This project is part of Democracy Day, a national effort to engage communities in conversations about democracy.
Nonprofits pitch in to bolster American democracy
Bay Area residents, like most Americans, may sometimes feel overwhelmed by the unrelenting stream of troubling news related to politics and democracy today — from the Jan. 6 insurrection to the effort to change state election laws to questions about whether the President of the United States is above the law.
But there are silver linings, and one largely unremarked piece of good news is that scores of nonprofits have joined the battle to keep democracy alive and well.
To explore this work, Bay City News has asked national and local nonprofits for their views on the state of our democracy – what is working, what is not and what we all should be considering as we approach the November midterm elections in a time of great division among Americans and the American electorate.
(Responses were provided in writing and in some cases have been edited for clarity and brevity).
Black Women Organized for Political Action
Executive Director LaNiece Jones
BWOPC seeks to increase the number of Black women in key federal, state and local leadership positions.
What are some of your organization’s biggest worries right now and why?
Nationally and locally, we are focused on developing and supporting Black women to serve in leadership roles on all public-policy making councils, boards, commissions and corporate boards – to increase diversifying largely all white male-dominated spaces.
In 2021, far too many states responded to the historic voter turnout in 2020 by introducing and passing a new wave of suppressive voting laws aimed at the very opportunities voters used to achieve record turnout. Over 101.4 million voters overcame previous obstacles to cast their ballots before Election Day, using early voting and voting by mail. Rather than support this robust engagement in voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, over 440 suppressive voting laws were introduced in 49 states. Of those, 19 states passed 34 suppressive laws restricting access to the vote.
What are you optimistic about and why?
Through our membership and partnerships of like-minded organizations, we are optimistic we are moving in the right direction to build Black power.
It is clear that there are many things at stake for Black women in this election. There is a unique opportunity to truly thank Black women for their vote by making sure they have what they need. We need an administration that will push themselves and all important stakeholders to show up for us the same way we showed up to get them elected. It is no secret that the Black women’s vote is essential. According to Black Girls Vote and the National Conference on Citizenship’s recent report “Black Women Did That: A Call to Invest in the Civic Health of Black Women in America,” Black women have one of the highest rates for voter registration and voting. Also, almost 75 percent of Black women reported that they frequently read, watch, or listen to the news regarding current issues. With such high levels of civic participation, Black women understand the importance of engaging in politics. While Black women do this important work, the Biden Administration, Congress, and other important stakeholders must understand what’s at stake in this upcoming election for one of the key demographics in our nation, Black women.
What are your organization’s biggest accomplishments?
Among many accomplishments, including being the largest and longest serving women’s political organization in the State of California, we are extremely proud of our work to support our BWOPA sister, Vice President Kamala Harris, at every level, and in particular, her ascension to serve as the VPOTUS.
Over the years, we have endorsed Black women and men and allies across the state, from school boards and community college board trustees, county boards of supervisors, city council members, to statewide executives and legislators.
In honor of one of our founding members and state president, Dezie Woods Jones, we incorporated a number of our empowerment modules to form an extended initiative we named “DWJ Public Policy Leadership Fellowship.” To date, we have created space and engaged close to 60 Black women leaders who have a focus on impacting public policy.
What are the biggest challenges and what can be done?
Funding has been slow to sustain our operations and our community work to reach, educate, and engage our entire community, especially those who are most impacted and marginalized by policies that negatively affect children and families. Again, having more Black women in positions of power and leadership helps benefit the entire community by advocating to get our deserved fair share of resources.
While Black women continue to make gains in electoral politics overall, their access to power within states and locally is more nuanced. Whereas, Black women are making strides in seeking state legislative and local elected positions, within the statewide elections we see a significant ceiling for Black women’s success. Black women are still challenged in fundraising and gaining access to resources that can increase opportunities for voter engagement and increase name recognition through media outlets. The ceiling is on Black women’s representation at the top statewide executive level, as no Black woman has ever served as governor.
Consider: Black women are 7.8% of the population but are less than 5% of officeholders elected to statewide executive offices, Congress, and state legislatures.
Only 17 Black women have held statewide elected executive office, and no Black woman has ever been elected governor.
In 2021, only eight Black women were mayors in the 100 most populous cities.
Black women political leaders will have to double down on voter engagement, registration, and mobilization efforts. They must strengthen their coalitions, adopt powerful messaging, and increase their financial capacity through aggressive fundraising. In the upcoming midterm elections, the national balance of power as defined by control of the House and Senate, hangs in the balance. Over 30 governors will also be elected, including the possible historic elevation of a Black woman to the governorship of Georgia. Thousands of statewide and local contests that directly influence economic opportunities and quality of life will be decided. The key to preserving the political power of Black women is continued, unrelenting grassroots organizing and putting boots on the ground to counter voter suppression efforts. That is the path to victory and the way to make permanent the growing influence of Black women as a political force in this country.
How healthy is democracy in the Bay Area?
With increasing inflation and diminishing resources, our health on the surface looks bleak. Our community needs to rely more on each other to accomplish our set goals for upward mobility, prosperity and sustainability. We need to pool our resources, spend dollars within our community, be more self-sufficient as entrepreneurs, educate our own children, collaborate to invest in real estate to build wealth and, overall, share best practices.
What are good and bad signs you are seeing in the Bay Area?
Voter suppression is an old problem with renewed vigor. Through gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, and racist intimidation, there is an onslaught of attacks on the power of Black voters. Black voters demonstrated power in 2020 and, just days before the inauguration of a new president, former President Trump, renewed attacks on voting rights and election integrity. His goal was clear: Stop Black voters from being powerful in subsequent elections.
Dr. Shirley N. Weber, California’s secretary of state, the first Black woman secretary of state, is a powerful voice for justice who has dedicated her career to defending and strengthening our most fundamental civil rights, including the right to vote. During this time of unprecedented partisan attacks on our democracy, Dr. Weber is standing firm and strong to protect, secure, and expand Californians’ right to vote.
What can be fixed and how?
Black women, their families and communities need good jobs, a social safety net, and access to capital. Pre-pandemic inequities are no longer acceptable. In addition, two years into the pandemic, Black communities are more likely to get sick or die from Covid-19 than white communities. However, policymakers across the country have allowed extensions and expansions of assistance programs to end, leaving our communities incredibly vulnerable. Our officials must support policies that guarantee Black families access to the resources needed to weather the ongoing storm. Such as: distributing regular $2,000 monthly relief checks because Black families need support with basic living expenses like utilities, food, and rent and mortgage payments, and reinstating the eviction and foreclosure ban, as well as rent and mortgage cancellation
We need to go beyond symbolism like the Juneteenth Holiday and meaningfully move toward racial equity. That will require keeping roofs over heads and putting money in pockets. We need the realization of a domestic agenda that includes the following:
- Affordable housing and investments in homeownership, including down payment assistance
- Access to capital for entrepreneurship
- Job training and placement in high earning professions
- A raise in the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage
- Equitable tax policies and an expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Investment in affordable childcare and early learning
- Investments in home and community-based services
- Paid family and medical leave
- Quality public education
- Student loan forgiveness
- Access to quality health care, including preventative and reproductive health care.