Black women’s loyalty to the Democratic Party can’t be taken for granted

PERSPECTIVE | Black women elected Doug Jones. Will they get the credit they deserve?

(iStock/Lily illustration)

Black women, once again, came through.

As the nation anxiously watched the Alabama Senate race on Tuesday night to see if Roy Moore, a Republican judge accused of molesting young women, or Doug Jones, a Democrat and lawyer, would occupy Jeff Sessions’s old seat, it was black women who overwhelmingly decided the Democrat would represent the state in the nation’s capital.

Jones thanked the African American community during his victory speech. But he really should have focused on black women. Ninety eight percent of black women voters cast a ballot for him.

Doug Jones. (Nicole Craine/Bloomberg)

Black women saved Alabama just as they tried to save the nation and themselves when 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Black women have shown fortitude and force in important elections. It is the labor of black women on the ground and at the polls that progressives should point to in this important political victory.

But will they give them credit for it? Probably not, but they should.

It is no surprise that black women are the heroes in this historic election because Alabama is sacred ground for their political engagement. Black women including Diane Nash and the late Amelia Boynton were key figures in the 1960s voting rights movement in Alabama that led to the national 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In Alabama and across the country black women are still empowering voters. Synethia Perkins Pettaway, the chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Executive Committee said her team knew that getting black women to the polls would be key to winning the election.

Pettaway said her coalition worked with churches, black sororities and black media and capitalized off of Moore’s scandal to mobilize voters. But they also tapped into black women’s concerns about housing, healthcare, education and jobs with livable wages.

“Black women voters in Alabama are important and you (politicians) need to address issues that relate to black women in Alabama,” she said. “You need to focus on those. You need to come back to the black belt and find out what the mothers and grandmothers need to take care of their families.”

Democrats and other politicians must stay connected to black women beyond election season, Pettaway said, and deliver policies that are important to them as well as support them when they run for office.

She’s right. Politicians owe black women that.

Black women’s allegiance to the Democratic Party is strong and the party must reciprocate that loyalty back to them. A survey released earlier this year by the Black Women’s Roundtable and Essence, the nation’s leading magazine geared toward black women, found that black women believe the Democratic Party represents the issues they care about most. But the number of black women who think that plummeted from 85 percent last year to 74 percent this year, according to the survey.

Moreover, the number of black women who believe that none of the existing political parties represent their interests well rose to 21 percent this year up from 13 percent in 2016, according to the survey.

The lack of formal support and recognition that black women have received from the Democratic Party is not lost on them. Black women know they are the backbone of the party.

In May a team of black women activists and elected officials wrote a letter to the Democratic Party expressing their dissatisfaction with the party’s lack of support for black women candidates and the few black women in formal leadership positions in the party.

Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights, an organization that fosters political engagement among black women, signed that letter. Things are getting better, she said, but there is still work to be done.

“Black women decide elections, in particular when they’re tight races,” said Carr who also noted a growing number of black political groups that are emerging to mobilize black voters and were engaged in Alabama. “So it is important that we ought to be investing in sustainable, long-term engagement in engaging black women in a meaningful way if we want to move this country forward.”

With looming tax adjustments, healthcare changes, immigration directives and other policies that are harmful to black women and the rest of the nation, progressives and others can no longer afford to ignore black women.

Now is the time for all progressive entities, especially the Democratic Party, to stop selectively and sporadically engaging with black women and fully and formally bring them into these organizations not just to reward them for work they’ve already done but also as a strategy for survival. Without the contributions of black women they will fail.

The time is now to acknowledge black women, listen to black women and invest in black women or continue to lose ground and perhaps elections.