by Adam Edelman via nbcnews.com
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.”
In the heady months after Jones’ win — an upset fueled in part by exceptionally high turnout by African-American women — a new energy has fueled Jefferson County Democrats.
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.”
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