At the start of 2021, our country made a major historic political stride when Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first Black and Asian woman vice-president. As millions watched on TV and in person, we were reminded of how far we’ve come in the political landscape, but also how far we must go. The 2020 election was significant for Black women’s representation in Congress and Executive Office. Yet, with Vice President Harris’s ascension, there is no longer any Black woman representation in the U.S. Senate. This absence is alarming, especially when Black women have proven time and time again that we are one of the largest voting blocs in this country.
Over the last year, Black women in politics have secured significant wins on the state and federal levels. In 2021, we saw major cities elect their first Black woman mayors. Tishaura Jones was elected as the first Black woman mayor of St. Louis, Elaine O’Neal became the first Black woman mayor in Durham, N.C., and Kim Janey became Boston’s first Black woman mayor of the city during a vacancy in the office of mayor. And although we have yet to have a Black woman serve as Governor, there are a record number of Black women running for Governor in at least five states, including Georgia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Iowa.
Recently, when Stacey Abrams announced her campaign to run again to become the next Governor of Georgia, the announcement was met with much enthusiasm, demonstrating that next year there is an opportunity to not only elect the first Black woman Governor but to potentially have a cohort of Black women governors ready to serve simultaneously.
2022 is shaping up to be another historic year in part because of the collective power, Black women have harnessed over recent elections. These women bring diverse experiences and deep knowledge of underrepresented communities that could help positively transform the states they are vying to lead.
In 2021, the advances made by Black women were not just about elections; it was also about governance and having voices in the correct positions to see the changes we want to see in our communities. Issues spanning from criminal justice, economic security, voting rights, gun safety, and climate change are at the top of mind for Black women voters, and electing those that can sit at tables to impact the policy outcomes on these key issues is what we saw happen in 2021.
While Black women running for office have seen advances in cities on the state level, we have also seen much progress on the federal level.
Vice-President Harris not only helped sell the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and pass it, but she also helped shape the substance of the legislation. The Vice President played a lead role in getting Americans vaccinated and helping our economy grow again.
This year, we also saw how powerful the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) women truly are, especially those who were pivotal in orchestrating many of this year’s most significant legislative wins. The women of the CBC prioritized funding for historically Black colleges and universities and increased child tax credit, affordable housing, universal childcare and pre-K, and Medicare expansions. As well as job creation, cutting taxes, and lowering costs for working families.
Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14), who serves on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the House Committee on Appropriations, successfully got her first bill passed – the Protecting Moms Who Served Act is one of twelve bills from Rep. Underwood’s Black Maternal Health Momnibus package. Protecting Moms Who Served Act will allocate $15 million to help improve Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities. In December, Reps. Underwood, Alma Adams and Robin Kelly joined Vice President Kamala Harris for the first-ever White House Maternal Health Day of Action.
This year, we also saw Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s (TX-18) push to make Juneteenth a federal holiday was successful and was signed into law.
The women of the CBC went above and beyond the call of duty. And we thank them.
The Biden/Harris administration is one of the most diverse in our county’s history including the confirmation of Marcia Fudge as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Linda Smith Greenfield became the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Kristen Clarke was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, and Cecilia Rouse became the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. These women are all following in the steps of the great Shirley Chisholm.
While wins have had this year on many issues, we also saw the underside of politics and how certain politicians insist on blocking many citizens from the fundamental right to vote. The barriers that exist when it comes to voting in this country go against everything the constitution stands for. Despite this barrier, we’re still committed, now more than ever.
In August, Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) introduced the landmark Voting Rights Act, named after the late Georgia congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, who died last year. The Act seeks to restore a vital provision of the federal law that compelled states with a history of discrimination to undergo a federal review of changes to voting and elections. Our fight on this crucial issue will continue in 2022 as advocates put increasing pressure on the Senate to pass the legislation to protect our right to vote.
2021 left us much to be proud of and 2022 is shaping up to be the year in which we will see even more breakthroughs for Black women seeking elected office at all levels. We have a unique chance to support this positive shift and give Americans elected officials who won’t leave behind any individuals.
Black women have proven themselves at the polls, on the trail, in office and behind the scenes of democracy—now it’s time to support, volunteer and donate to these candidates who are prepared to continue leading this country to Higher Heights .
In 2022, Black women leaders will continue to fight for the issues most important to our communities. We will support them, and they will continue to prove that Black women are truly the architects and defenders of our democracy.
Glynda Carr is president and CEO of Higher Heights for America, the only national organization providing Black women with a political home exclusively dedicated to harnessing their power to expand Black women’s elected representation and voting participation and advance progressive policies.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.