Much ado has been made about Senator Bernie Sanders speaking on the first night of the Women’s Convention. Headlines screamed “Bernie Sanders to Deliver Opening Night Speech,” with prominent women’s group Emily’s List piling on with “Sanders headlining Women’s Convention ‘sends the wrong message.’” The hyperventilation was something to behold; especially since the real headliner was Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who also bestowed the Women’s March with their theme, “Reclaiming Our Time.”
Time and time again, Women of Color are disregarded, ignored, and taken for granted by the political status quo. Why would the Women’s Convention be any different? Congresswoman Maxine Waters was announced as the keynote speaker and the media barely batted an eye, but weeks later Senator Bernie Sanders is announced as a speaker that same night, and heads explode. It’s easy to explain this as water that can’t seem to get under the bridge. But it’s deeper than that. This is about Women of Color who have been in the trenches and doing the work for years. Women who labored and toiled not for prominence, influence, and black tie gala invites, but for their communities and those who needed their sacrifice the most.
Yet despite their political dedication, every year Black and Brown women are relegated to the lower rungs of leadership, placated with a few crumbs here and there. Political spending decisions for the hundreds of millions of mostly wasted dollars are made with little to no input from the boots on the ground doing the hard work and gathering the best intel. Women of Color continue to remain severely underrepresented not only in every level of elected office, but also as executive directors, senior staff, and decision makers of almost every major Democratic political organization in the country, progressive or otherwise. And yet year after year, Women of Color continue laboring because their work is about something bigger and more meaningful than themselves.
The resistance is new to most people, but Women of Color have been resisting for generations. It’s entirely natural then, that Women of Color would now take their rightful place as leaders of the anti-Trump and anti-fascist resistance. And yet with their years of experience, wisdom, and battle wounds, they are still perceived as incapable of making informed decisions about who should speak during the first night of a convention aimed at continuing the momentum that began only after our country arrived at what feels like rock bottom. It doesn’t matter that a rock star like Congresswoman Maxine Waters was chosen by the organizers intentionally, because America’s reflective response is still to immediately question the choices of Women of Color. The organizers purposely chose the most popular politician in the United States, whose politics they believe aligns with their shared unity principles, to be a lead in for one of our nation’s fiercest politicians, their headliner.
At the end of the day, this is just another example that it’s easier to ignore the choices of Women of Color than it is to just trust them. Or to have a dialogue with them. This hypocritical and illogical reaction isn’t new, but what is new is that Women of Color are now, finally, reclaiming their time and their positions of leadership. If we’re going to fight, let’s fight together to ensure that our female leaders of color — like Maxine and the amazing women organizing this convention — are given a voice in moments of disagreement or discord, rather than written off or silenced.