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 Tennessee State Representative London Lamar.
What was the moment that made you fall in love with politics?
I fell in love with politics during the 2000 election. I was a 4th-grade student and I remember my family being outraged that Al Gore lost and asserted the election was stolen. I didn’t understand what specifically was going on but I knew my mom voted every election and her outrage, alongside my family, was the moment I began paying attention. That love grew stronger when I saw the Black community mobilize like never before to vote for President Barack Obama. I knew then politics was one of our greatest weapons we had as a community.
What made you decide to run for office?
Witnessing President Barack Obama win the presidential election was the green light I needed to pursue politics. When Obama was elected, I was a senior in high school applying to college as an engineering major because I thought STEM was an easy route for Black women to stand out. Although I enjoyed math and science, my true passion was being a change agent in my community rather it was school or other programs. I jumped at any opportunity to be involved. But that night, November 4, 2008, my life changed forever. To see a Black man and his Black wife and his Black children take the White House was the confidence I needed to pursue politics. He showed me that if a Black man can be elected to the highest office of the land, then I too can be anything I want. Obama inspired many but he truly inspired me.
Why do democracy and reproductive freedom matter to you as a state legislator?
Democracy and the right to reproductive freedom is a right that everyone should have, especially Black women. Reproductive freedom gives women the right to live! We have seen for centuries that our country has tried to control women through our abilities and inability to have full autonomy over our bodies and our families. This denial of freedom has become a fight for justice, reproductive justice so that women have the ability to shape their lives and health. We know that a woman’s reproductive freedom determines her socioeconomic class. We know that women bear the burden of less healthcare access. We know that Black women are oftentimes the most impacted negatively by the lack of reproductive healthcare and access which leads to us having a higher infant and maternal death rates. Enough is enough.
I fight because it is also my lived experience. My denial of full care. My denial of healthcare access. My denial through the inability to afford treatments. My denial of motherhood. I wear it on my shoulder daily and as the only woman of childbearing age in the State House, I have an obligation to speak up for women and I will continue!
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?
I am proud to be a champion for women as I advance my agenda during COVID-19. Earlier in session, I passed HB 379 which would make pregnancy an official medical exemption for the HOPE scholarship and allow those who become pregnant and receive the HOPE scholarship to delay the start of school a year or more so that they can have their child. No woman should have to choose between being a mother and their scholarship. They can keep both. This bill was signed into law and current students can take advantage of it.
I am also pushing HB 1651 which would mandate prenatal and postpartum care for pregnant prisoners so that we can bring dignity back to the court system. This would require minimum care for detainees such as testing, nutritional meals, and supplements and access to doctors. Because a woman has made a mistake, her child she is carrying should not be denied the nutrition and support they need because of their mother.
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?
The hardest battle is getting my conservative colleagues to respect Roe v. Wade as the law of the land and to remind them that being pro-choice IS NOT anti-life. Giving women the option to make decisions about their bodies should be determined by themselves, their family, and their doctor.
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?
As the only woman of childbearing age in the TN State House, I find myself being obligated to protect women’s rights but I need more women to support our efforts. I can’t be the only voice! I need other women to share their experiences to bring life and light to these issues. Our reproductive freedom is determined by men and that is wrong. Men should respect choice because THEY ARE NOT WOMEN! We need more women who will unapologetically assert our freedom! I need these women to run for office and join me in this fight! I need women to turn out to vote for reproductive freedom champions so that we can continue to stop laws intended to harm us.
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?
The government needs to provide equity to Black communities or it will never change. Black women must stand up and only vote for people who will support Black people and our agenda.
What advice do you have for those trying to enter into politics?
My advice would be to find an issue you’re passionate about and unapologetically go hard to solve it! Start an organization. Join an organization. Take a leadership role. Educate yourselves and your community. Speak out. Be bold! Register people to vote! Go vote every election. RUN FOR OFFICE!!!
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