We’re in trouble in this country. Huge percentages of Americans are out of work, and Black and brown communities are bearing the brunt of the health and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Botched and inadequate responses by the federal and some state governments are resulting in massive numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths in these communities, as well as worsening of already terrible living conditions and life chances. Women of color are most likely to be designated “essential” workers, often facing inadequate workplace protections against the virus and minimal protection for performing underpaid and undervalued work. We have known in intimate and painful ways that structural racism causes unjustified suffering. The pandemic is revealing a system rife with corruption and incompetence at the top levels of government, and one that is actively attacking the humanity and rights of communities of color.
As punishing as these conditions are for us, we women of color recognize the path in the dark. As the very people who have been ignored, taken for granted, discounted, and dehumanized, we also know that we are the ones who can lead the nation out of this mess. Even under these terrible circumstances, many of us recognize that we, women of color, are the ones called to lead as courageous candidates and elected officials, as well as organizers and voters. In this moment of national and global crisis, women of color have emerged as the saving graces of our democracy. Black, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Muslim, and Latina women are showing the nation that we can unite in common cause across race. Who we are and what we do underscores the one essential truth that many progressives did not understand and embrace in 2016: The only path to winning political power and implementing solutions that heal us as a people is with the enthusiastic support of women of color. The collective hope and better future of our nation depends on our leadership. While the growing shadow of COVID-19 and cunning voter suppression are expanding their reach (undergirded by a persistent fiction that prioritizes white voters and issues over everyone else), women of color are building an inclusive multiracial coalition in 2020.
Women of color are not a monolithic group, but we unite under common values: to love our own and others, to make justice the law of the land, to create a country where everyone belongs, and to ensure that this American democracy lives up to its greatest promise.
Our movement and our organizing are grounded in our faith in a politics we have not yet seen. We need faith restored in our democracy, in our voting systems, and in the efficacy, capacity, and willingness of our government to serve the people. We need our faith restored in one another, that we have the ability to shape our future. We need to restore faith in the power and necessity of solidarity. We need to collectively learn that we are a country where there is no minority and no majority. Women of color have shown that our strength is more than our vote in 2020. Women of color want a country where people can live lives of dignity. And we will insist that whoever receives our votes and our support will govern with our deepest values and full humanity in view.
In battleground states such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Florida, women of color are leading inclusive, multiracial coalitions that are transforming our political landscape. And these victories are not simply about electing Democrats. We women of color have bigger plans for the nation. We’re seeking economic and racial justice. We want a country where people can live lives of dignity. This means full access to health care, housing, and education. This means living in a democracy we’ve dreamed of but have not yet realized.
Many will understand the power and leadership arising from women of color as a voting bloc by seeing the significance of our numbers. For many years, even as they were mostly unacknowledged, women of color have determined the outcomes of federal, state, and local elections. We are one-third all voting age women, comprising the majority of women in key swing states that are themselves majority people of color. In Nevada, women of color are 26 percent of the electorate. People of color are 38 percent of the population and will soon be the majority. Furthermore, our numbers are growing fast.
The numbers matter. It has been tough work to convince political strategists, donors, and party leaders to change their assumptions and biases about what it takes to win elections. It continues to be difficult to get resources for voter engagement and voter turnout for communities of color. For example, in 2016 Democrats spent 75 percent of their billion dollar-plus war chest going after white moderate and conservative voters. And we know how that turned out. Donald Trump is President, and Republicans held both Houses of Congress. Two statistics say it all: Eighty-five percent of married white women voted for Trump, and 53 percent of all white women. Trump and the Republicans have stoked racial animus and jailed refugee children, remade the tax code to profit corporations, and openly spoken about keeping voter turnout low to stay in power. Old ways of prioritizing political strategy, old ways of describing the voters who matter led to the disastrous results of the 2016 election that we continue to face today. But 2016 was not the end of the story. Ironically, it marked a new beginning.
Two years ago, having fully absorbed the lesson that old electoral practices and assumptions did not serve the movement for justice, I heeded the call for change. I launched She the People, a call to our nation to elevate women of color fully into our collective power. She the People began with a recognition that those of us closest to the pain are closest to the solution. Despite the horrifying daily news, women of color are showing that we are the change we have been waiting for. We are showing the nation that, despite these challenging times, we are on the cusp of a new progressive and political era in America.
Back to the numbers: In 2016, the Democratic Party did not consider women of color in their political calculus. If the Democrats had been paying attention to the numbers, they would have seen that, since 2000, the vote-eligible population of women of color increased by 13.5 million. These numbers got everyone’s attention in 2018. The midterm elections showed the power of women of color leading a coalition that had transformative results. Looking at turnout as a percentage of the citizen voting age population in previous midterms, the numbers for 2006, 2010, 2014 were 39 percent, 39 percent, and 35 percent, respectively. In 2018, the figure for women of color was 48 percent. This represents a 37 percent increase among women of color voters compared to 2016. This huge increase has not been found among other groups.
