I am a Millennial, a member of the generation that is purportedly buying avocados instead of houses, but whose actions and values are shaping the future. Yesterday, after receiving tweeted encouragement from Chrissy Teigen and Coconut the dog, I joined millions of other Americans in casting a vote in the most critical and highly contested midterm election in decades. Later that night, I watched as election results rolled in and the numbers told a story of dynamic change across the country.
The New York Times estimates 114 million Americans turned out to vote, potentially setting a 50 year record for voter turnout in a midterm election. Millennials, too, had a record turnout, with a 188 percent increase in early voting since 2014. This incredible display of civic participation occurred against a backdrop of voter disenfranchisement in states such as Georgia. The result was an influx of historic firsts for women and people of color—many of whom ran for office to oppose President Trump's racist and sexist policies—that represent the changing demographics of an increasingly diverse America.
Among those elected were Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who at age 29 is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress; Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the first Muslim-American Congresswomen; Sharice Davids (D-KS) and Deb Haaland (D-NM), the first Native Congresswomen; and Young Kim (R-CA), the first Korean-American Congresswoman. The incredible political momentum built by women and people of color enabled Democrats to take back the House. Overall, 40 women of color were elected to the House, one to the Senate, and one was elected governor.
As we celebrate these wins, we also recognize the significance of last night's losses. Senatorial hopefuls Amy McGrath and Beto O'Rourke lost in their respective states—Kentucky and Texas. Republicans maintained control of the Senate, indicating that Trump still has nationwide influence and support. We are still waiting to hear the outcome of pivotal races such as the Georgia Governor's race between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. But as we come to terms with the aftermath of the election, it is essential that we double down on our efforts and do not let our losses immobilize us. Speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Stacey Abrams insisted that we "lose well," meaning that we "stay in the fight."
Women of color know what it means to stay in the fight. In a conversation with Living Room host Kris Welch on KPFA 94.1, LeaderSpring Center Executive Director Sonia Mañjon said staying in the fight is about perseverance.
"[Black women] don't pack up and go home. If at first we try and we don't succeed, we keep trying until we get there. This is not a sprint, this is a marathon. We have the perseverance to stay in there. The message being sent right now is that we are a force to be reckoned with and we're not going to go home.”
Women of color are persevering. We are organizing, voting, running for office, winning, and fighting for communities long forgotten by the political establishment. Women of color are leading America's grassroots, progressive movements. We are the social changemakers. That is why LeaderSpring Center has dedicated its next Fellowship to supporting women leaders of color. The purpose of the Women of Color LeadStrong Fellowship is to elevate and strengthen the vision, voice, power, and leadership of women of color working for social and racial equity and justice in the social sector.
LeaderSpring Center's annual event on March 7, "Women of Color LeadStrong: Game Changers in Philanthropy, Politics, and Technology," will also serve to acknowledge the accomplishments of women of color in creating sustainable systems of change. Keynote speakers will include Alicia Garza, Co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and Vanessa Daniel, Founder and Executive Director of Groundswell Fund. The event will be held in March in honor of International Women’s month.
Given the momentous election of so many inspiring progressive leaders, Mañjon lauds 2019 as the "Year of Women of Color." For women leaders of color, restoring and instituting justice will be difficult, and the most obvious threat to progress will be, of course, the Trump administration. Mañjon spoke to the impact of "Trumpism" in her conversation with Kris Welch on KPFA, saying, "Trumpism has allowed whiteness to take off its hood. It's allowing people who support the insidious mentality he carries to come out into the daylight." But as women of color, we know we can win this battle because we have done it before. For LeaderSpring Center, the question is how to support women leaders of color in a long-term resistance movement.
Mañjon explains, "It's not about capacity building because we know leaders of color and particularly women leaders of color have a lot of capacity. They know how to survive. How do we help them thrive?"