It’s been 100 years since white women first received the right to vote. For many Black women, that right did not come until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That right to vote is still constantly under threat today, and yet Black women are among the most influential voting blocs in this country. You’ve heard it before, we’re the “backbone of the Democratic Party,” we “carry the party on our backs,” we “flex our electoral muscle.” Time and time again, together, Black women determine elections. We also overwhelmingly vote for candidates who support access to reproductive health care, including abortion. That is not a coincidence.
We know that there is nothing more politically powerful than a Black woman who has full control over her body. And politicians know this too.
That's why they are working so hard to keep us from the polls. Right now, we're stuck playing defense in a rigged system riddled with gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics — a system that is making it harder to elect champions who will expand and protect our access to reproductive freedom. And it doesn’t stop there. Federal courts, which used to be our last layer of defense against harmful policies, have been packed with judges who have track records of being hostile to reproductive rights.
It is not an exaggeration to say we cannot elect a champion for sexual and reproductive health care to the White House without the leadership of Black women. And that’s with harsh voter suppression efforts in place, actively and intentionally trying to suppress our voice.
While it's undeniable that Black women have formidable political power, in order to fight back against the various interlocking systems actively working against us, we need to continue to build our strength locally. That means organizing our communities, spreading voter education and registration information, and mobilizing folks to get to the polls.
That’s what I do every day as the Associate Director of Black Campaigns at Planned Parenthood Action Fund. I know there are a lot of perceptions of Planned Parenthood, not all of them positive when it comes to Black communities. Some have been entirely fabricated by our opposition, like the idea that we are actively working to effect Black genocide through abortion. Others do have merit, like the claim that as a 100+-year-old organization, Planned Parenthood has a lot of work to do to fight the internal systemic racism inherent in our structure and in health care delivery as a whole in this country. The fact is, we believe Black women have the ability to make their own decisions about their bodies and their families. We vehemently denounce any suggestion to the contrary. It is also true that we are working every day to shift our internal culture and systems to undo the structural racism that persists. And it is undeniable that we have a long way to go.
As a proud Black woman leader at Planned Parenthood, I see my explicit focus on organizing and mobilizing Black communities as a necessary step in the right direction.
Before I created the Black Organizing Program in 2019, the only dedicated resources for advocacy engagement that focused on Black communities was organizing on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities — a focus on a crucially important audience but nonetheless limited in its scope. Today, the Black Organizing Program has expanded to include local initiatives in 14 states, including our ‘Shop Chats' initiative, which just capped off its first-ever weekend of action. Through this project, we partner with Black-owned businesses, beauty salons, and barbershops, and offer intimate and informative community discussions that destigmatize and uplift sexual and reproductive health care issues. I am living proof that organizing and civic participation efforts for our community work best through the leadership and voices of Black women.
At Planned Parenthood Action Fund, we know that policies that threaten to dismantle access to sexual and reproductive health care will impact Black communities and other communities of color most. As we approach the 2020 election, the stakes have never been higher for us to claim control over our own bodies, once and for all. Last year alone, state and federal legislators waged an unprecedented attack on safe, legal abortion — filing more than 300 state bills that restrict abortion access and enacting 25 abortion bans. And on March 4, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a pivotal abortion case that could decide the future of abortion access in this country. If the Supreme Court guts Roe and access to reproductive health care, it could pave the way for states to effectively ban abortion for nearly 3.5 million Black women. And if we elect politicians who do not believe in our fundamental freedom to own our own bodies, there will be no power to undo these egregiously harmful policies.
We know that without control over our own bodies we are not truly free. We also know how powerful our vote is when we come together. That’s why the voices of those of us who will be most impacted by these affronts to our most basic human rights need to be at the center of the movement for reproductive health and rights. That’s what Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Black Organizing Program intends to do — gather Black communities around the issues that matter most to them and encourage them to use their voice, whether through advocacy or at the polls.
If you’re looking for ways to use your voice, I hope you’ll consider joining us. To find out more about our Black organizing program and how to get involved in your local community, join us here.
Jamesa Bailey is Planned Parenthood Action Fund's Associate Director of Black Campaigns.
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