In case you missed it, last week in Cleveland, I represented Make It Work Nevada during a much-needed conversation about the importance and untapped potential of the Black women’s vote in the 2016 election. It was a powerful and honest discussion led by Higher Heights in conjunction with the Black Women’s Roundtable, North Shore AFL-CIO and Ohio Unity. (Watch it here!)
To be fair, mainstream conversations about our voting power are fairly new. Year in and year out, we’ve heard pundits discuss the importance of “the women’s vote” or “the Black vote,” but only after the election of President Barack Obama did people start to recognize and unpack the power Black women bring to the polls.
Black women turned out the vote more than any other group in the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections. Yes. We were absolutely a game-changing force in putting the first Black President in office. Yes.
The problem is that the punditry stops there with the analysis. Dig a little deeper, and the facts show that Black women have been a driving force in the electorate for a long time.
Black women have led Black men in voter participation in every election since 1998. The steady increase in voter turnout among African Americans predates President Obama’s election by more than a decade. Black women have consistently ranked among the top three voting groups in the nation since 1984.
In short, Black women’s political currency matters. And we aren’t just your voters, we’re your swing voters, too. Black women, and Black millennial women especially, are increasingly identifying as Independents. And as previous trends show, as Black women go, so goes the Black electorate. As of 2014, more than a quarter of African American voters identified as Independents.
As our friends at Higher Heights have said, when Black women vote, we don’t vote alone. We turn out our friends, our families, our faith communities, our sorors, our co-workers, and maybe even people we just met around the water cooler.
So how can candidates win the vote of Black women? They should champion an economic agenda that includes affordable child care, equal pay, paid leave, and paid sick days. And they’ve got to support the whole package. We aren’t single-issue voters, because we don’t lead single-issue lives. Our economic security hinges on the whole package of these policies, not just any single one.
Engaging us means having a plan that ends the wage gap along gender and racial lines; it means offering solutions to the 45 percent of Black female-led households that are living and working in poverty; it means acknowledging the intersection between grieving the death of Alton Sterling and recognizing that your ability to make it work is not free from criminalization.
When it comes to these policies, Black women again are the bellwether. We support these issues more than any other group, but a fast-growing majority of people in the U.S. are following our lead. My job as the Nevada Director of Make It Work is to bring together women – and men – across the state to talk about these issues and connect the dots. These aren’t just the worries keeping you up at night – they’re the worries keeping us ALL up at night.
I can’t tell you how often I hear from my fellow Nevadans about the last-minute speeches or campaign stops by candidates that, seeking a boost the Sunday before Election Day, name drop our struggle and pay lip-service to our issues.
Black women have long invested and engaged in the political process–and you can be sure we’ll turn out to vote in 2016–but now is the time to flex the power of our vote by electing–and holding accountable–the candidates who will invest in and engage with us.
By: Erika Washington