The California senator pulled out this week and the next debate stage looks set to be minority-free. Progressives see a problem
When Democrats won a Senate seat in Alabama two years ago, their chairman declared that black women are the backbone of the Democratic party, and we cant take that for granted. #ThankBlackWomen began trending andthe backbone metaphor has been an applause line ever since.
Yet when Democratic candidates for president debate in Los Angeles later this month, there will be no black women on stage following the sudden exit of Senator Kamala Harris of California. Unless something changes quickly, there will be no candidates of colour at all.
Its galling for people that are on the stage to not acknowledge and speak to black womens issues, said Aimee Allison, the founder and president of She the People, a network dedicated to elevating the political power of women of colour.
You dont have to be a black woman like Kamala Harris to carry issues important to us. But you do need to acknowledge youre not going to get anywhere without our vote.
In late 2017, 98% of black women who voted in Alabamas special Senate election cast their vote for Doug Jones over Roy Moore, a Republican accused of sexually assaulting multiple teenage girls while he was in his 30s.
Allison added: Remember, we black women were never acknowledged as the backbone of anything until it was irrefutable that we delivered the victory two weeks before Christmas in the special election in Alabama, in the deep south, where the Republicans had dominated for 25 years.
Donald Trumps Republican party has leaned into white identity politics. Democrats elected the most diverse candidates yet in the 2018 midterms, including the first two Muslim women in Congress. Their presidential primary also broke new ground: last June it featured six women, six people of colour and an openly gay man.
But the debate qualifying rules set by Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman who two years ago coined the backbone claim, are said by critics to have disadvantaged candidates of colour by putting too much emphasis on access to financial support. So far only white aspirants have met the polling and donor thresholds to participate in the 19 December debate.
Its a terrible look for the Democratic party, Allison said. Weve got a party thats half people of colour and 25% black. Women of colour are six times more likely to vote Democrat than a white guy. Women of colour are more likely to vote Democrat than white women because a majority of white women voted for Trump.
So we need a standard bearer for the Democratic party who speaks the language of solidarity, whos able to organise a multiracial coalition, and when you have an all white stage youre missing lived experience, expertise and policy that helps to both inspire and speak to the very people we need to turn out to win in 2020. Its a terrifying prospect.
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Harris and Cory Booker, two African American senators, are both in their 50s and should be in their prime. Yet they have trailed three white septuagenarians Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of a small city who would be the first US president under 40.
Harris made a flying start in January, drawing more than 22,000 to a rally in Oakland and raising a not-to-be-sneezed-at $12m in the first three months. Some dubbed her the female Obama and hoped she could rebuild the former presidents coalition, which may be essential to beating Trump.
But some observers argue that like other candidates of colour, Harris found herself subject to double standards. She was hammered for at first suggesting she supported abolishing private health insurance, then executing a U-turn and releasing a plan that preserved it. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, performed arguably an even bigger reversal with considerably less blowback.
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