By Sikivu Hutchinson
Today is National Voter Registration Day, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for young Black women and girls. With the midterms looming, there has been little commentary on the catastrophic impact GOP and anti-progressive victories could have on Black girls and young women. Key races in California, Georgia, and Florida are cause for cautious optimism about Black women’s governing and legislative power. In Los Angeles, Congresswoman Karen Bass is poised to become the first woman and second African American mayor in the city’s history. In Florida, Congresswoman Val Demings is in a tight race for the U.S. Senate against conservative reactionary Marco Rubio. In Georgia, voting rights activist Stacey Abrams is vying for governor a second time against vote stealer Brian Kemp.
Yet, as the after effects of the pandemic continue to plunge a wrecking ball through Black communities, big ticket policy changes like universal child care, total student loan forgiveness, protections for Black workers, initiatives for Black homebuyers, police accountability reform, and passage of the Equality Act, remain elusive. Further, as Black women and girls scramble to find abortion care in Midwestern and Southern states with total abortion bans and no reproductive health clinics, the overturn of Roe v. Wade has already had an insidious impact on their wages, job stability, and access to generational wealth.
Last week, the GOP doubled down on its threat to pursue a national abortion ban if it regains control of Congress. According to the New York Times, a national ban could roll back access in some Democratic-led states that have laws protecting it. Sanctuary provisions in key blue states like California and New York would be in jeopardy. A national threat against abortion protections in so-called refuge states would be an apocalyptic disaster for women, pregnant folks, and BIPOC communities across the nation.
In November, California voters will decide on Proposition 1, an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights and contraception access in the state constitution. If approved by voters, California would be among the first states in the nation with such a provision. This past summer, the California legislature approved a dozen groundbreaking bills that would beef up abortion access for California residents, shield folks seeking abortions from surveillance, policing and prosecution, and pour more funding into expanding access for abortion “refugees” from states with total bans. This month, abortion trigger laws will go into effect in thirteen Southern and Midwestern states.
The GOP’s national abortion ban bill would further solidify its malignant Christian fascist hold on American public policy and undermine the admittedly precarious gains the nation has made in reducing child poverty. In 2021, the child poverty rate fell to 7.8% due to the Biden administration’s 2020–21 Child Tax Credit which was conferred upon thousands of low and moderate income families with minor children. But child poverty analysts predict that the numbers will rise again because the credit was not renewed due to the opposition of right wing Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Manchin’s objection to the inclusion of the credit in last summer’s Build Back Better infrastructure and social welfare bill effectively wrecked the progress of millions of impoverished families and children.
According to some estimates, there is an approximately 70% chance that the Democrats will retain control of the Senate. Yet, forecasters predict an even greater chance that the GOP will retake the House. A lopsided Congress would mean more legislative gridlock and an intensification of racial and gender disparities in health care, police reform, worker rights, voting rights, gun laws, anti-discrimination protections, and climate justice. While the Biden administration has made some progressive policy strides — appointing more women of color and BIPOC folks to federal judicial benches, pushing for LGBTQ+ protections in employment, housing, and health care, and supporting a federal minimum wage increase — it continues to promote anti-Black carceral state policing policies that further criminalize and impoverish communities of color. It has also been lukewarm in its defense of voting rights and resistant to the call for an end to the filibuster outright; despite the latter’s use as a key vehicle for white supremacist opposition to civil rights legislation.
The Dems have always relied on, and taken for granted, Black women’s ability to mobilize for essential social justice freedoms and civil rights. In 2020, Black women voters helped Democrats beat back Trump fascism to win the presidency and key congressional races. In the aftermath of these gains, they saw their wages and wealth stagnate during the pandemic, while record numbers of Black folks became unhoused (Los Angeles has the nation’s largest unsheltered homeless population, at nearly ten times that of New York City. A disproportionate number of unhoused Angelenos are African American).
Because of the nexus of economic inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and domestic violence, young and older Black women and girls are especially vulnerable to becoming homeless. And some young Black women are cynical about the prospect that voting will redress these structural inequities of racial capitalism. As nineteen year-old voter and South L.A. #Standing4BlackGirls Women’s Leadership Project activist Ashantee Polk argues, “It seems like the people we vote for don’t do what they say they are going to do. For example, homelessness and affordable housing are big issues for me.
There is homelessness all over the world but California sits at number the top of the list. We can give money to build houses but not money to house the homeless. Most of the homes being built are not for the homeless. I’ve been homeless three times. The last time I was homeless was because the manager rent up on rent. California needs to do better with rent control and this is what I want elected officials to move on instead of just talk about.”
Black women voters have made it clear that we will not be de facto mammies for corporate Democrats simply seeking to stay in power by capitalizing on our sweat equity.