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Black women were powerful organizers in the 2020 election

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"Announcement of Senator Kamala Harris as Candidate for Vice President of the United States - Wilmington, DE - August 12, 2020" by Biden For President is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/lic
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During and after the 2020 election Black women were heralded as the quote, “Backbone of Democracy” by many Democrats. Their organizing efforts and support they galvanized was crucial to President Joe Biden’s victory and regaining power in the U.S. Senate.

“Alright Y’all, so I’m in Michigan…again[laughter]”

When Vice President Kamala Harris visited Detroit before the 2020 election, she was making a pitch to voters—notably Black voters in Detroit and suburban voters—to make sure their networks voted too.

“We will tell them that we were committed over these 42 days to doing everything we possibly can to making sure we vote and making sure everyone we vote and everyone we know votes and in that way fights for this country we love. Thank you, Detroit [applause].”

Months later when Harris gave her victory speech as the first woman, and first Black and South Asian woman to hold the office of Vice President she gave a special shoutout to the women who paved her way.

“Including the Black women who are too often overlooked but so often prove that they are the backbone of our Democracy [cheers].”

Lavora Barnes was just elected to her second term as chair of the state Democratic party says the power of Black women as an organizing force in Democratic politics is not new.

“We've been taking our babies with us to vote since I mean, my mother and my grandmother both did it," said Barnes. "And I do it. It's just part of part of who we are we raise voters.”

Barnes, is the first Black woman to serve as party chair in the state. Under her leadership Michigan rejoined the so-called blue wall states, and President Joe Biden won the state by a margin more than 14 times larger than former President Donald Trump’s margin of victory in 2016. 

“What is new is the attention on black woman. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we had a black woman running for president and then Vice President of the United States, a lot of that has to do with the fact that black women have stepped up to lead in the party. You know, you've got a black woman now chairing Michigan Democratic Party, there are black women chairing parties across the country. I think that the some of the women who have been elected officials, you know, think about Brenda Lawrence sort of stepping up and speaking up. I think there's just been more sound and fury, frankly from black women than there had been before.”

Ronald Brown is an Assistant Professor of political science at Wayne State University and a member of Citizen Detroit a voter education group based in Detroit. He says the role of Black women in Detroit politics blooms out of places like Black churches and other centers of civic engagement where women often outnumber men.

“They are the foundation in terms of mobilizing the vote and the other ones also I mentioned, Citizen Detroit, the other ones who turn out the meetings that we attend, this is a not random sample, but the meeting that I attend, it's the same thing is like 66% women,” Brown says.

But in 2020, organizing during the coronavirus pandemic posed a challenge. Door knocking and community meetings weren’t common so a lot of voter outreach happened on social media and on virtual conversations.

“Okay, so it says our meeting is now streaming live on Facebook. So for those of you that can see us I would like to officially welcome you to Power and Politics, my name is Dashauna Robinson and I am one of your moderators this evening.”

Dashauna Robinson is Black woman, a social worker, and a member of the Benton Harbor Area School Board. She says she stepped up beyond voting this election cycle to take part in campaigning and donating after she realized she could play a more active role in recruiting voters.

“A lot of the individuals within our community are starting to disconnect from their civil responsibility and connection to politics and kind of questioning ‘How does it benefit us? And why should we get involved?’ So, I thought it would be best that I kind of step in and see what there was that I could do to kind of answer those questions and get that conversation started, so that we each are aware that we do need to be involved and connected to the establishment of politics,” Robinson said.

The power of the 2020 election, part referendum on President Trump and the first opportunity to elect a Black woman to the second highest office, was fueled by a network of Black women like Robinson mobilizing other voters.

State Representative, Sarah Anthony, the first Black woman to represent Lansing—says she created a Facebook group for fellow sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha who supported Kamala Harris.

“In a matter of like 24 hours, there were thousands of women that signed up and said, ‘I’m ready to go. What do we do? What are we wearing?’ [laughter] You know, ‘put me on a phone bank, I’ll host something, I’ll donate.’ And that level of political organization was just never truly captured I don’t think,” says Anthony.

Robinson says even the people who she wasn’t able to convince to vote in 2020 were interested in following the Georgia Senate races and elections of Black women like Congresswoman Cori Bush and Vice President Harris.

“I am very hopeful that we're headed in the right direction in that representation for ourselves and seeing the power that Stacey Abrams had in Georgia, seeing the VP in her seat rocking it out," said Robinson. "And her chucks. I think all of those are things that will get individuals like myself and others motivated to see themselves as a part of that change.”