Chisholm
It is fitting and not lost on the filmmakers that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Shirley Chisholm’s election to the House in 1968 as an “Unbought and Unbossed” reformer from Brooklyn. She was the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and she represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1968 to 1983. In 1972, she announced her groundbreaking campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. As the first black woman to run for president for a major political party, Chisholm was making history. While her bid for the top job at the White House was short-lived, the symbolism of her run is as powerful today as it was then. She was a pioneer for her generation, a woman of many firsts: the first African American Congresswoman, the first African American to run for President, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
For more information about the project (and to see a great trailer for “Grabbing Back”) click here:
by Jamia Wilson (with reporting by Samantha Leach) via glamour.com
Before Black Panther celebrated the all-female freedom fighters of Wakanda, real-life black women formed their own type of special-forces unit in Alabama. When a whopping 98 percent of African American women voters united behind Doug Jones, they were able to elect him as the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate in more than 20 years. They didn’t just defeat Roy Moore; they rocked the political status quo.
They have no intention of stopping there.
An unprecedented groundswell of at least 70 black women have launched electoral campaigns across Alabama for local, state, and national offices in 2018, according to the nonprofit Emerge America, which trains women to run for office. While this echoes a national trend (the Black Women in Politics database lists 590 black female candidates across the country, 97 of them for federal seats), experts say the numbers in Alabama are particularly striking. From first-time hopefuls to seasoned veterans, twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings, women are lining up to disrupt the mostly white, mostly Republican old boys’ club in the state. (Only two black women are running as Republicans in Alabama this year, both for local seats, according to the state’s GOP office.) “African Americans are a quarter of the population here, yet they aren’t seeing their issues front and center,” says Rhonda Briggins, a co-founder of VoteRunLead and an Alabama native, “so they’ve decided to run themselves.”
Representative Terri Sewell, 53, who’s up for re-election this year, was the first black woman to represent Alabama in Congress when she was elected in 2011. “As a congressional intern during the late eighties, I remember walking the halls of the Capitol and not seeing many black women in any role, let alone as elected officials,” she says. “When I was first elected, making my voice heard as a black woman surrounded by older white men was a challenge. This year we’re proving the strength of our voice at the ballot box.”
Ironically, it was the election of a white guy—thanks to the record-breaking mobilization of black women—that motivated many of these candidates to jump into the race. “After so many black women carried Doug Jones over the threshold, I think more women across the state began to see our political power,” says Ashley Smith, 34, a Montgomery native running for district judge in Lowndes County.
Wendy Smooth, Ph.D., a political scientist at Ohio State University, agrees the high voter turnout in last December’s special election inspired black women candidates to tap into the political momentum. “There was this robust energy, and once energy like that has been released, it doesn’t go away,” she says. “And once women learn [how to] get a candidate elected into office, a lightbulb comes on and they say, ‘This isn’t that hard after all. I too can do this.’ ” But, she’s quick to point out, the uptick of black candidates in Alabama and beyond is not just reactionary. These candidates are building on a tradition of activism among black women that’s resulted in major social progress. They’ve done the work, using their coalition-based organizing methods, to fight voter suppression, help Barack Obama win the presidency, and change the game in the special elections. Running for political office is a key part of their strategy.
Briggins emphasizes that these women are making deliberate next steps in a larger blueprint for change, in both their communities and the country, noting how past seeds laid the groundwork for growth. “Women are primarily the workers behind the Alabama New South Coalition and Alabama Democratic Conference, organizations that, since the civil rights movement, have become the foundation of black political power in Alabama,” she says. Continue reading “Meet 18 Candidates Leading the Historic Rise of Black Women Running for Office in Alabama”→
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It’s an unlikely location for a political uprising: A onetime drug rehab center in an office park, where metal bars still line the windows and the hum from the nearby I-20/I-59 overpass is constant. But it is here that Jameria Moore, a 49-year-old attorney, launched her campaign for a judgeship on the Jefferson County Probate Court. She is one of about three dozen African-American women who are running for office as Democrats across deep-red Alabama.
It’s an unprecedented number, according to party officials. Many, like Moore, are running for the first time. And many, like Moore, say Democrat Doug Jones‘ unexpected Senate victory in December inspired them to take a chance. But there’s more to this wave of black women candidates than that.
“It’s so important that we step up, that we show the nation that we can lead,” Moore told NBC News in a recent interview, as a small team of volunteers bustled about her law office and prepared for the campaign ahead. “That, here in Alabama, we’re ready to lead our state into the future.”
