When I became eligible to vote, I wondered what for?
As a young woman of color, I didn’t connect the dots between my daily life and politics. Many opportunities to elect a president or governor came and went, without me visiting a voting poll once.
My first sense of obligation to vote was when Senator Carol Mosley Braun ran for the Senate in 1992. As a black woman, I felt proud.
Senator Braun looked like me and her message resonated in my community so I did all I could to see her elected.
I worked for an organization that put together “get out the vote” campaigns and I felt like I had a voice. The organization’s campaign to elect Senator Braun was not unlike the decades-long Women’s suffrage movement that led to the 19th Amendment being ratified and becoming law. Women had finally won their right to vote. I now felt a duty to take advantage of this right.
I took my daughters to the voting poll with me when Senator Braun ran for U.S. Senate. It was important to me for them to see the voting process, the candidates on the ballot, and to experience firsthand the right that women fought so hard to win. When she won and became the first Black woman Senator, Braun became a champion for women’s and civil rights. Serving on the finance committee she sponsored education bills and advocated for more gun control.
My daughters are Millennials and now eligible to vote on their own. They always vote. I believe they understand the impact of their voices, the power to change our government and the importance to vote whenever there is an election.
As black women we need to understand our power and our responsibility in every U.S. election.
As recent as the Alabama race for U.S. Senate, 98 percent of African American women voted for Democrat Doug Jones, which changed the landscape of the race and ultimately clinched him the Senate seat, the first time a Democrat has been elected in to that office in over 20 years.
Statistics show that black women are no longer taking the right to vote for granted.
“Black women are realizing the power of their vote and of their influence,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently told Politico. This is evident by the number of women who are running for office and being elected. African American women are becoming influential and key stakeholders on the political landscape.
The Black Women in Politics database reports African American women are running for 497 elected offices including federal, state and local seats, as well as district court judges throughout the country.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, more than 450 women are running for office in 2018, with 200 seeking U.S. House seats and 50 others vying for Senate seats. Another 79 women have announced plans to run for governor. This is historic and unprecedented engagement by women candidates.
Black women are not only engaged as candidates, but are also the ideal American voter, Washington Post’s Karen Attiah asserts. Address their concerns and you have their votes, she maintains.
As Black women, we have a moral obligation to vote for women and particularly women of color.
Beginning in the women’s suffrage movement and moving through to the present, Black women have mobilized and organized the community to vote. From Fannie Lou Hamer who worked to organize the the Freedom Summer voter registration drive and Mae Bertha Carter who fought to send her children to a segregated school in Sunflower County Mississippi to Angela Rye whose mantra is “Work Woke,” black women have a presence in the national consciousness on socioeconomic issues in the African American community.
Black women are tirelessly working to bring about change in local, national and global issues that affect us.
But new data shows these midterm elections will see a decrease in voting. According to a recent study, of all U.S. citizens eligible to vote in the midterm elections this year we should expect to see a drop off of about 40 million people.
It is disheartening. Getting out to vote your values, beliefs and priorities is important. Sitting out the election is simply not an option.
-Rhonda L. Owens
Rhonda L. Owens, EdD, is Director of Administrative Services at RUSH University Medical Center College of Nursing and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.