Election 2020: Ignore Women of Color at Your Own Peril [OP-ED]

By By Jessica Gonzu00e1lez-Rojas, Marcela Howell, Sung Yeon Choimorrow Apr 12, 2019

As states begin to release insights on who voted in the 2018 midterm election, the historic turnout among women of color is an undeniable takeaway. In Texas alone, 1.2 million Black, Latina, Asian American and Pacific Islander women more than doubled their turnout from the 2014 midterm elections, according to the political data services firm, TargetSmart. And in Florida, 1.4 million women of color voted, representing 17 percent of all voters in the state. The story is similar in states across the country.

The electoral power of the 63 million women of color in the United States is just starting to be recognized, and recent polling data makes it clear that we are a force that cannot and should not be ignored.

One of the outcomes of the historic voter turnout among women of color was the election of a more diverse Congress than ever before. For the first time, two Latinas—Representatives Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia—were elected to represent Congressional districts from Texas. And many other women of color candidates won in districts long held by White men.

As leaders of three reproductive justice organizations that have been fighting for years to ensure Black, Latina and Asian American and Pacific Islander women have their voices heard, we joined together to conduct a nationwide poll of women of color who voted in the last election. Our goal was to learn what motivated women of color to cast a ballot in the 2018 election and the issues they’d like to see their elected representatives address.

What we learned is that this election cycle, women of color were passionate about voting and committed to having their voices heard. Significantly, 88 percent of women of color said the stakes were too high in the midterm election to not vote. And 75 percent expressed serious concerns about the way things are going in the country, saying they were angry, disgusted, scared, sad or nervous.

We learned in the poll that there is commonality in the top issues that women of color want to see members of Congress make progress on, including ensuring access to clean water, ending racial, ethnic and cultural discrimination and securing access to affordable health care, including for people with pre-existing conditions. Moreover, 84 percent of women of color said that it was important to them to vote for candidates who support women making their own decisions about their reproductive health.

Women of color are certainly not a monolith, and within our racial and ethnic groups, our experiences, backgrounds and challenges are very different. But we share similar experiences of inequality, having to overcome great barriers to succeed and being treated unfairly because of our skin color, the language we speak or our last name. At our very core, women of color care about equality and justice because we have a shared history of fighting for our freedoms and civil liberties.

Looking ahead to the 2020 election, 85 percent of women of color want to see more candidates of color running for office and 88 percent want to see more women running for office. Women of color also think their unique concerns and priorities can be misunderstood; 78 percent believe candidates fail to connect with them on issues they care about and 76 percent want their representatives to recognize how their priorities and experiences differ from those of White women.

And we are holding the people we helped elect to public office accountable, with 62 percent of women of color saying they will monitor their elected representatives in Congress more closely than in the past. It’s clear that failing to deliver on the issues this important voting bloc cares about could have electoral consequences.

Women of color around the country are realizing their power more than ever before. We are proud to advocate to have their voices heard, their values understood and their priorities addressed by our elected officials. If there’s one thing that can be learned from the last election, it’s that our collective voting power can change election results. The votes of women of color should not be taken for granted.

Jessica González-Rojas is the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Marcela Howell is the president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda and Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Together, they created Intersections of Our Lives, a collaborative to center the needs, perspectives and solutions of people of color. Follow them on Twitter at @jgonzalez_rojas, @blackwomensrj and @schoimorrow.