Mobilizing the Black Female Vote in 2012
Sisters are organizing, although the candidates may be taking them for granted
"It's time for us to lead the way, because we voted in greater numbers than any other gender and race group last election, and we’ve got to do the same this year," said Elsie Scott, president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation at last month’s Annual Legislative Conference. The audience, mostly women of color, applauded and nodded in agreement. With the election about a month away, voters across the country, especially black women, are paying more attention than ever to the issues that matter to them.
During the 2008 election, 69 percent of black women who were qualified to vote went to the polls, which was a 5.1-point increase from the 2004 presidential election, according to a study of census data on 2008 voters by the Pew Hispanic Center. Although both candidates have released several ads, none have spoken directly to black women.
“I remember when President Obama campaigned last time, and I really felt like he was talking to me,” says Monica Jones, a Democrat. “I was really happy when he made his speech about black fathers, and as a single mother I could really relate. However, this time it doesn’t feel like he’s reaching out to me directly, but I do care about the same issues he does, such as healthcare and financial aid. I would love if the message were a bit more personal though. Perhaps it’s because he knows or thinks black women are going to vote for him no matter what.”
While both campaigns are focusing on issues for all Americans, the majority of outreach has been targeted to white male and Latino voters.
“I think the presidential and congressional candidates care about the issues important to black women as far as they are important to people in the nation as a whole,” said BET producer Angel Elliott, who runs the blog Black & Political. “There hasn't been any targeted effort to court the black woman vote, no. We're obviously not the vote to get in 2012. Candidates are focused on the Latino vote, because of its growing presence and power, and the independent vote, because it swings an election. But, even with that being said, it's up to us to make sure that we vote for the candidate that most closely champions the rights and issues that are important to us, i.e. healthcare, early education, job creation, reformation of social programs, etc. Whoever that candidate is, vote for him.”
Although candidates may not be reaching out directly to black women, that hasn’t stopped many around the nation from canvassing and registering their peers to vote.
“I don’t think either Romney or Obama is speaking directly to me, but that still isn’t going to stop me from encouraging others to get out the word,” says Takiya Malocks. “It’s important that our votes as black women are protected. People died so that we could vote, I think we all forget the significance of that sometimes.”
Black women in Hollywood, including Keshia Knight Pulliam, Gabrielle Union and Alfre Woodard, are also spreading the message of the importance of black women voting. At the Annual Legislative Conference, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph said: "We've forgotten our mothers went to three jobs. They picked us up from school, put the macaroni and cheese on the table, got up and got somebody registered to vote.”
With the combination of Hollywood heavy hitters and everyday people who care about the issues, the importance of the black women vote will not go unnoticed in this year’s election.
“Black women should do what all concerned citizens should do: organize, organize, organize,” said Erica Williams, political analyst and social-impact entrepreneur. “Organizing isn't just rallying folks to show up on November 6. It's bringing people together to do what needs to be done, and win victories for themselves and their community. That means talking about the real issues facing our communities -- not just jobs and the economy, and education, but also the topics no one wants to talk about: homelessness, HIV, and criminal justice. Contacting the campaigns -- local and presidential -- to get straight answers to the tough questions. Then, of course, registering our friends and families to vote. Make sure you’re aware of and spreading the word about voter ID laws and finally, showing up and showing out on Election Day. “