A Diffferent Sort of Celebration

By L. Joy Williams

The past few years, I’ve spent my birthday on the dance floor. Family, friends, cake, and the required Wobble, Cupid Shuffle and old school Wop are my idea of a perfect way to celebrate. But every few years, my birthday falls two weeks from Election Day, and dancing the night away takes a back seat to my passion for politics. This year, I spent my birthday away from my family and friends in Brooklyn, opting to use that time to mobilize and organize Black women to vote.

During this most recent election cycle, I managed Higher Heights’ first Sister-to-Sister Voter Engagement Project in Georgia and Ohio. We believe that if you engage Black women in conversations about their collective electoral power, provide them with the tools they need to mobilize, and raise their awareness about candidates that address their issues, these women will turnout at the polls en masse. We also believe that the messenger is important, and the best messenger for us is other Black women.

Over the course of three months, we called on nearly 20,000 Black women in select counties in Georgia and Ohio who typically stay home during mid-term elections. We asked what issues would motivate them to the polls, held a telephone town hall to discuss the power of Black women’s collective vote and followed up by calling them with reminders to vote. We reinforced these messages by sending two pieces of direct mail to these same women featuring the beautiful images of Black women and their families and in the voice of one sister to another.

We met and talked with women who attended our signature Sister-to-Sister Salon Conversations, where they identified key issues in their local communities that could be impacted through voter participation. It was exciting and empowering to do this work and even spend my actual birthday with Black women who were showing their political might by gathering together and casting their vote.

I was not alone in this work. During the months leading up to the general election, I met many Black women who gave their time and resources to the task of helping more of us become politically active and empowered. Their work across the country is part of the reason Black women account for the majority of Black voters who turnout at the polls, and our numbers have steadily increased over the past two decades.

Our political work continues beyond Election Day. Over the past few weeks, we have seen Black women at the front lines of movements in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York City, protesting recent killings of unarmed Black citizens by law enforcement officials. Our demands for justice and accountability are just as important as casting our ballot, and it is Black women who are at the helm of these efforts. 

There is still a lot of work to be done, but I am encouraged and willing to give up many more birthdays in order to ensure that Black women harness their political power and bring about positive change for their families and communities.

L. Joy Williams is a political strategist and founder of LJW Strategies. She served as National Vote Director for Higher Heights 2014 Sister- to- Sister Voter Engagement Project.