This article is the last of several 2022 Defender Network articles that are part of Solutions Journalism Network’s Advancing Democracy initiative. Solutions Journalism is about reporting on not just problems but providing readers with research on solutions to those problems, where they are being enacted, the challenges and opportunities those solutions provide and things readers can do to be part of those solutions. The Advancing Democracy initiative calls on participating media outlets to produce articles focused on issues that are threats to U.S. democracy, and provide readers with initiatives aimed at saving, or “advancing” democracy.
When Houston native Grace Smith cast her vote in the March 2022 midterm elections, it was the first time she’d voted since casting her ballot for President Barack Obama. It’s a fact she’s ashamed of now, but the oil and gas administrator just didn’t believe her vote really mattered. She credits the Black Women’s PAC with changing that mentality. And now, not only is she committed to voting, she’s vowing to help the political organization further its mission.
“I’m just not really into politics. Of course, the election of Barack Obama was historical, so I made it a point to vote there. But those small elections –- city council, school boards, etc., just didn’t seem important –- until I attended an event from the Black Women’s PAC that opened my eyes to why it’s so important for us to not only vote in elections, but run in those elections, and come together collectively as Black women to support qualified candidates as well,” Smith said.
That event –- the Policy, Politics & Donor Summit -– took place in December 2021, and is just one of many events that the Black Women’s PAC hosts in its efforts to provide insight and knowledge for voters, candidates, political insiders and novices.
“Attendees at the donor summit heard from the state’s foremost policy and political leaders as we discussed current laws and what to expect as a result of redistricting, voting rights limitations, and community activism with policy experts,” said Black Women’s PAC President Tracy Scott.
A huge void
Black women are underrepresented in government, especially as it relates to growth. Black women represent 7.8% of the population, yet only represent 5% of the elected population.
Black women have long been staples in the Democratic Party. But they have not been as institutionally supported in their efforts to run for office — until recently.
The Black Women’s PAC is a political organization dedicated to electing more Black women to state and national offices. They are gaining momentum, thanks to an influx in cash since last summer’s protests and the ascendance of Black women in U.S. politics, from Vice President Kamala Harris to Georgia organizer and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Organizations like the Black Women’s PAC hope events like the summit and rallies will not only increase voter engagement and awareness, but prompt Black women to put their names on the ballot.
“We do something called the Kitchen Table Talk, where we gathered elected officials, campaign strategists, and political insiders to discuss the journey and presence of Black women in politics. We also heavily discuss fundraising, which is a key component of political action and power,” Scott said.
While Black women typically lag behind when it comes to fundraising, six of the 10 congressional candidates who raised the most money during the final quarter of 2021 were Black or Latino, a result of diversity in pivotal races and a shift in the focus and strategy of political fundraising overall, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis.
“I have been on political campaigns in the past and very much aware of how important raising money is and knowing the inequities between women and men, and Black women and white women,” Scott said. “I felt the need to build political infrastructure and encourage and support Black women who want to run for office and already in office.”
Scott said in addition to events and rallies, the group has created a website to allow people to register to vote and check their registration status; held fundraisers; and hosted an event to honor incoming Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, where they brought in celebrities to help shine a light on disparities in voting.
Work in progress
Though their efforts are still a work in progress and hard to measure the success, Scott is confident such efforts are paying off. Traffic to their website and attendance at their events have dramatically increased more than 50 percent since the PAC started in 2018.
“When we talk about advancing democracy and we talk about the government as it exists, well, now we have a Black woman on the Supreme Court,” Scott said. “That was one of the pillar points for the Black Women’s PAC from the start. We were committed to having a Black woman as president or vice president, and now Kamala Harris is in office.”
Scott isn’t taking complete credit for Jackson or VP Harris, but she knows efforts like those of her organization and other political action organizations, play a role.
Groups like Scott’s, along with Higher Heights, the Collective PAC, #BlackWomenVote and American Mosaic PAC see 2022 as a prime opportunity to elect more Black women to leadership at the highest levels, especially since there’s more attention than ever on the key role that cohort plays as the Democratic Party’s most engaged voting bloc.
“This moment has been more than 10 years in the making,” said Glynda Carr, CEO of Higher Heights for America, which supports Black progressive women at the state and national levels.
Most political operatives think in two and four-year increments; Carr thinks longer-term. She said in order to elect Black women to top political offices, groups like hers spend years organizing to clear the way for candidates. They establish a solid ground game and reliable donor base and — perhaps most challenging — get top donors and party brass to invest in their candidates.
Higher Heights and other organizations also run training camps both for prospective Black woman candidates and their top staffers. And now, they’re declaring their support for Black women running much earlier than they did in the past — sometimes within hours of their campaign launches.
The work continues
Scott would like to see Black women advance outside of predominantly Black districts.
“If Black women can work anywhere, live anywhere, why can’t we represent anywhere?” Scott said. “That’s one area where we aren’t advancing democracy and where we need to really target and focus on. Going forward, our focus is on having those tough conversations, about advancing the Democratic platform, and opening additional doors for Black women.”
Scott said as long as Black women don’t have a seat at ALL tables, their work is not done.
“We’re still struggling in the Texas House, and our voices are desperately needed there,” Scott said. “I’m seeing policy that’s being drafted from the Black Women’s PAC. Now, we want to see more Black women running, who are invested in the community.”
There’s also an issue of funding – Black women typically have less money to run with; and then there’s the fact that in such a divisive society, some women just don’t want the drama that comes with politics in this day and age.
Scott said they also have to work tirelessly to convince the Democratic Party to remain focused and committed to the Black community.
“I can recall being on the 2020 Democratic Party forum and having to make it very clear that if the party is not speaking to the smallest of us, if we’re not meeting Democrats where they are, then we are not going to win and we’re going to continue to have the same problem,” Scott said.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while doing this work is to release expectations. Black women are not a monolithic. We span this spectrum and there are so many spaces in which we, need to either voice what our issues are and where we are in life and be more vocal and active.
“We know what the problem is. So we regularly ask ourselves, are we doing enough to have those conversations and engage people in society? So we always step back and reevaluate how we’re operating, who we’re engaging, who our target is,” Scott said. “We’ve made progress. I’m excited, but not pleased. I won’t be that until there’s an African American woman on the ballot in all 254 counties.”
The Black Women’s PAC is committed to help develop, build, train, fund and grow the political and intellectual infrastructure necessary to help Black women win elections and successfully govern once elected and to empowering Black women as political donors in support of electing more Black women to public office across the state of Texas.
#BlackWomenVote is a nonpartisan voter-activism campaign that offers Black women the tools and information they need to engage their communities regardless of political party.