Black women are building democracy in America

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If we look at black-led movement history in the United States and beyond these borders, we will find black women at the forefront of change and transformative political strategy.

We’re not reinventing the wheel. Black women are assessing and implementing multi-pronged organizing strategies — ways to build power, secure control over resources, and to catalyze greater societal transformation.

{mosads}The recent election results in Alabama last December were a testament to this, as are the histories of black women’s presidential campaigns during civil rights movements. At every turn, the actions and organizing of black women in the United States — alongside transformative processes by black communities and black-led movements on the African continent, across the African diaspora and indigenous majority nations around the world — are at the forefront of a global charge for democracy, political accountability and widespread people’s participation.  


A multi-pronged organizing strategy requires flexibility and willingness to try new ways to build and engage your base and to move a particular campaign forward. An electoral strategy may be necessary, and this may imply several years of building up a team or an individual to defend the community’s best interests and transform the community’s level of participation. To gauge the success of an electoral strategy is difficult, since it’s not only about winning an election but also about guaranteeing that whoever is “in power” stays accountable.  

Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Jessica Byrd, Latosha Brown, Erica Garner and many others are the black women whose work, from abolition to the founding of Black Voters Matter, speaks to the testament of black women and approaching an electoral strategy.

For example, Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader in the 1960s civil rights movement in Mississippi, was no stranger to the challenges of an electoral strategy. She fiercely fought for black folks to register to vote and then exercise this right amidst white supremacist fear-mongering, threats and aggression. Black folks voting wasn’t the end of Fannie Lou’s work; it was part of her organizing to ensure better conditions for black people. For Fannie Lou and others, their fight was to build power by any means necessary. And given the time, place and conditions, that meant electoral politics and voting.

What does an electoral strategy, if any, mean for 2018?  

For 2018, it means more black women running for legislative office than ever in U.S. history. It means guaranteeing access to information about elections, laws, candidates and improving our national voter literacy.

It means ensuring that U.S. popular culture and history textbooks document black women’s names, our histories, campaigns and analysis, because black women are a cornerstone of democracy and the fight for life in the United States and globally. It means fighting for alternatives to incarceration and leading a campaign that fights for incarcerated people’s right to vote.

It means Jessica Byrd consulting people of color and developing political programs, campaigns and organizations as Latosha Brown empowers black voter turnout.

It means black folks extending solidarity with the Zapatistas in México and the first indigenous woman presidential candidate María de Jesús Patricio (a.k.a, Marichuy), as well as people’s-led socialist movements in El Salvador, Bolivia and Venezuela. It means researching how grassroots elections and campaigns in Haiti and Grenada fought for food sovereignty, women’s rights, education and health care. 2018 should encourage us to remember the anti-colonial struggles in Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

We’ve witnessed guerrilla movements transform wings of their organizations into political parties, such as the FMLN in El Salvador. We’ve stood beside anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles across the African continent. We’ve seen the rise of popular democracies and people’s power across South America in the past two decades.

For 2018, black women building democracy is a call to imagine our communities uplifted and empowered by the institutions that surround us and wage this fight.   

2018 requires that we honor the legacy of Erica Garner who spent much of her time building a clear and concise pathway for elected officials to participate in the end of police terror. We pay Erica our deepest respects as a mother, organizer and freedom fighter. She dedicated her work to fighting on behalf of black communities and our right to life with dignity. We lost her way too soon, and this work continues in her name.

Patrisse Cullors is the founder of Dignity and Power Now, which advocates on behalf of incarcerated people and their families, and is co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Jeanette Charles is a journalist and organizer who has worked with Latin American and Caribbean solidarity organizations Chiapas Support Committee and Witness for Peace.

Tags Activism African-American Civil Rights Movement Black Lives Matter Community organizing Fannie Lou Hamer Grassroots Movements for civil rights Politics of the United States Social change Social movements

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