The 19th Amendment Left Out Black Women — Here’s What They’re Doing About It

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
This country owes Black women so much.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted some women the right to vote. Some women. It is well documented that the Suffragist movement for voting rights threw Black women under the bus in pursuit of white women’s equality with white men, and no one else.  
Each year, I watch women flock to the grave site of Susan B. Anthony in Rochester, NY, adding their “I Voted” stickers to her headstone. But have you heard of Mary Church Terrell, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Coralie Franklin Cook, and Sojourner Truth? These Black women suffragists were the first to demand an intersectional movement for women’s equality.
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After 100 years of organizing and progress, Black people have yet to achieve full voting access in the United States. Each election year, we see the same electoral strategy from the Republican party: to suppress and prevent Black voter participation. Until the last decade, the national conversation on voting lamented low Black voter turnout, rather than taking an honest look at voter suppression. 
I learned about the voting obstacles our community faces while working on my first campaign at age 17. For Black voters, electoral politics is not as simple as “getting off the sidelines” or toppling the opposition with numbers. Each campaign — no matter the geography or diversity of the community — requires removing obstacles to Black voter participation as a central strategy. We don’t have the privilege of merely debating our ideas. Ours is a multi-front battle; we must defend Black lives and Black votes. 
Over the last 16 years, I’ve worked on campaigns in 43 states for nearly 100 progressive Black women candidates and Black Movement organizations. In 2015, I founded Three Point Strategies to be a home for Black political organizers and clear a path to structural change utilizing elections as a tactic. 

100 years. 36,500 days. Progress inside each year, but electoral justice still delayed. 

Jessica byrd
In 2017, I also co-launched The Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives, a collective of Black organizations and activists utilizing electoral strategy as a tactic towards justice. Electoral justice is a framework that names the ballot as an opportunity to mitigate and restore harm done to Black people, build in the vision of our community needs, and to engage in co-governance with elected leaders.
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Our present-day leaders Kayla Reed, Rukia Lumumba, Judith Browne Dianis, Mercedes Fulbright, Jamecia Gray, Nelini Stamp, and many more wake up every day to honor the legacy of Black suffragists. We show gratitude to our freedom-fighting ancestors by pressing on with our demands for dignity and justice and fighting tooth and nail to protect our right to vote. 
100 years. 36,500 days. Progress inside each year, but electoral justice still delayed. 
I have a more hopeful vision for our progress in another 100 hundred years: Generations of activists will recall long voting lines from Detroit to Atlanta to Louisville, postmasters who changed the rules to win the game, and the gaslighting of Black voters. All while they celebrate Election Day as a federal holiday where automatic voter registration is a birthright. 
Rank choice voting will allow voters engaged in a multi-party system to vote for ideas first, personalities last. We’ll have moved far beyond fighting for the simple right to vote, instead fully engaged in the governing of our multi-racial society. The wheeling and dealing of Black voters inherited from the legacy of white Suffragettes will be a relic of the past. 
In 100 years, a parade of “I Voted” stickers will march towards the grave of voter suppression and the monuments erected to Congressman John Lewis and so many other leaders of our mass movements for justice.  
Today, Black women are running for public office in record numbers and showing up with a clear agenda for holding elected officials accountable to our needs. Over 120 Black women — a historic record — are running in this year’s congressional races and many more in local elections. Kamala Harris was nominated as vice president on the Democratic presidential ticket, a massive historic first. Even while some disagree with her politics, this important move signals increased representation for Black women since the 19th amendment.
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But this alone is not electoral justice. 
August 18, 1920, was the ratification of the 19th Amendment, an important and incomplete marker of the organizing conditions of the next 100 years. Now, in every place that Black people live, there are Black activists fighting for change. On August 28, we’ll tell their story. At the 2020 Black National Convention — hosted by The Movement for Black Lives — we will define a framework for electoral justice, launching an unapologetic Black agenda to create transformation at the ballot box and beyond. We will tell the full story of the expansive and deep possibilities of a Black movement organizing for change.
Jessica Byrd is Founding Partner, Three Point Strategies, and Co-Organizer, The Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives. M4BL is a national network of over 150 leaders and organizations creating a broad political home for Black people to learn, organize, and take action. Learn more at BlackNovember.org.

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