Yet each segment of the women of color voting bloc has unique strengths and specific challenges that keep them from full participation in our electoral system. Black women, the highest turnout and most active voting bloc in the country, have 15 million votes. In Georgia, Black women alone are 33 percent of voters, 38 percent in Mississippi, 31 percent in Maryland. However, in 2016 turnout of Black women was lower than 2012, some 18 percent. If the voter turnout in 2020 returns to its 2012 levels, Black women will have the capacity to cast at least one million more ballots than in 2016. Imagine the impact that might have in states like Georgia and Florida where the electoral margins are so small.
Latinas are the second largest and second fastest-growing voting group. In Texas, Latinas are 29 percent of the electorate. The number of vote-eligible Latinas has increased 8 percentage points since 2000 in states like Florida and Arizona. Despite the importance of these numbers, Latinas face rampant voter suppression and insufficient outreach. If Latinas turned out at a similar rate as white voters in 2016, it would have resulted in 2.7 million more votes cast for President.
Asian American and Pacific Islander women are the fastest-growing group of voters. In the past 20 years, vote eligibility among these women has increased 97 percent. They are proving themselves to be increasingly influential not only in states like California, where they are now 14 percent of the electorate, but in places like Georgia, where the number of vote-eligible AAPI voters increased 47 percent from 2000 to 2016. In 2018, turnout in Georgia among these women skyrocketed six times over the 2014 rate. Structural barriers have long suppressed turnout. If AAPI women turned out at the same rates as white women, they would represent 3.4 million more votes.
American Indian women have had a 29 percent increase in vote eligibility since 2000, including 9 percent in New Mexico and 14 percent in Alaska. Political campaigns often ignore these voters while politicians set up practices that suppress their vote. Native women led decades of organizing, legal challenges to gerrymandered districts that favor white candidates, and harnessed the anger in reaction to slurs leveled against Native people. In 2018, Native women voted at higher rates than during the 2014 midterms, ushering in historic wins of the first two Native Congresswomen.
Based on our numbers and the power we exercised in the 2018 elections, women of color are ready to activate our powerful network to do more. In 2020, we will mobilize one million women of color to vote. This is an unprecedented national effort. Supporting this strategy will effectively position women of color as the drivers of our next political era, one focused on bold policies addressing climate change, health care, racism, and income inequality.
As we grow in political significance so do barriers to our vote. The effort to dilute and suppress the vote of women of color is at play in 2020. As the right uses the pandemic for political cover, we are seeing last minute shifts for election dates and refusals or severe restrictions to vote by mail during shelter in place. Strict voter ID laws, limiting voting hours, reducing the number of polling locations, ignoring language barriers, and purging voter rolls are just the most obvious examples of the attempts to undermine our political power.
What do we need to do to protect the power and impact of the votes of women of color? We need substantial and targeted efforts to engage, protect, and energize in order to address our interests.
A recent report found that the 2018 turnout that elected a new slate of courageous, principled women of color to Congress, flipped seats across the country, and ultimately won the House of Representatives for the Democrats was fueled by women of color. This is a group that talks to and encourages their friends and family to vote. Black women led the way with 84 percent mobilizing friends and family, followed by 76 percent of AAPI women, 72 percent of Native American women, 70 percent of Latinas, and 66 percent of white women.
Lawmakers, pollsters, and political organizations know very little about women of color as voters and organizers. Only a handful of analyses of the voter preferences of women of color are available, despite our incredible power and potential. She the People had conversations with several national pollsters and confirmed that we were regularly under-sampled or ignored. What’s more, exit polling does not do enough to measure voter attitudes and behaviors of women of color. As a result, we conducted our own Nevada primary poll of women of color likely caucus goers—a first.
Here’s what our numbers tell us, according to a report recently released by the Center for American Progress. Black women are the most likely to support a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants and are the strongest supporters of gun violence prevention measures. We now know that expanding access to affordable health care is a key policy concern for Latina, Asian American, and Black women voters. We know that three-quarters of Latinas with incomes of less than $25,000 believe the federal government should ensure that all Americans have health-care coverage. We know that more than 70 percent of Asian American voters recognize the fundamental right to have an abortion. We know that 88 percent of Asian American women think it is important to be able to retire with dignity and financial security and that the vast majority are concerned about climate change. We that know for American Indian women, the economy and jobs are the most important issues facing the country. We know across the board that women of color are concerned about racism and discrimination, have experienced it personally, and are motivated by candidates who address it directly.
We need to know more. Women of color should be among the highest priority for political research. This means putting forth robust, in-language polling, focus groups, and surveys. We need resources for outreach and for tapping the extraordinary expertise of our communities and institutions. We need support to secure significant sample sizes that are large enough to allow disaggregation and targeting. We need to make sure that everyone understands our numbers.
It is within our reach to harness the political power of women of color to advance justice in America. Investing resources and understanding the political hopes and dreams of women of color is absolutely necessary to achieving this end. Imagine co-creating a national plan to vote by mail modeled after women of color-led efforts on the West Coast. These have included a package of reforms that includes same-day registration and vote-tracking systems. Imagine education and outreach specifically designed for women of color. Women of color should not have to choose between safety and voting during the pandemic. In desperate times, the path toward hope is clear, and it’s forged by women of color.