As the NAACP hosted its first tele-town hall of 2019 on Jan. 15, the theme and comments from the panelists remained focused one issue alone: the power of women — Black women, specifically.
“As we celebrate Founder’s Day and the 90th birthday of Dr. King, one of the things critically important with leadership is Black women are making it clear that all issues are Black women issues,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said. “When we lead and hold these offices, we’re not only addressing things like pay disparities, but the need to have a minimum wage so that [it] equals the minimum standard of living.”
Harris, along with recently-elected Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.), fellow Democratic Reps. Marcia Fudge (Ohio), Lucy McBath (Ga.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), the latter two both newcomers on the Hill, participated.
The “Women in Power Town Hall” series provided a platform for leading women, including policy makers and grassroots activists, to engage listeners in a critical discussion about the top priorities for the year.
Following the swearing-in of a membership illustrative of the most diverse congressional session in U.S. history and replete with more women of color than ever before, the town hall featured CBC members, elected officials, NAACP leaders and business and civic leaders in a candid conversation about the 2019 agenda, issues affecting communities of color and how women can continue as advocates.
“The only [congressional] class that rivals this one in size is the [class of] Watergate,” Pressley said, who stunned 10-term Rep. Michael Capuano in their state’s primary to become the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts.
“And that’s no coincidence … during this vitriolic, polarizing time we find ourselves in. … it’s the same way it was during Watergate,” she said referring to President Donald Trump and his administration.
McBath noted that the CBC has been addressing a more inclusive policy agenda for a long time.
“We’re probably the only body that looks at human and civil rights from the eyes of the community,” she said, noting that the iconic former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm set the bar for all.
Each lawmaker paid homage to Chisholm who 51 years ago became the first Black woman elected to Congress.
Chisholm, a founding member of the CBC and the first African American to make a serious bid for president, represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms until 1983.
“It’s imperative that America hears from a Black woman like me about the issue [of gun violence] that has devastated our community for years,” said McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, died in 2012 after an argument at a gas station, reportedly over loud music, led to a white Florida man shooting into the car in which Jordan and his teenaged friends had been traveling.
“Now, gun violence has gone outside the confines of the urban community and extended its ugly head all over the nation,” she said. “As a Black woman, a woman of color, I believe I must stand up and take responsibility for others.”
Fudge, a former CBC chair, noted that Black women in Congress helped spearhead the recent passage of the Farm Bill which helps protect African Americans.
“When people ask if we’re [the CBC] relevant, I reply that we’re more than relevant,” Fudge said. “Sometimes we work in the shadows and we do and we’re effective.”
The Democratic Party in particular realizes the importance of Black women, Fudge added.
“I think the party, and even now the Republican Party, is realizing that they can’t be successful without Black women,” she said. “The most educated voters are Black women who are the single-largest voting bloc per capita and everyone is taking notice of the power we have.”
That power could extend to the White House in 2020 with Harris expected to announce her candidacy for president this month.
The California senator laughed when an admirer told her that she hopes Harris runs for president.
Instead of a direct response, Harris joined her colleagues in offering advice as to what Black women can do to exert their power.
“Stay active, use your powerful voice and get involved in campaigns,” she said. “It could be a campaign issue or a candidate campaign. But let them see you in the campaign office and organize community members. When Black women show up and campaign, our voices are heard, and we’re taken more seriously.”