We asked Gwainevere Catchings Hess, the President of Black Women’s Agenda, Inc, about mobilizing marginalized voters, coalition building, and what’s at stake in this upcoming election.
1) What is at stake for women of color in this election?
There are a number of issues at stake for women of color in this election, most importantly affordable education, healthcare coverage, abortion rights, equal pay for women, contraception coverage, increased taxes that impact the middle class (of which a large percentage is female led) households, jobs, and the continuing of social programs. It is the hope, aspirations, and trust that their lives will be enriched not just with tangibles but the intangibles as well. Women of color realize that they are in the lowest denominator of the 47%. Women of color need to understand their options and proclaim ownership of their future for empowerment beyond the election.
2) How do the intersections of race, gender and sexuality complicate our understanding of traditional voting blocks, i.e. “the black vote” or “the woman vote?” Do you see any problems in terms of coalition building in our present moment? Can you share any salient examples?
The issue of same sex marriage has impacted what we consider a “black” voting bloc, especially in the faith community. However, while I do not question any individual’s personal/religious beliefs, we the people who know discrimination first hand need to ask ourselves, “Is this a deal breaker?”
Beyond the election awaits a world of uncertainty; what is an absolute is that those who choose to take a stance and be counted put themselves in a better position to have their viewpoints heard and legislated upon.
Ten foresighted women, who knew how to be forward-leaning before the phrase was ever coined, founded Black Women’s Agenda, Incorporated (BWA) on a simple yet complex idea after the 1977 International Women’s Year (IWY) Conference. These incredible women understood, while attending a conference for all women, that Black women and their families had unique disparities and demands. Consequently, they were compelled to develop a Black Women’s Action Plan. Subsequently, the entire Conference adopted the plan that became the basis for the resolution on the Rights of Minority Women. The IWY Conference was not a conference for just Black women exclusively; it was a conference where ten tenacious Black women at a women’s conference determined that it was important to have a voice on the state of Black women. These women understood that actions to help some ensure the rights of all. Afterwards, an organization was born (BWA) that collaborates with other major Black female organizations that seek to advance, secure, and protect the rights of Black women and their families.
3) What are the particular challenges that you see associated with mobilizing marginalized communities? Do these difficulties change based on different geographic locations?
Challenges associated with mobilizing marginalized communities run the gamut from overcoming voter suppression tactics, to ensuring that citizens understand where each candidate stands on the issues so that they can make informed decisions. Democracy is a journey, a road that travels to the starlit, clay, and dusty rural roads, into the well-illuminated urban high-rise cities- it should not dead-end through dirty tricks of racially suppressed votes nor detour because of voter apathy. The latest polls show the race is very close and will be a nail-biter until the very end. Of course, the constant barrage of ads is enough to make us all weary. Weary is an emotion of disgust and exhaustion, but succumbing to suppression and apathy will have a lasting effect.
4) During election cycles, candidates and the media only deal with a small swath of specific issues, while other pertinent needs in our communities go unaddressed. What issues and policies, specifically relating to the well-being of women of color, are missing from our national media narrative, but play a critical role in our country?
I don’t think that any of the issues salient to women of color are missing from the narrative. What is most important is that the issues germane to women of color all intersect and impact our quality of life: jobs, healthcare, healthcare coverage, equal pay for women, each candidate’s plan for balancing the budget and social programs. What’s missing are the actions to eradicate these inequalities. What is the “Plan B” when one group decides it is time to repeal the Voters Rights Act of 1965, to reverse Roe vs Wade, de-fund Planned Parenthood, or nullify the minimum wage? I encourage you to take time to speculate about a country without a viable Department of Education and the consequences for our children. What will happen to women of color if the party elected betrays the needs of those who continue to suffer from disparities in health, education, economics and social justice?
5) What, in your opinion, is the most pressing issue facing women of color? At the Black Women’s Agenda, what do you believe is your most important activity?
Beyond the election awaits a world of uncertainty; what is an absolute is that those who choose to take a stance and be counted put themselves in a better position to have their viewpoints heard and legislated upon. BWA’S most important activity is our “Four for 4” initiative with our nineteen National Collaborating Organizations. The initiative advances the concept of empowerment beyond this election by committing to take three other people to the polls for this four year election cycle (Four People, Four Votes, Four Years, Foresight!).
The Black Women’s Agenda, Inc. is an organization devoted to advancing, securing, and protecting the rights of black women, who are disproportionately represented within statistics related to poverty and access to economic and educational opportunity. The women of BWA work to develop greater understanding and cooperation about issues that affect all women and their families. BWA develops an agenda of social prioritites and works to turn that agenda into policy as a means of creating meaningful change. You can find more information about BWA on their website.