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Claiming Our Personal Power: A Conversation with Aimee Allison on Supporting the Leadership of Women of Color

Thursday, August 27, 2020
SCG is a nonpartisan organization. As a 501(c)3 organization, we do not endorse or oppose political candidates. Opinions expressed in this piece belong to our guest and are a commentary of women of color in leadership, not political candidates’ qualifications. For more information on how 501(c)3 organizations can engage in advocacy before and after elections, please check out resources from our friends at Alliance for Justice on how to hold elected officials accountable and how to respond during an election year.

On August 11, 2020, California Senator, Kamala Harris, was announced as Joe Biden's pick for the Vice-President nomination. Senator Harris' selection was historic as she became the first woman of color to be nominated for a major party's presidential ticket. On August 19, 2020, Kamala accepted the Democratic Party's nomination, solidifying her place in the 2020 general election and our nation's history. 

SCG spoke to Aimee Allison, President & Founder of She the People, a national organization dedicated to advancing the political voice and leadership of women of color to transform our democracy. Amid She the People's continued work to elevate women’s leadership profile across the country, Senator Harris' nomination was a spark of hope and a testament to how far our culture has come in recognizing the electoral power of women of color. Not only do women of color make up 20% of the nation's population, but they are also the largest voting block among any group in the country. This year alone, 38 million women of color will become eligible to vote in this upcoming election. 

During our conversation, Aimee discussed the political potential of "women of color" as a collective identity, discussed new models of community-led governance, and outlined She the People's efforts to protect our democratic institutions during this election year and beyond. 


In April, you and dozens of other African-American women signed a letter urging Mr. Biden to choose a black woman as his running mate. What does this historic moment mean to Black women and women of color?

Aimee: It's a spark of hope. We cannot overstate the significance of this appointment in American culture. Racism and sexism have infected American politics and hindered women of color's hopes and dreams since the beginning of this country. And now, here comes Kamala Harris, who is officially on the presidential ticket. But to call Kamala Harris a Black woman, isn't quite right. She's a child of immigrants — her mother is from India and her father from Jamaica — and is Asian American. She holds multiple identities proudly together as a woman of color. And I mean the term "women of color" not as racial identity, but rather as a term of political solidarity. Kamala's personal story has the potential to speak to people across many different lived experiences. It's a remarkable achievement for women of color to be seen and heard in a new way. 

She the People was one of the loudest and most persistent voices calling for the Vice Presidential nomination to be a woman of color. When we heard it was Kamala, we were astounded at how far the culture had moved. To us, this nomination goes beyond the political ecosystem of parties, cable commentators, donors, and other talking heads. This nomination was about acknowledging women of color’s voting power as a constituency and recognizing our potential to unify people, especially when it is common to see divisive narratives. 


How will Kamala's nomination shape the work of She the People's work moving forward? What is She the People's message in 2020?

Aimee: She the People's work has never been about one person. She the People is forwarding the multiracial and pro-democracy forces embodied by the leadership of all women of color. Today, our country has a historic number of women of color running down the ballot. Look at Cori Bush, a Ferguson activist who was unsuccessful in securing the Congressional Nomination in Missouri in 2018. But Cori never stopped running. Today, she has out-organized her opponent and is virtually guaranteed to be the first Black woman to serve as a Congressional Representative in Missouri. More than ever, a larger number of women come from the Movement— from advocacy, racial justice, economic justice, gender justice spaces— and use their organizing skills to claim their leadership. Cori is just one example of this through-line from the racial justice movements on the ground to the halls of Congress. 

She the People's message is that women of color are ready to lead across the entire ballot. We must continue recognizing the courageous, moral leadership of those deeply connected to movements on the ground. Women of color have the potential to expand the franchise and bring in more voters. When women engage in multiracial political organizing, they demonstrate their power to shape this country's future. 


How do we ensure that the momentum and demands created by the uprisings against police violence and racism are not lost? How can we hold our elected leaders accountable?

