With only two questions asked about women’s rights in the first debates, Mothering Justice wanted to ensure the voices of mothers and women of color were heard the second time around. During a pre-debate panel on Tuesday with black mothers, community organizers and elected officials- including Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell, the non-profit took charge of the conversation themselves.
“If they are going to ask for our vote,” Danielle Atkinson, founding director of Mothering Justice and moderator of the pre-debate panel, declared to the room, “they are going to have to answer our questions.”
The event took place in Detroit: Mothering Justice’s home base, and the city where candidates converged for the two-day series of televised conversations. “I don’t care if it’s the agriculture community, the labor community—if you look at the grassroots level against poverty or inequalities, it is always led with a different kind of power here than in any other city,” Tlaib said during the panel. “Because it’s mostly led by women of color.”
The discussion that afternoon paid homage to that legacy. Attendees discussed paid leave policies, the fight to increase wages, forging a path toward affordable child care and healthcare and protecting federal and state welfare—issues at the core of Mothering Justice’s “Mama’s Agenda,” which they unveiled earlier this year. Atkinson, along with legendary rapper and advocate M.C. Lyte, steered the discussion across local and national issues—from the ongoing water crisis in Flint to high infant and maternal mortality rates across the country. In the process, she invited a diverse array of business owners, advocates and state legislators to the stage.
But despite the far-reaching conversations, panelists kept voicing a similar refrain: Black voters have been exploited for their voting loyalty, they observed, and they are sick of it. They also made it clear just how intent black women are on reclaiming their political power together.
“We named our organization Black Voters Matter because there’s a whole bunch of people who care about black votes, but don’t care about black voters,” LaTosha Brown said. “It’s not just me voting for you to have power—it’s really me voting to get us power.“
Glynda C. Carr, President and CEO of Higher Heights for America, an organization encouraging and aiding women candidates, echoed the sentiment. “Now more than ever, black women are demanding a return on our voting investment,” she said, “in the form of policies that directly impact black women, our families and our communities—and we are actually claiming our seats at decision tables.”
State Senator Leslie Love proudly pulled up one of those seats when she shared her own story of workplace harassment and called on candidates to foster genuine dialogues with communities of color.
“When you want the vote from this community, have a conversation with this community—understand the unique dynamic of this community and how our perspective plays into economic development, transportation, health care, corrections, peace of mind and mental health,” Love said. “Speak to the uniqueness of an urban agenda and people of color, especially under the current administration, which has caused so many conversations that I never thought I would have in 2019.”
Dingell sees those conversations as part of the job description. “Part of what we do is educate,” she said. “Part of what we do is advocate. And we never stop pushing.”