Support Groundbreaking Reporting on Women
Logo Logo
Movements , US

‘Whatever It Takes’: How Black Women Fought to Mobilize America’s Voters

by Jessica WashingtonTiffany Arnold November 12, 2020

This article was published in partnership with The Guardian.

Even before networks projected the presidential race for former Vice President Joe Biden Saturday morning, Wanda Mosley, a 50-year-old organizer based in Atlanta, Georgia, began to prepare to mobilize voters for her  state’s two critical Senate run-off elections on January 5. 

And after one of the most turbulent Presidential elections in  U.S. history, the two races in the battleground state will determine if the balance of power in Washington will fall to President-elect Biden once he is sworn into office. Georgia has yet to be called for Biden, a Democrat, though he leads President Donald Trump currently, which motivates organizers like Mosley who continues to register voters who want to vote in the January run-offs until early December.

We understand fully how important these races are, says Mosley, the Senior State Coordinator for Georgia’s Black Voters Matter, a non profit dedicated to voter engagement. 

“We’re still here. We’re still working,” Mosley says.

Democrats have long pointed to Black voters, more specifically, Black women as a crucial voting bloc,  decisive to elections since former President Bill Clinton’s victories in the 1990s. But this November, successfully flipping the southern, Republican-led state of Georgia  to the Democrats for the first time in 28 years has drawn attention to the organizational power of Black women, whose large-scale mobilization efforts appears to have resulted in massive turnouts among people of color in those cities, experts say. 

“What might have been different is the greater role of on the ground mobilization and voter registration efforts in states like Georgia, and I think that that was the effort that was largely built by Stacey Abrams and others on the ground,” says Jamil Scott, assistant professor, in the Government Department at Georgetown University.

Rather than rely on outside political consultants swarming into so-called battleground states,  Abrams who lost to Republican Governor Brian Kemp in 2018, led that charge in Georgia this year, says Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, a national network advocating for women of color in politics. There was a 69% increase in voter turnout among women of color in Georgia this year compared to 2016, according to Allison, who cites data She the People analyzed from progressive data firm Catalist.

“You have a group of voters of Black women who are the most effective organizers on the ground because they are trusted voices and are working in organizations year round. They don’t come in six weeks before and kind of rent out a storefront they’re actually invested in, long-term, empowering the community through civic and political action,” she says.

In America, this election year has not played out in a vacuum. Rather, it has been met with — and compounded by — America’s year of reckoning with police brutality and systemic inequality that has driven even more people to vote.

Thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest police brutality in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths earlier this year as the Black community also  shouldered the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. The meeting of those moments spurred political mobilization among Black voters, says Tim Stevens,  CEO of Pittsburgh’s Black Political Empowerment Project, an nonprofit voting rights organization based in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, where President Trump was swiftly defeated last week. 

“The tragedies…made what was already present in the heart of black people and people of color even more evident and more urgent,” says Stevens.  

Little girl is sitting on a man's shoulders holding a sign
A father and daughter sift their way through a crowd of celebrating Joe Biden supporters, who are singing, blowing blow horns, and are looking toward a crowd of Donald Trump supporters in Philadelphia. (Kai Tsehay/The Fuller Project)

And those mobilization efforts were evident as ballots are counted in diverse urban centers in key states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania where large populations of Black voters in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit  helped push Biden towards victory. 

Then there were a number of prominent  Black women in leadership roles — like Abrams, Nikema Williams, who took on John Lewis’ congressional seat and is chair of Georgia’s state Democratic Party, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — helped fuel mobilization efforts among Black women this election, suggests Dianne Pinderhughes, professor of political science and chair of the department of Africana studies at the University of Notre Dame.

One organizer in Pennsylvania points to the most prominent one: the  first-Black and South Asian American Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris. “We had the same feelings we had when Obama was first elected,” says Brittany Smalls, Pennsylvania State Coordinator for Black Voters Matter. “We just never thought we would see the day that a woman in leadership looks like us.” 

Now, as Americans  across the country shift their attention away from the Presidential race and onto the run-off elections in Georgia, organizers like Mosley say they are keen to build on their success, in an election that could ultimately determine what kind of presidency Joe Biden will have. 

“This is the culmination of years and years and years of work, when other people didn’t think it was possible,” says Mosley. 

“We know how important the Senate is, and so if we can play a role in getting one — or possibly two seats — to try to shift that balance of power, you need to understand that black women will do whatever it takes.” 

Get our groundbreaking reporting on women

Get The Fuller Project in your inbox weekly
Get The Fuller Project in your inbox weekly