Aimee: I believe our definition of holding leaders accountable needs to evolve. Accountability doesn't always mean sitting an elected official down and making demands. This expectation is not sustainable, nor is it an effective strategy to move our agendas forward. We need to find courageous and justice-driven leaders who are deeply committed to the communities they are serving. Our elected leaders must be an extension of our communities, not isolated entities. They must see themselves in the continuum of those who have come before and those who will come after, in the fight for equality. We must close the gap between communities and politicians and abandon our traditional expectations around accountability. Only then can we adopt new co-governance models that forward policies and politics in concert with social movements. A co-governance model allows us to move our priorities and agendas that serve the people forward without being entirely dependent on leadership. 


What barriers do women of color need to break down to imagine and implement a co-governance model? 

Aimee: The first step is for women of color to claim our personal power and say, "we are worthy, and we are enough." Often, women and girls of color hear stories designed to silence, sideline, or dismiss who they are. These are virulent and poisonous attacks against their humanity that serve as a way to limit women of color's political license and power by convincing the broader public that there's something fundamentally wrong with them. Women of color have to fight against these stories and create a new vision for ourselves and our leadership. She the People is committed to narrative work focused on changing the stories women of color hear to create new political possibilities. When we see our value and turn to other women of color for strength and support, we are a powerful force. 

Second, we need to change the role of money in elections. She the People believes that elected officials need to be free of big-dollar lobbyists’ influence for co-governance to happen. To this end, our organization helps women of color across all levels of government tap into a national network of small-dollar donors to carry their campaigns forward. We also aspire toward a future where publicly funded elections are a viable alternative, but the truth is that we are far from that right now. 

Lastly, we need to learn from others to reimagine the structure of our campaigns and teams. For example, the New Virginia Majority, led by Tram Nguyen, is a robust co-governance model focused on registering voters, talking to constituents, and supporting candidates running for office. Tram sat on a transition team with the last governor to craft a hundred-day strategy that helped her expand Medicare to 100,000 more Virginians. There are experts amongst women of color who have already implemented co-governance models and making a tremendous impact. 


As we approach the November election, we will continue to see an emphasis on voter turnout and engagement. How can we protect and fortify our democratic institutions to make sure women of color can fully participate in our democracy? 

Aimee: We must continue to protect the integrity of our democratic institutions. As a voting block, women of color have the highest voter turnout rates of any race or gender. Women of color are also the most targeted for voter suppression. States like Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida, have long histories of voter suppression that specifically target communities of color. These voter suppression tactics include taking people off the voter rolls, eliminating voting machines, sending late mail-in ballots, closing down voting locations, and so much more. Even now, as states try to make polling stations safer from COVID, we also see a rise in "poll watchers"— essentially armed militia— who stand alongside long lines of people of color.  

She the People is making it a priority to support one million women of color in battleground states access the information and resources they need to vote. We're running the largest, coordinated voter turnout effort focused exclusively on women of color in the nation. We're going to start looking at voter turnout on October 3, when most states begin early voting. She the People will be leaning heavily into digital to tackle the vast amounts of disinformation circulating on social media. We will also continue to educate people who are accustomed to voting in person to vote by mail. 


What is giving you hope today?

Aimee: Our ancestors have always given me hope. They faced the most terrible crimes of a society that did not value them. We know our ancestors faced those atrocities and survived. We have survived. We still believe in our communities and our democracy, and we are willing to work every day for that.  


She the People's vision is to build an inclusive, multiracial coalition of women of color capable of driving cultural and political change for a new justice-centered era. In 2020, She the People, a 501c4 project, is building the most comprehensive effort to turn out one million women of color in seven key swing states and nationally to win the White House, Senate, and down-ballot races. She the People's 501c3 sister project, She the People/Storied, elevates and amplifies the leadership, insights, power, and solutions brought by women of color across the nation. In changing perceptions and awareness, we ensure that there is space for women of color to engage civically. 

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