Women of Color Are Clear: They Want to Hear Policies and Plans from Presidential Candidates

Photo: MDGovpics CC BY 2.0

It’s no secret that women of color, Black women specifically, have been the key voting bloc in recent elections. Black women had the biggest turnout in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, catapulting President Barack Obama into the White House. And in Alabama, Black women delivered a victory for Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), helping him get a congressional seat.

But what have women of color gotten for their vote?

“We have always been leading, it’s just been in the background or we were not given our due,” said Danyelle Solomon, vice president for race and ethnicity policy for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

“We are always the ones making things happen – Black women especially – and we’re now getting recognition for it and we’re up front and we have taken a seat at the table.”

On April 24, more than 2,000 women packed the auditorium at Texas Southern University, a historically Black college in Houston, for the She the People presidential forum. According to its website, She the People is “a national network connecting women of color to transform our democracy.” The group’s goal is to elevate and amplify “the voice and power of women of color as leaders, political strategists, organizers and voters.” It is also working to build “an inclusive, multiracial coalition driving a new progressive political and cultural era.”

The first presidential forum focused on women of color drew eight candidates vying for the Democratic nomination: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.); former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii); Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.); Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke; Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.); and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

One day after the forum, former vice president Joe Biden threw his hat in the ring, announcing his candidacy online.

The Rev. Leah Daughtry, former CEO of the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Convention Committees, opened the forum with a rousing introduction that declared women of color “the political center of gravity in this country.”

The forum’s moderators were MSNBC anchor Joy-Ann Reid and She the People founder Aimee Allison, who noted that the forum was designed to help voters “distinguish which candidates stand with and for women of color in our communities.”

“She the People is about a politics we have not yet seen,” Allison said. “We are a powerful voting bloc. One in five voters in primaries are women of color and we are 25 percent of the voters in key swing states.”

The 16 audience members who questioned the candidates were all women of color — Black, indigenous, Asian American, Latina/Hispanic and Pacific Islander women. They were concerned about issues such as increasing the minimum wage, violence against women, Medicare for All and protecting immigrants.

Pinky Modeste traveled from Albany, Ga., and wore her Black Voters Matter shirt to the forum. She expected to like Sanders, but connected with Warren.

“She spoke about real things, real issues – housing, health, crime – and she had a plan,” said Modeste, a 66-year-old retiree. “She said she was going to hold the hospitals responsible for losing these mothers who are dying. Take their money away. That’s how you get their attention.”

Modeste previously tilted toward Black candidates, but doesn’t anymore.

“It’s a new day. I want accountability,” Modeste said. “I want people who produce. You’re not just going to get my vote carte blanche.”

Elizabeth Odunsi, a 34-year-old Democrat from Houston, wanted to hear where the candidates stood on racial and gender discrimination as well as immigration reform. She felt warmly toward Harris and O’Rourke heading into the forum, but like Modeste, left feeling that Warren “was the star.”

“What’s going on with the children being separated from their families is heartbreaking,” said Odunsi, who works in telecommunications. “I just want somebody to put in place a plan and show us how they are going to make it better.”

Odunsi said she feels Warren is “ready with actual, rational, reasonable things.”

“Her main thing is: ‘I have a plan. This is the problem and this is what I’m going to do to fix it,’” said Odunsi of Warren.

Ruei Tuo, a Houston engineer in her 50s who has been following O’Rourke since his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in Texas last year, is leaning toward supporting him or Harris – or the pair as a ticket – but is open to the other candidates as the campaigns progress.

“There’s still a long time and people grow,” Tuo said. “The core thing for me in this election is not just who wins or who loses or who beats who, but it’s to bring back the core values that this nation is built upon.”

Solomon, of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a partner organization for the She the People forum, said it is time for the Democratic Party “to take women of color seriously.”

“I think politicians need to focus on what policies will actually impact the lives of women of color. For far too long, that has been second or third or fourth on their agenda and it needs to be at the top,” Solomon said.

“My hope is that this will not be the first and the last time we will see something like this, but that it will be an ongoing discussion with women of color at the center.”

The She the People forum was livestreamed on several platforms and can be viewed on the She the People website: https://www.shethepeople.org/livestream.

– Cindy George

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