By Katherine Wang
In the traditionally male-dominated arena of politics, women of color are emerging as political leaders. Although they are small drops in ocean, their presence ripples throughout the country, creating currents of change. From Georgia to Texas, women such as Stacey Abrams and Lupe Valdez are winning nominations for governor, signifying the start of a new, transformative era of politics.
“We are writing the next chapter of Georgia’s future. Where no one is unseen, no one is unheard, and no one is uninspired. We are writing a history of a Georgia where we prosper — together,” said Stacey Abrams in her victory speech. As the first black female to win the gubernatorial nomination from a major party (the Democratic Party), she signifies the growing power of black women in politics who use their identities to effect change in a dangerously stigmatized society. She has relentlessly advocated for women’s reproductive rights, higher quality education, and built the growing power of the Democratic party in Georgia. Even before she won the primaries, she already paved the way for other African-American women in politics by being “the first black woman to lead the Democrats in the Georgia House of Representatives as House minority leader” and founding an organization that helps fight voter suppression. Her rhetoric of hard work and personal narrative of determination captivates her voters, culminating in a 53-point landslide victory -- Abrams took 76.5% of the votes, whereas her opponent, Stacey Evans, took a mere 23.5% of the votes in Georgia. With her victory, she plans to “writ[e] the next chapter of Georgia's history, where no one is unseen, no one is unheard and no one is uninspired."
And she’s not the only one. In the state of Texas, Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez made history by becoming the first Latina woman to win a gubernatorial nomination from a major party. "Tonight is a victory for all of us who are fighting for a stronger and fairer Texas. A tolerant and diverse Texas. A Texas where the everyday person has a voice and a fair shot -- just as I had," said Valdez. Although she faces endless struggles, such as a video released after her victory which criticized her weak stance on policy, Valdez has stated that her seemingly weak stance on policy issues will change once she is elected, where she plans to make use of expert opinion and consensus techniques. Valdez is committed to fighting the “uphill battle” against her next opponent, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, and it is an uphill battle that she will likely win — after all, her military and law enforcement experience, immigration stance, and working-class experience will capture the votes of many Latinos, which are crucial to her win. Unlike Governor Abbott, who supports certain aspects of a border wall, Valdez states that she will fight against a wall with everything that she has. She ardently opposes Senate Bill 4, which allowed local law enforcement officers to ask about one’s immigration status during typical interactions, such as a stop at a traffic light. Her pro-immigration stance will most likely be in favor of a large portion of the Texas citizenry.
What do Abrams’ and Valdez’s primary victories tell us about women in politics?
First, that women are rallying together to demand changes to the current political system -- from issues such as education and health care to women’s rights and more equal representation in Congress. According to Aimee Allison, president of the political organization Democracy in Color, “A powerful example lies in the more than 400 black women running for office this year. There’s also been a surge in Latina and Asian-American women seeking election, as well as a historic number of Native American women.” Recent issues have sparked women to step up to the plate and champion their own causes and propel change in Washington.
Second, that more and more people are planning to use their power to vote to create change in our society. The Texas primaries alone demonstrate that there is shockingly high voter turnout this year. Tara Golshan, the politics reporter of Vox, writes that the “Democrats doubled early voting turnout compared to the 2014 midterms and beat turnout numbers from the 2016 presidential election year by 4 percent.” Even though Texas may not be representative of the entire nation, the high rate of mobilization among voters in this Southern state known for its low voter interest rates sparks hope that the rest of the country will only be more eager to get out their votes. Particularly among women of color, an increase in mobilization leads to hope that more women can bring their voices to tables formerly dominated by white men.
Although a groundbreaking number of women of color are beginning to dominate the primary elections season, they still face a difficult battle before them. Their opponents will criticize them. Others will mock them for stepping beyond their boundaries. Still others will attempt to downplay their importance in bringing women forward in politics. But as long as these fearless women and their voters keep up their dedication and energy, they will definitely achieve their goals in November -- and that will only be the beginning.