Why our government representation should look more like us
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Last week, Lisa Blunt Rochester won the Democratic primary in Delaware, putting her on track to be the first African-American and the first woman to represent the state in Congress. This is a huge win, and across the country this year we have seen women of color starting to break through long-held barriers to power.

But it’s not thanks to either national party. As we know, we have an inclusion problem in American government. White men hold four times as much political power as everyone else -- they represent only 31 percent of the population but hold more than double that percentage in the number of elected positions. 

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Throughout history in America, we have had moments where democracy was in crisis. In response, our elected officials rose up to prove our system worked; that it could be the most stable, and the most trusted. As the Nazis rose to power in Germany, we did away with Jim Crow. Roosevelt instituted the New Deal to show that democracy was the best path to freedom.

Our democracy is in crisis now. With videos circulating weekly showing brutal extrajudicial killings of black and brown Americans, out-of-control incarceration, and an increasing spotlight on the white men who govern so much of our lives -- people are losing faith in American institutions. A whopping 86 percent of Americans think our democracy is broken.

This isn’t something to ignore, and it shouldn’t be surprising.

Representation matters, and it is hard to trust a government that doesn’t look anything like you -- especially when neither national party is trying particularly hard to change it. The sad reality is that 71 percent of elected officials are men, 90 percent are white, and 65 percent are white men.

This election cycle, the likes of Lisa Blunt Rochester might be more common, but they are the exception, not the rule.

As a result -- massive legislation across the country is debated, dropped, or passed day after day without the benefit of the voices of women and people of color.

At the national level, things are even worse -- practically no women of color are involved in law-making at all. Congress right now is 80 percent white, and 80 percent male.

None of this is new -- but here we are, nearly at the end of yet another primary season, and both national political parties in our country are humming along, business as usual. No big proposals, no big candidate recruitment plans. The work of ensuring our democracy represents actual America -- of ensuring that people regain faith in democracy as we know it -- is largely being done by groups outside of the party structure.

In one of the biggest primaries of the season, in a state with one of the largest Black populations in the country, the Democratic Party establishment-backed a white man over an equally (if not more) qualified Black woman -- Rep. Donna Edwards. This is despite the fact that only one Black woman has ever served in our US Senate.

It’s time for us all to wake up. American institutions are failing -- they are losing the trust of Americans. To regain that trust, we need both parties to get serious about representation.

It’s not hard: the Democratic Party already mandates that 50 percent of delegates to their national convention be women. In Rwanda, the constitution mandates that at least 30 percent of all members of governing bodies should be women. The result? More than 60 percent of their latest Parliament is made up of women members.

We aren’t asking for a constitutional mandate -- but we are asking both parties to create programs that mandate more diversity in candidate recruitment and support. More than 65 major donors, including many WDN members, are backing a push within the Democratic Party to do just this -- and we have a huge opportunity with the upcoming Unity Commission. The specific proposal would mandate every Democratic Party arm focused on candidate support and recruitment -- including the DGA, DSCC, DCCC, and state Democratic parties -- develop a plan to support more diverse candidates, and that they all diversify their staff.

This primary season shows representative government won’t happen without political party leadership on board. Anything less would be shameful. The time has come for Democrats and Republicans to work toward restoring faith in American democracy.

Ancona is Vice President of the Women Donors Network, which leverages the wealth, power, and community of progressive women donors toward a more just, equitable, and sustainable world. Follow her on Twitter @jenancona


 

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