Hidden Figures: How Women of Color are Making History in the Midterms

New York U.S. House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is projected to become the youngest woman elected to Congress this November. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Aimee Allison is the president of Democracy in Color and founder new initiative She the People. She is a keynote speaker at the 2018 Netroots Nation conference, and we have published an excerpt of her talk “Hidden Figures: How Women of Color are Making History in the Midterms,” below with permission.

We’re in trouble in this country. And the very people in this country that have been ignored, taken for granted, discounted, and dehumanized are the ones who are going to save us. The people who are most deeply affected and harmed by the cruel policies and practices of this country are the ones poised to lead as courageous candidates and elected officials, strategists, and voters. I’m talking about the saving graces of our democracy: women of color.

Women of color are leading a multiracial democratic coalition that will win in swing states and beyond this year and in 2020. 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 healthcare, housing, and education. This means living into a democracy we’ve dreamed of but have not yet realized. It’s a politics we have not yet seen. So how will all of this come into view?

Let me tell you. I have launched She the People, a call to our nation to elevate women of color fully into our fierce and loving leadership and collective power. She the People fully recognizes that women of color are leading an inclusive, multiracial coalition that will transform our country’s politics. She the People tells the story of the remarkable candidates, voters, and strategists that are offering a way through our current crisis. This is not the end of our democracy, my friends. Despite the news, there’s something happening in this country that changes everything. Women of color are showing the nation that we are on the cusp of a new progressive and political era in America.

Women of color are showing the nation that we are on the cusp of a new progressive and political era in America.

2016 was not the end of the story. Ironically, it was the beginning. Well before 2016, we at Democracy in Color introduced a revolutionary concept in politics – namely, that the key to securing a progressive future for our country is the New American Majority, the multiracial coalition of voters that elected Obama. People of color are 38% of our population and will soon be the majority. We are growing fast and are the most progressive voters, and the most reliable Democrats. It’s 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 was difficult to get resources for voter engagement and voter turnout for communities of color. For example, in 2016 Democrats spent 75% of their billion dollar war chest going after white moderate and conservative voters. And we know how that turned out. Trump is President and we lost both Houses of Congress. One stat says it all: 85% of married white women voted for Trump, 53% of all white women. We lost. The old playbook is dead.

Out of the rubble of old Democratic practices emerges new and beautiful possibilities. Let me tell you a story.

Last Summer, I traveled to Albany, Georgia to witness Stacey Abrams declare her candidacy for governor of Georgia. I knew Stacey as the one of the most brilliant strategists of the New American Majority, and that she was building a campaign that would for the first time in a decade turn Georgia blue by speaking to the most progressive voters in the state. She was reaching out to voters normally ignored by both parties – over a million people of color, more than half of whom were women. But the powers that be didn’t believe a black woman could win in Georgia, let alone demonstrate that the New American Majority strategy could win. They cynically recruited a white millionaire moderate named Stacy that they believed would appeal to the white voters in the state.

The New American Majority, led by women of color is the keystone to winning.

Early on, Stacey Abrams built her campaign strategy around engaging and energizing the millions of voters of color in the state of Georgia, a state that is almost majority people of color. Georgia is a state where 42% of registered Democrats are Black women. And boy did that strategy deliver in the primary. Our Stacey brought 199K more Democrats into the primary than in previous years. And she is closing the vote gap needed to win the state altogether. Stacey Abrams – the candidate that the Georgia democratic party and the Democratic Governors Association and so-called experts believed was unelectable a year ago – has emerged as the candidate that best represents our greatest hope to recapture the deep south – a region that has been dominated by the right wing. And she is doing so in a way that makes our democracy stronger by engaging more voters, with a platform that supports reproductive justice and Medicare expansion and LGBT rights. Stacey Abrams knew what the Democrats now need to know: that the New American Majority, led by women of color is the keystone to winning.

Here’s what you might not know about Georgia, now that GOP has chosen the former secretary of state that is behind voter suppression, an anti-immigrant enemy of our communities – the hidden figures crafting this new multiracial democratic coalition, building infrastructure and engagement in Georgia are women of color. DeJuana Thompson and Stephanie Cho and Latosha Brown and Marisa Franco. Their strategy also increased Asian American turnout 6x and Latinx turnout 4x over 2014. It wasn’t until Stacey Abrams’ landslide that many in the Dem establishment started to believe.

We at She the People are telling the story of Stacey Abrams and the legion of women of color running for office this year and in years to come, because in them and in us are the hope of our nation, which is to say, the stories about how we are going to save our democracy.

All is not lost in 2018. But all will be lost in the midterms and for realizing justice for the nation unless progressives and frankly the Democratic Party follow the lead of women of color. She the People is here for all of us. Will you be here for all of us? Say yes, and let’s win.