Her campaign is mounting a robust effort in a local race with a crowded Democratic primary field — all in an intensely conservative state with a history of racial division.
“I have friends in other states who say, ‘I don’t know how you live in Alabama,’ and I tell them, ‘Why wouldn’t I live in Alabama?'” she said. “This is an opportunity, that’s how I look at it.”
Ninety-eight percent of black women voted for Jones, according to an NBC News exit poll — a decisive factor in the former federal prosecutor becoming the first Democrat in 25 years to be elected to the Senate from Alabama. Now, just three months later, an unprecedented number of African-American women are taking the next step in building on that momentum by running for local and statewide office.
More than 35 black women have launched campaigns or re-election efforts, and more than three-quarters of them are running here in Birmingham, in state and county judicial races, or for seats in the state legislature. Organizers and local officials say it’s evidence of a small but significant Democratic burst of political activism that could put a blue-hued dent in a deep-Trump state.
“Alabama is not a state that is known for electing women to office, so, in some sense, this is surprising, historic and much needed,” said Richard Fording, a professor of public policy at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The effort has been partly driven by national groups, which hit the ground during Jones’ campaign and, after his win, stuck around, sensing further progress could be made.
“This place that was so resistant to change, where, now, a group of women who were looked down upon and dealt first-hand with the vestiges of slavery and segregation are the ones who can lead us forward — it’s monumental,” said Quentin James, founder and director of the Collective PAC, a two-year-old group focusing on recruiting African-American candidates in statewide and local races across the U.S.
“Where better to demonstrate the progress being made than in Alabama,” he added.
‘A LARGER TREND’
The new wave of candidates, as well as the voters who have empowered them, say their efforts and progress are driven not only by the encouragement they felt after Jones’ win, but the wide-ranging impact of the #MeToo movement, Barack Obama’s presidency and Trump’s divisiveness and perceived animosity toward minorities.
A half-dozen African-American women now running for office said in recent interviews that the gains made in local races in 2016 — when nine African-American women were elected as judges in Jefferson County — helped light the fuse.
As anti-Trump fervor rose, so, too, did the desire of black women to enter politics. And by fall 2017, as the #MeToo movement swept the country in October, and Jones won in December, it erupted into a full-blown fire.
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., a four-term congresswoman running for re-election this fall who was cited as a trailblazer by many of the black women now running for office, said it’s vital that women of all races be a part of the policy-making process “as the nation grapples with the realities of sexual harassment and assault.”
Richard Mauk, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party, said he first felt inklings of change in the majority-Democratic county about 10 years ago when Obama came to power. “It showed that black people can be elected,” he said. “While it took a few years to trickle down, he, along with Michelle Obama, gave a lot of black women the idea that, yes, this is possible.”
Mauk said the party does’t have reliable records of candidate demographics, but said he’d never seen anything like this year’s large number of black women running.Jones, for his part, pointed out that African-American women have long been part of the political process in Alabama, even though they are significantly underrepresented in the state legislature.”
The difference now is simply the fact that you have more voices rising up,” said Jones, who added that he recognized his own election as something that empowered this new wave of African-American women to seek office.Meanwhile, James, of Collective PAC, singled out Trump as the main motivator.
“You have a president who attacks black women,” James said, pointing to recent criticism out of the White House of two Democratic congresswomen, Maxine Waters of California and Frederica Wilson of Florida. “They’re fed up, we’re fed up, and … it’s crucial we have more voices on the public stage to fight back.” Continue reading “Record Number of Black Women are Candidates in Alabama”→
Senator-elect Doug Jones, the Democrat from Alabama who beat Republican Roy Moore in last month’s special Senate election, has tapped former Department of Transportation staffer Dana Gresham as his chief of staff, making him the only African-American chief of staff for a Senate Democrat.
“I would like to welcome Alabama native & former Asst. Secretary for Governmental Affairs at @USDOT Dana Gresham, who will be joining our team as Chief of Staff,” Jones tweeted Tuesday.
Prior to working at the Department of Transportation under President Barack Obama, Gresham worked for Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Ala., and Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala. The appointment follows pressure from several organizations representing various communities of color that asked Jones last month to hire at least one minority to a senior-level position.
Two Republican senators, though, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Jerry Moran of Kansas, reportedly have black chiefs of staff.
Seventeen organizations, including the NAACP, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the National Urban League, wrote a letter to Jones in December suggesting he hire a person of color in light of the lack of diversity among Senate staff. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies organized the effort and drafted the letter.
