Eyes on 2018

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As U.S. voters prepare for the upcoming battle of the 2018 midterm elections, Patrice Khan-Cullors, co-founder or Black Lives Matter, says that at the center of the elections are black women. But not simply as voters helping Democratic politicians win seats—instead, as leaders in the social movement for black communities and running for elected seats themselves.

“I think it's important that this generation of leadership in the black community is largely made up of black women,” Khan-Cullors told We Stand Up.

Khan-Cullors is an artist, organizer, and freedom fighter from Los Angeles, CA. She is also the founder of Dignity and Power Now, a New York Times bestselling author, Fulbright scholar, public speaker, and Sydney Peace Prize awardee.

Black Lives Matter was founded by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Khan-Cullors in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

“Historically black women were at the center of the Civil Rights Movement. We were the architects and the strategists, and yet history books say something very different. But that's not actually happening this time around. I think that black women are going to be seen as the leaders of this moment. And I think that's incredibly important not only for historical record but for other black women and girls who are growing up in this country and outside of it to see us lead,” Khan-Cullors says.  

Today, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) project is a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters, including, The Movement for Black Lives, a collective of more than 50 organizations representing thousands of black people from across the country, and the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, a project of the Movement for Black Lives that works to engage voters and champion policies important to the black community.

Cullors argues that many inside the BLM movement believe that black women voters have been historically used and abused by Democrats running for office, and the emphasis moving forward, including leading up to the midterms, is to push for black women in political leadership roles.

Three Point Strategies, founded by Jessica Byrd, is a political consulting firm focused on vetting, training, and providing resources to black women candidates running for various seats across the country. Byrd describes her work as a “movement designed to elect black women into political office.”

“We have a huge gap in terms of representation in this country,” Byrd told We Stand Up. “Ninety-percent of elected leaders in the country are white and 65 percent of them are men. And in some places where men of color have been able to access elected leadership, women of color, and in particular black women, are still far behind,” Byrd adds.

She cites the state of Maryland as an example of the disparity in gender and race representation. According to the 2014 Census Bureau, Maryland has the 8th largest black population in the United States, with 1,903,068 African Americans making up 32 percent of the state's total population. Moreover, Maryland’s entire congressional delegation consists of men in a state with a decidedly female majority. The state has also never elected a female governor.

Byrd’s firm is currently working with Stacey Abrams, who's running for governor in Georgia. If elected she would be the first black woman governor in the history of the United States.

“She's a tried and true progressive. She's running an incredible campaign where she has hit every single county in Georgia. If she wins I think that it will mean so much for the potential of black woman running statewide and also for the South,” Byrd says.

In 2010, Adams became the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly, and the first African American to lead in the state’s House of Representatives.

According to Blackwomeninpolitics.com, a site founded by writer Luvvie Ajayi, over 400 black women are running for federal, state, and local offices in 2018, including Representative Maxine Waters, who is running for reelection in California, Lauren Underwood who is running for Congress in Illinois, and Abrams running for governor.

Many people believe the midterms will swing overwhelmingly in favor of the Democrats and are hoping to take back both chambers of Congress.

With the successes of Democratic candidates in last fall’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey and with Democrat Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore in December’s special U.S. Senate election in Alabama, the evidence seems to point to wins all around.

But when it comes to wins, like Jones’, one that according to an NBC News exit poll was won with the support of 96 percent of black voters and 98 percent of black women, the black community keeps a watchful and suspicious eye. Byrd believes that historically black women have been the “mules” of the Democratic Party, and it’s a thankless position to be in.  

Black women felt the sting, when in March, the Senate passed a bank deregulation bill that rolled back many of the regulations imposed on banks and lenders. The bill essentially strips away some bank’s requirement to report the race, ethnicity and gender of their mortgage customers. Under the new proposal, only the largest banks will have to report demographic data, which means it will be impossible to discover if the other banks discriminate. If the law passes, these banks will be able to deny black customers without fear of repercussion or lawsuits.

The bill passed with the support of the Trump administration, Republican senators and 17 Democratic senators—most of whom are considered to be moderate or conservative Dems. Doug Jones voted for the bill.

“There's a consistent betrayal from the Democratic Party in particular,” Khan-Cullors says. “I think the issues that face black people should be issues that all people are taking up. No one should want to live in a country where some of the population is incredibly repressive and others are oppressed by the government. That's not a good life for anybody even if you are separated from it,” she adds.

Byrd says BLM chapters will be working over the next few months to engage in electoral actions all over the country. The group recently launched "Wakanda the Vote," where they registered over 5,000 people across the country to vote in midterm elections. She adds they’ll be doing voter mobilization and voter engagement, in an effort to turn new voters and old voters into what she calls “engaged citizens.”

“We're also launching what we're calling the ‘electoral justice league.’ a league of campaign managers who will be working on black political campaigns in both advocacy and with candidates, so that we can win in places across the country,” Byrd says.

In the end both Khan-Cullors and Byrd say when it comes time for the presidential elections they’re hoping for more candidates in the field, and one day maybe even a multi-party system.

Byrd says she believes that democracy requires multiple entry points. She sites President Obama’s initial primary race in 2007 and 2008, where he ran against a field of 15 candidates.  As each of the candidate’s campaigns ended, the values and visions of those running became folded into Obama’s conversation.

“In 2016’s presidential race we cleared the field early, and by the end we had two candidates for an eight-month race. The sides started to feel like they were so different... And then we couldn't get real progressive voters back.

“A lot has been said about black people dropping off, but white people and white progressives, dropped off too. I am hoping that—and it is my prediction actually—that we're going to have a huge primary process. And I hope that all of us engage in a conversation about our vision for the country. And I think that the Democrats will be at their own peril if they think that they need someone who has to go against Trump in this perfectly moderate way. The base voters are progressive white people and people of color. And we are now 51 percent of the voting block, so if they talk only to us for the entire election, they can still win,” Byrd says.


Rebekah Sager is a nationally published journalist and culture/lifestyle blogger. Her work has been featured on NBC Latino, The Los Angeles Times, Bustle, VICE, Hemispheres, Cosmo, and Playboy, to name a few. You can check out her work at RebekahSager.com. Twitter: @Rebekah_Sager.