When You’re Shut Out of Power: Organize

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Pictured:Anti-Immigration Ban Rally in St. Louis Feb. 2017  Credit: Paul Sableman

Today Jefferson Beauregard Sessions was confirmed by the US Senate Republican majority to be Attorney General of the United States. Sessions whose appointment to a federal judgeship had been opposed by Coretta Scott King (Martin Luther King Jr’s widow) in 1986 due to anti-Civil Rights activities in Alabama.

The day before Betsy DeVos, a woman with no formal training in education policy, work as a school teacher, or even attendee of of an American public school, became the Secretary of Education.

Both of these cabinet appointees of President Donald Trump were vociferously opposed by Democrats particularly the base of the Democratic Party. DeVos moreso than Sessions even.

But they were confirmed.

A colleague wondered what one should do since no matter what the Senate Democrats do, they will never get the votes to take down a Cabinet nominee, unless they break the Senate Republican lock. A Republican is in the White House. And the House of Representatives like the US Senate is Republican dominated.

To me it’s simple: organize.

Like President Obama said in his final address to the nation: “If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing,” the President implored. “If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clip board, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”

What did African Americans do when they were shut out of political power in the late 19th century until the mid 20th century? Organize.

Black people in most parts of the South, had no right to vote and because of that could not serve in juries and run for public office. They were virtually non existent in the political landscape bur through marches, rallies, and strategic political organizing and combined with media saavy, they created a movement that eventually brought a nation to realize it was time for legal equality of the races.

Women in the US in the 1st and Second wave movements of the women’s rights movement, fought for the women’s vote, a women’s right to choose an abortion legally,  to attend more Universities and colleges, to have equal participation in school sports, a woman’s right to have their own credit without a husband co-signing even.

How  did they do it? They organized.

LGBTQ Americans lived in the shadows until the 1970s and 1980s. They first fought for the right to be out and proud, won the right to marry who they love, and continue the fight to ensure housing and job discrimination is a thing of the past. How did they win their victories while in the minority? They organized.

It’s going to take everything we got. This isn’t a wait until election year type of time to get active. And there are plenty of ways to get active.

Donate to organization’s whose causes you support.

Host a fundraiser.

Get to now your Congressperson. Call their office about your concerns. Got to a townhall for your Member of Congress.

Attend a rally or a march on an issue you support. Plan a rally or a march on an issue you support.

Write Letters to the Editor or Op-Eds. Getting the message out is important.

And when the time comes vote. Register people to vote and get ten of your friends to vote.

Yes we’re going to lose some battles, but if we’re strategic we can win the war

Remembering Foremothers in Black History Month

I was excited on November 8, 2016 after I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.

I realized the significance of the moment and unlike many women (mainly white) I knew who wanted to or were headed to place a “I Voted” Sticker on the grave of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the promise white suffragists, I had gotten hold of an idea with my fellow women of color activists and politicos that we should find the graves of women of color who fought for suffrage and bring our “I Voted” Sticker to them.

Voting for a woman for President was significant, but we knew our rights to do that were there specifically because women of color had put their lives on the line for civil rights.

The initial thought was to organize a little group after Hillary on on Election Day and go.

Well that didn’t happen….. But the work of some of my (and the nation’s ) black foremothers should not be forgotten especially now as we look for inspiration.

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Ida B Wells
There was Ida B Wells was an African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, and early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She chronicled early lynching of blacks in the South and that it was used for controlling African Americans as opposed to punished as claimed by white Southerners at the time. She also developed and raised money for an anti-lynching campaign to criminalize lynching and became one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. She was also a major leader in suffragist causes.

 

 

 

 

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Mary Church Terrell
Mary Church Terrell, became one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, and became known as a national activist for civil rights and suffrage. She founded the National Association of Colored Women which focused heavily on black women’s equality particularly suffrage she was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

 

 

 

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Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth,born into slavery, Truth became an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, in 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. She went on to speak to be a leader in the abolitionist movement and at the Ohio Women’s Convenion in 1851 delivered her famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech, discussing equality for all women, including black women

 

These aforementioned women are just a few who started the fight for freedom, equality, dignity, and a vote for black women. There are many more, some whose names are lost to history.

And then there are those who carried that struggle into the 20th century and payed the way in politics for other black women.

Fannie Lou Hamer, a voting rights activist at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, shewas instrumental in organizing Mississippi’s Freedom Summer for the Student fannie_lou_hamer_1964-08-22Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1964 that aimed to register as many black Southerners to vote as possible. (It was the same campaign which three civil rights workers disappeared and were killed by the Klan.)Hamer later became the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, in 1964, which was organized by fellow African Americans and whites from Mississippi to challenge the legitimacy of the regular Mississippi Democratic Party, which allowed participation only by whites, when African Americans made up 40% of the state population. Her speech before the credentials committee at the 1964 Democratic National Convention demanding more black people be seated was televised around the country.

 

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Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm,  In 1968, she became the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress and  In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Jordan she was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States

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Barbara Jordan
House of Representatives. She was the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention.

As a black woman who has been active in politics these women I consider my foremothers. Without them, there courage, and willingness to shake up the status quo and literally put their lives on the line, there would not be a paved the way for black women and women of color at large in politics.

 

I remembered this when I was elected the first black President of the Young Democrats of America, the nation largest partisan youth organization, in its 83 year history (and a youth arm of the Democratic Party).

I remember it now in these rough political times more than ever. What would they have done? How would they have done it?

For fellow black activists, let Black History Month serve as a refocusing and energizing point for the work ahead in the era of Trump.