Anoa Changa is trying desperately to kick off a frank conversation among Democrats about the electability of their party’s current frontrunner for president, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Changa, an Atlanta-based political analyst and attorney, argues frequently on social media that if Democrats select Biden to go up against Republican President Donald Trump, they’d be taking their party backward at a time when the nation is moving forward.
Changa’s position may contradict the current Democratic Party narrative, but it fits right in with the sentiments of Black women, a vital segment of the Democratic base.
All across America, Black women like Changa are highly energized and mobilizing to help elect a president that bests represents Black women’s interests. Some efforts, such as Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight campaign against voter suppression, are highly publicized. But much of the grassroots excitement among Black women gets very little of the attention it deserves. We at Black Women Unmuted hope to change that – starting with this glimpse into where Black women stand the 2020 primary season approaches.
Why do Black women’s political leanings matter? According to Andra Gillespie, associate professor of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Black women comprise about 60 percent of the Black vote; one in every seven or eight Democratic voters is a Black woman. Strong turnout by Black women can be a game changer for Democrats, as evidenced by the large turnout by Black women that buoyed both of Barack Obama’s election victories.
Biden has received several endorsements from prominent Black women in the Democratic Party, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, former US Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware.
However, the recent Power of the Sister Vote poll, conducted by the Black Women’s Roundtable in partnership with Essence, makes clear that Black women are not lined up en masse behind any single candidate.
While Biden was the top choice for 25 percent of the poll’s 1,068 respondents, 26 percent either supported a different candidate or preferred not to answer. Fifteen percent said they support Sen. Kamala Harris, the lone Black woman in the race; and among Millennial and Generation Z voters aged 18-34, the top candidate wasn’t Biden, it was Sen. Bernie Sanders.
According to the latest Quinnipiac poll of Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a slight lead over Biden, and Sen. Bernie Sanders rounds out the top three.
Loryn Wilson-Carter is a digital marketing strategist and writer based in suburban Washington, DC. Carter, along with organizer, trainer and activist Leslie Mac, hosted a virtual debate watch party for Black women in July for the second Democratic debate, and will be watching the third debate on Oct. 15. They advertised the July watch party on social media and held it on Zoom, the video conferencing and online meeting platform. Together, Carter and Mac have nearly 54,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook alone. They hosted to event in order to engage Black women in conversation about the election. To make the evening fun, participants, who ranged in age from 25-50, were given debate bingo cards to use throughout the two-night event.
Carter estimates that about 50 women joined the event.
She emphasized that the role that Black women will play in selecting a Democratic nominee is why these events are important. “Our voices in this election are crucial,” said Carter. “We decide who stays and who goes.” For Carter, talking with other Black women about politics is a necessary strategy for influencing the election outcome. “We need these kinds of spaces. We are trying to take these conversations to our communities—on Twitter, to our churches, sororities—and turn them into action. We want people to be engaged, educated and to vote.”
The Democratic Party has also begun to recognize the important role Black women play in electing Democrats. The Party is dedicating time and resources toward engaging black women ahead of 2020. We spoke about this with Waikinya Clanton, Senior Advisor to the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Clanton highlighted the DNC’s “A Seat at the Table” program, a joint venture with the DNC Women’s Caucus and the DNC Black Caucus that seeks to engage and organize Black women across the country.
“We’ve engaged with thousands of Black women across the country and hosted more than 50 events in the last two years. We’ve also activated a base of 2,200 Black women ambassadors who do organizing around national holidays like National Voter Registration Day and the midterm elections,” Clanton said.
When asked, Clanton could not say whether or not the Seat at the Table Ambassadors are rallying behind Biden or another candidate. She did, however, highlight how the DNC remains committed to engaging Black women through the primaries.
“The one thing that is consistent among the women that we engage with is that they want a Democrat for president. So that’s what we are working really hard to ensure for them. We are creating opportunities for candidates to engage with the women who are interested in them.”
Some progressive Black women have mobilizing outside of traditional Democratic Party structures altogether and have established their own networks and infrastructure for engaging with candidates. In a low-profile meeting in Philadelphia during Netroots Nation in July, the largest annual conference for progressive politics, Warren met off-site with several Black women activists and organizers from across the country to discuss their needs, concerns and questions about her platform.
Recognizing the importance of engaging Black women voters specifically, the campaign reached out directly to key movement leaders who organized a group to attend the meeting. Subsequent meetings have been scheduled with other candidates like Sanders and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.
Political strategist, organizer and activist Angela Peoples says the meetings are not about one campaign or the Democratic Party, which she notes has failed to invest in Black women’s power and leadership. In mid-September, I spoke with Peoples about this. She said, “This is about building power and changing the narrative of how Black folks are talked about. Our issues are consistently talked about as fringe issues. They are not.”
Peoples is one of the founders of the recently launched Black Womxn For. The X in their name serves as a symbol to indicate that the group welcomes trans, cis, gender non-conforming, nonbinary and femme Black people. According to their Twitter handle, the project is “focused on creating intentional spaces for Black women and gender non-conforming community leaders to talk about the Democratic primary and our impact on the 2020 election.”
Black Womxn For is meant for those who self-identify as progressive and are looking for a space to engage outside of the structure of the Democratic Party. Peoples says there is an appetite for this and, despite perceptions that is focused on younger progressives, it is actually a broad and diverse movement, not just for Millennials but one which also includes Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
“If progressive Black womxn are organized, resourced, and feel in their power to support the candidate that reflects our values, then we can take action to change the media narrative about Black voters in the primary, tip the scales in favor of our candidate, and reinforce our political power.”
Black Womxn For works with teams of organizers and local leaders across the country who act as hosts to identify which candidates to invite to their cities and states and curate a space for attendees to engage with candidates around their issues of concern. They plan to have meetings during the fall in Chicago, Minneapolis, Oakland, Charleston, Charlotte, Houston and St. Louis.
“This is about organizing the organizers,” Peoples shared. “It will add to their ability to flex their power and show up for the community.”
Beyond direct engagement with candidates, the ultimate goal of Black Womxn For is to take collective action. They hosted their first digital meet-up on September 24th and held another on October 10th. They also are conducting a survey that they invite progressive Black women to participate in. Peoples says this process will allow Black women, gender non-conforming and non-binary Black folks to select a candidate who reflects a specific set of values that align with what’s most important to Black women. The need for this was underscored after September’s debate in which moderators failed to ask any questions about the top issues of concern for Black women like criminal justice and affordable housing.
After the regional meetings with candidates are complete, the group hopes to be able to endorse someone in October.
“The last debate was disappointing and there is a consistent theme among candidates who are trying to court voters who aren’t the base or bread and butter of the party. There is a lack of understanding about who is voting in this primary and who candidates need to turn out in order to win.”
Recently, I asked Changa what motivated her to share her thoughts about Biden in a blog post which could be perceived by some as a take-down of a well-liked, respected figure in the Democratic Party. She told me that it’s high time people admit that Biden’s so-called gaffes are a bigger issue than just “innocent boo-boos.”
“With all the conversation about having better engagement in our political process and building strong coalitions,” Changa says, “we are not leaning enough into the important lessons from 2018.”