By Michele Jawando
Black women have long been a powerful force in America’s social and political landscape. As the country reels from the tragic events in Dallas, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge—events that have shocked, scared, and saddened us—we are forced to confront the reality that the time has come to change the direction in which this country is moving, and that Black women are at the center of that conversation.
There is no doubt that Black women will be at the forefront of finding solutions to the reprehensible violence that plagues our communities, both within our communities and state sanctioned. In the aftermath of the tragic deaths of far too many African Americans, Black women—both in the past (Rosa Parks, Mamie Till) and the present—have organized to advocate for racial, economic, and social justice for a community that has long been marginalized.
Along with their powerful presence in activism, Black women are one of the most consistent and reliable voting blocs in the country; Black women had the highest rate of voter registration and turnout in both the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. They must continue to exercise their power at the ballot box to ensure that policymakers are held accountable for their actions and decisions and spur systemic change to address the difficult conditions that plague too many of our communities.
In this November’s election, 15.5 million Black women will be eligible to vote. Whether it’s equal pay or the disproportionate application of fatal force by law enforcement, Black women must exercise their right to vote to make their voices heard on the issues that affect their lives and communities.
If the past is any indication, Black women are poised to turn out to vote in high rates this year as well. A poll conducted by the Center for American Progress found that 71 percent of Black women reported that they were “absolutely certain” that they would cast a ballot in November. Although the poll primarily addresses Black women’s concerns about jobs and economic security—more than half of Black women polled identified low wages and pay equity as some of the most important issues that politicians need to address—nearly one third of Black women polled identified racism, both in the workforce and in general, as the most important issue that American politicians need to address.
Black women exercise their right to vote in order to bring attention to the issues that they care about most. Unfortunately, too often Black women’s voices are silenced, rendering their political presence, for all intents and purposes, invisible. Polling indicates that Black women are eager to exercise their right to vote this fall in order to affect change on the issues that impact their daily lives. However, Black women are too often excluded from this political process due to restrictive voter identification and registration laws that disproportionately strip them of their right to vote. Ensuring that all of those who are eligible to vote are able to vote is a critical aspect of combatting these structural inequalities and making Black women’s voices heard at the ballot.
Not only do Black women face racial discrimination in the workforce, in the ballot box, and in the world at large, but, every day they must fear for their very lives and the lives of those in their families and communities. The recent murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and Bettie Jones are a testament to this reality. Black mothers are forced to raise their children in a world that repeatedly minimizes or denies the worth of their lives because of the color of their skin, and in which violence against their bodies is met simply with more violence.
To be sure, tragedies like the murders of five Dallas police officers are just as troubling as the assaults suffered by Black men at the hands of police, and do nothing to advance the safety, accountability, and equality for which Black women ardently advocate. But Black women exist in these cycles of violence without receiving recognition from their politicians or support for policies that could counteract the injustices they face. That must change. However, in a testament to their resiliency, they continue to exercise their right to vote in order make their voices heard.
The evidence is clear that Black women continue to show up at the polls to make their presence felt, despite a multitude of setbacks. It’s time our elected officials showed up to support and enact the policies for which Black women want and need.
Michele Jawando is the Vice President of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress