‘Keep stirring, the ice is cracked’

‘Keep stirring, the ice is cracked’
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Women did it again.

Scores of women won primaries in Texas on Tuesday and Democrats are poised to send the first two Latinas to Congress from the Lone Star state. This is just the latest in a string of moments since Donald Trump was inaugurated president where women have flexed their political, social and moral muscles. The Women’s March put millions of people on the streets of cities in defiance of President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE; the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements sparked a reckoning on sexual harassment and assault; and in the Alabama U.S. Senate race, black women led the way to a Democratic victory in a bright red state.

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Women are more active on more fronts than they have been in generations, and women of color are at the forefront. Sojourner Truth, who planted the aspirations of black women in the women’s rights movement, would be proud.

 

Truth, born Isabella Baumfree in 1797, was enslaved in Ulster County, New York, just west of the Hudson River. Forcibly married to a man she did not love, Baumfree gave birth to 13 children, most of them sold away from her. She escaped in 1826 with one daughter, and two years later sued an Alabama plantation owner for the release of one of her sons who was sold off illegally. Isabella Baumfree was the first black woman in America to sue a white man in court — and win.

After a religious conversion, Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, and preached abolitionism and women’s rights thereafter. In her most famous speech, at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, Truth planted the struggle of black women in the heart of the fight for women’s rights.

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?”

During the Civil War, Truth recruited black troops to join the Union Army and gathered supplies for them to fight. She met President Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1864 to thank him for helping her people and pressed Presidents Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant to do more.

After the war, Truth carried on her fight for black women to secure any rights black men received after emancipation. Intersectionality wasn’t a term of art in the 19th century, but Sojourner Truth was among the first to argue for alleviating the overlapping burdens of being both black and a woman in America. As Congress considered guaranteeing black men the right to vote, she argued for the franchise to include black women too. A speech to the first meeting of the American Equal Rights Association in 1867 made the point:

“There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. …I have been 40 years a slave and 40 years free, and would be here 40 years more to have equal rights for all. I suppose I am kept here because something remains for me to do; I suppose I am yet to help to break the chain.

“…I suppose I am about the only colored woman who goes about to speak for the rights of the colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked.”

America has made a lot of progress since Sojourner Truth’s death in 1883. America has made a lot of progress since my birth. There are more women in Congress (though not anywhere close to parity), and three women sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Women make up more than 50 percent of college students, law students and nearly half of medical students. That trend doesn’t hold in engineering or computer science, and Silicon Valley is struggling with gender diversity. Only 17 percent of venture capital backed tech startups have a woman founder and it’s even worse for black women. While the average white male founder can raise $1.3 million for his startup, black women founders raise an average of $36,000.

And then there’s Donald Trump. The president has appointed men to fill 83 percent of his cabinet and 62 percent of the overall number of political jobs in government, reversing President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaKrystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans Sanders campaign announces it contacted over 1 million Iowa voters Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE’s course.

America has a lot further to go, but as Sojourner Truth put it, let’s “keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked.”

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist who has worked for the Clinton White House, Congress and the Clinton, Gore and Obama presidential campaigns.