– Midway through Women’s History Month, black women from ten states came to Washington, D.C. and converged on the nation’ capitol to meet with Democratic and Republican representatives of Congress and to assert their political power, as part of the Black Women’s Roundtable (“BWR”) Summit on March 14-16. They came to tell our leaders in Congress to stop the partisan politics and pass legislation that creates good paying jobs with livable wages, increases small business opportunities for women, reduces gun violence in our communities, and invests in our children’s education. Education is the social justice movement of our time says Becky Pringle, Secretary/Treasurer of National Education Association (“NEA”), in speaking to the BWR.
“We’re coming together to the nation’s capitol to leverage our vote,” said Melanie L. Campbell, convener Black Women’s Roundtable and president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Meetings included those with Democrats and Republicans, including a discussion with Rep. Paul Ryan (R. WI). Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D. TX) stressed why it is important for black women to engage politicians. Lee said that those persons who are drafting the budget have not walked in the shoes of black women. Rep. Lee told the BWR that when a budget is balanced on the backs of working class families, there’s a problem.
Women have always fought injustice. And black women have always been at the political forefront from Harriet Tubman, Mary Church Terrell, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (D. NY), Dr. Dorothy I. Height, Donna Brazile and California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Whether risking their lives freeing slaves, fighting for voting rights, sparking the civil rights movement by refusing to give up a seat on a bus, speaking before the Democratic National Committee, running for Democratic nomination for President, chairing a Democratic Presidential campaign or fighting for civil rights, black women have been at the forefront in U.S. politics.
In recent years, black women asserted their political power collectively at the ballot box. In the 2012 Presidential election, black women voted in overwhelming numbers with 96% voting to re-elect President Obama. And it was the largest black turnout in the history of the U.S. says Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Campbell says “In 2012 black women were the highest vote for President Obama and the margin of victory for many in the U. S. Congress. We want to tell our elected officials what we want – which includes ending sequestration now”. H.R. bill 900 would eliminate and cancel the sequester.
Ironically on March 15, the same day that President Lyndon Johnson announced to Congress in 1965 that he was proposing legislation to protect voting rights for blacks, the BWR Summit discussed continuing the battle for voting rights and keeping intact Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. While the fight for immigration rights appears focused on Hispanics, immigration reform affecting the African Diaspora is also needed. In the words of black Laureate poet Gwendolyn Brooks, “we are each other’s business.”
BWR came to Washington, DC to hold our elected officials accountable. And black women must continue the fight on a federal and local level throughout the country on issues that affect all of us.
Debbie Hines is an attorney, former prosecutor and founder of Legalspeaks blog. She frequently appears in the media addressing issues on gender and race in law and politics. She also contributes articles to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.