The Brown Girls Guide to Politics is proud to partner with the State Innovation Exchange's (Six) Democracy Project and Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council to bring you a spotlight on six women of color legislators who are shaping progressive change in the states.
Today, we are spotlighting State Representative Attica Scott (Kentucky).
What was the moment that made you fall in love with politics?
I was born into it.
I grew up in the projects of Louisville--a place of financial struggle and community wealth. My parents were both activists in their own right. They were in LA during the rise of the Black Panther Party (my mom joked that when she saw how the Panther women were treated she told my dad she could have stayed in Kentucky for that treatment!) and I was named in honor of the Attica prison rebellion.
I was born into it. I didn’t have a choice.
What made you decide to run for office?
The moment I knew I had a calling was about 11 years ago when I was sitting around the kitchen table with my girlfriends. We were discussing how the people representing us at every level of government WEREN’T representing us. They weren’t representing our rich lived realities as Black women and other women of color: some of us were mothers, some were formerly incarcerated women, we had different economic, workplace, and healthcare experiences, and different relationships with our democratic systems which often overlooked OUR needs.
And that had to change.
Around that kitchen table, we made the intentional decision that I would be the one to run. Once the decision was made, every one of those women committed their resources -- be those financial, time, strategy, child care -- to supporting me. They poured their all into me so I could run and represent our values and our realities in a way that wasn’t happening in local and state government at the time.
That’s why it’s so important when we talk about democracy and building the democracy we want, that we center Black folks and people of color and women. It’s imperative we support one another to build the democracy we want.
Why do democracy and reproductive freedom matter to you as a state legislator?
It’s so important! I love district 41! Everyone knows my district number because I constantly lift up my district on the House floor!
My district is majority women and we have a slight majority of Black folks. I know I serve people who often feel their interests and needs are ignored by the government.
Women of color have had their reproductive autonomy threatened or flat out denied to them in ways that white women would never understand. I’m here because my mom was able to make her decision. When she was struggling with addiction early in her life, she needed an abortion and was able to get one. And when she was ready to have a baby, she was able to make that decision for herself as well.
I bring my full life experience and serve the very people who feel they don’t have a voice in the legislature.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing access to democracy and reproductive freedom limited. What piece of reproductive freedom or democracy legislation are you most proud of advancing in your state?
Unfortunately, the majority of legislators in Kentucky aren’t interested in advancing reproductive freedom or democracy. But I am committed to advancing the Maternal Care Act which focuses on combating implicit bias in our healthcare system.
We have known about the inequities for Black folks in our healthcare system, but now, the disproportionality of COVID-19 in Black communities has been made clear to a larger audience. We had an opportunity with the Maternal Care Act to address implicit bias, but we failed.
There are a lot of misconceptions about how democracy and reproductive freedom work. What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a champion of democracy and reproductive freedom and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge is that I am the only Black woman in the Kentucky legislature.
When I decided I wanted to introduce the Maternal Care Act, I began discussing racial and gender health disparities with my colleagues. It resonated with some of my Democratic colleagues, but not necessarily with all women. In fact, the chair of the committee where the bill was assigned is a white woman, a mother. Health disparities had never impacted her or her family’s lives the way they have mine. She was not interested in giving the bill a hearing. She didn’t even let the conversation on health disparities happen in her committee.
Now that doesn’t mean I’m giving up!
I’m going to keep pushing to have a hearing (one of my colleagues is helping to make that happen this summer), refile the bill in January 2021, and build a base of solidarity with my legislative Black and democratic women caucuses.
Why is it so critical, now more than ever, for women of color to get involved in politics and stand up for reproductive freedom and democracy?
Right now, it’s not a choice. We must run. When we’re not present where decisions are being made, if our faces are not being seen, our messages will not be heard and taken seriously.
We know our history. We know about Tuskegee. We know about the “Mississippi appendectomy.”
We need to see and hear from folks who look like us to build trust in the government.
Run. Run and lose; run and win. And I say that as someone who has lost elections!
It is critical to change the face of politics, to stand up and speak out about voting rights, maternal care, and racial inequities that impact our lives. As Kentucky’s only Black woman legislator, I know I am being a champion of the women and people of color who voted me into office and also an educator to those who haven't experience inequities.
Women of color are the most consistent voters. What should the government be doing better when it comes to centering the needs of women of color in policies?
We could be doing so much more! The Maternal Care Act is one example. Racial and gender inequities are not the reality of most of the state lawmakers in Kentucky, but it’s a reality. Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.
What these legislators don’t understand is that if you improve maternal health outcomes for Black women, you improve health outcomes for every mother. We would all benefit. When you center the policies that directly impact women of color, you benefit all women.
What advice do you have for those trying to enter into politics?
Government is what we make it. Politics are about people and you have every right to be in every room where decisions are being made that impact your life.
Find a mentor. Find a training program that exists in your community and get the resources and tools you need to run.
When you’re running for office, center the communities you want to serve.
And when you win, make sure you’re taking people with you -- both physically (to the literal seats of government) also in spirit and deed!
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