“As a new Member of the U.S. Senate, you have an opportunity to show your constituents that not only do their voices matter, but that their experiences and skills are vital to the work that you do to represent them,” the groups wrote in the Dec. 19 letter to Jones. “Ensuring racial diversity among your staff would enhance the deliberation, innovation, legitimacy, and outcomes of your office and of the Senate as a whole. Hiring at least one person of color to your senior staff in Washington would speak loudly, and we ask that you do so among the qualified applicants that you will receive.”
News of Gresham’s hire was applauded across the Twittersphere.
“Great News! Birmingham’s own stand out Dana Gresham chosen to be Chief of Staff to Alabama’s Senator Doug Jones!” tweeted Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala. “Looking forward to working with them to move Alabama forward!! @GDouglasJones.”
Amanda Brown Lierman, political and organizing director for the Democratic National Committee tweeted, “Snaps for @GDouglasJones naming Dana Gresham as his Chief of Staff! #DougJones will be the ONLY #Senate #Democrat to have a black COS.”
And Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity tweeted, “Congratulations to Brother Dana Gresham [Mu Lambda ’97] for being appointed as Chief of Staff for Alabama Senator-elect, Doug Jones, who will be the only member of the Democratic caucus to have a Black/African-American chief of staff.”
If you live in Lowndes County and are of voting age, it’s a safe bet that Perman Hardy has spoken with you about voting at some point in the past 25 years.
As one of the thousands of sharecroppers who worked white men’s land in Lowndes County over the years, 59-year-old Hardy recalls picking cotton after school growing up. She eventually finished her education, bought her own home, and had a successful career as a home health nurse.
But for the past two-and-a-half decades, Hardy has dedicated much of her free time to another pursuit: trying to ensure that every single person in Lowndes County shows up to the polls for every election in Alabama. A native of the unincorporated community of Collirene, she has done about as much as one person possibly could to boost turnout in the impoverished, majority-black county with a population of just 10,458 people.
“That’s my goal is to make sure everyone votes. That’s always been my goal. This is what I do every election,” she said as she steered her forest-green Chevrolet Tahoe through Collirene, a rural area that was once home to several cotton plantations that employed generations of slaves and sharecroppers. “We’re in an epidemic poverty county so it’s so important for us to vote today,” she told AL.com. “I took some people today who’ve never cast a ballot before.”
On Tuesday, like she says she does every time Alabamians head to the polls, Hardy spent more than 10 hours driving registered voters to polling stations who did not have transportation or were otherwise unable to make the trip without help. Over the course of the day, she personally drove more than 50 people to polling sites across Lowndes County.
Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in Tuesday’s Alabama Senate race with the overwhelming support of black women voters, 98 percent of whom cast their ballots for the Democrat. According to CNN’s exit polls, only 34 percent of white women voted for Jones, with 63 percent of that voter bloc offering their support to Moore instead. The Republican has been accused of pursuing inappropriate relationships with teen girls as an adult.
“Doug Jones would not have won today without the turnout we saw from African-American voters,” Symone Sanders, a Democratic strategist, told Newsweek. “Black women have been absolutely clear in their support for Democratic policies and Democratic candidates. It’s high time for Democrats…to invest in that effort.”
Sanders said it was the grassroots, on-the-ground efforts of Jones’s African-American supporters that helped bring black voters to the ballot box on Tuesday and push him across the finish line. But if Democrats want to carry their 2017 successes into the 2018 midterms, they can’t count on black women alone to carry the party.
“Black women have been attempting to save America since the dawn of time,” Sanders said. “That doesn’t mean we should allow the fate of America to be laid at the feet of black women. It has to be a multicultural effort.”
Still, others couldn’t help but notice the poetic justice of a Democrat with an upstanding record on civil rights winning in deep-red Alabama. “It’s no coincidence that Selma, where blood was shed in the struggle for voting rights for Black people, pushed Doug Jones ahead for good,” Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, tweeted following Jones’s win. Selma, Alabama—the site of 1965’s “Bloody Sunday”—was one of the Democratic candidate’s strong spots with black voters.
The Jones camp had tried to leverage the candidate’s civil rights record to appeal to African-American voters in the state. When he served as a prosecutor, Jones was responsible for convicting members of the Ku Klux Klan who bombed a Birmingham, Alabama, Baptist church, killing four young girls. “I’m very humbled and honored to have played a part in the civil rights saga, if you will, many years after the fact,” Jones said during a campaign rally in Montgomery, Alabama, another famous site for the civil rights movement.