by Melia LaCour
This article is the second in a series following Persist PAC’s efforts to support Black womxn running for the state legislature. The series will follow their process and share and explain the tools used within the campaign process that anyone can use to support candidates running for office.
On August 4, the womxn of Persist PAC began to see a collective dream crystalize. The dream that generations of Black womxn have tirelessly fought for – the absolute right to lead and shape policy at some of the highest levels of government in our nation and in our state. During the historic Washington State primary election, all ten of the Black womxn candidates Persist PAC supported won their primary races for seats in the State Legislature. This unparalleled set of victories resulted from a potent blend of outstanding candidate leadership and talent, and mighty institutional and financial support which is so often missing for Black womxn candidates.
Persist PAC co-founders and Officers Alexis Turla and Melissa Taylor, paid political consultant Crystal Fincher of Principal of Fincher Consulting, LLC., and volunteer fundraising lead and event master of ceremonies (MC) Julia Reed, have been working hard to provide this much needed financial support. Earlier this year, they launched a project called Elect Black womxn to raise funds to support the ten womxn running for state legislature:
Tanisha Harris, 17th Legislative District (House)
Joy Stanford, 26th Legislative District (House)
T’wina Nobles, 28th Legislative District (Senate)
Jamila Taylor, 30th Legislative District (House)
April Berg, 44th Legislative District (House)
Kirsten Harris-Talley, 37th Legislative District (House)
Sherae Lascelles, 43rd Legislative District (House, non-binary, they/them pronouns)
Shirley Sutton, 32nd Legislative District (House)
Representative Debra Entenman, 47th Legislative District (House)
Representative Melanie Morgan, 29th Legislative District (House)
“What we have seen from the primary and efforts that we did, is that when you invest in candidates, Black candidates in particular, they are equally capable to be competitive in races,” said Turla.
Invest is the key word. As of October 30, Persist PAC has raised just over $138,000 from over 750 individuals and organizations to support these campaigns. Their work has served as a forceful disruption to the political machine that has repeatedly prevented Black womxn candidates, no matter how talented, from having access to the same financial and institutional support necessary to win elections as white candidates.
“You don’t just win races across the board, especially in legislative partisan races, by being a great candidate,” said Fincher. “That’s a necessary ingredient but it’s not the only ingredient, there’s a lot of institutional support that happens.”
Fincher shared that most candidates receive support from several organizations, including advocacy organizations and committees that not only provide financial resources for candidates, but engage in the campaign work that reaches voters. When candidates do not receive this kind of integrated support, they are often left to accomplish this overwhelming amount of work on their own.
“And that’s what we saw with a number of races involving Black womxn, is that excellent, great candidates almost got the job done entirely on their own. And we’re not asking other campaigns to win entirely on their own,” said Fincher. “So why should [Black womxn] be the only ones who are put in the position to do that? I think having that conversation has certainly helped. And, you know we’re seeing a response actually, especially now in this general election, where there are a lot more organizations and institutional support in these campaigns now.”
Candidate, Tanisha Harris, running for State Representative in the 17th Legislative District, is the perfect example of how great candidate talent backed by institutional support can lead to success.
“She is a testament to someone who has grown over time as a candidate and really understands her community and representing her community,” said Turla.”But the previous times she has run [she]really didn’t have the establishment backing up with resources. That was our biggest effort in the last primary and she came in as the top two and was proven to be successful. And I think that is a huge testament to the work to prove that when you support Black womxn, in particular to run for office, that they are just as capable and credible as any other candidate to successfully compete.”
As Persist PAC continues to daylight the invaluable role PACs can play in supporting Black womxn candidates, more communities are beginning to take notice. In fact, Taylor shared that recently, a Filipino woman asked if there were PACs for Filipino womxn.
“I think that one of the other neat things is that as we make these institutional mechanisms accessible, it can act as an accelerant for other people to say, ‘Oh wait, there’s this institutional lever of power that I didn’t know about and therefore didn’t have access to? Can we use it this other way?’” Taylor shared.
Turla added, “By sharing our institutional knowledge, there’s an example out there of community support for these Black womxn that opens up the door for other communities to think through how they are going to garner support in their community to leverage diverse voices. And that only makes for better policy in the end. A better representation for our communities as a whole.”
The idea that better representation leads to better policy is one of the many reasons Persist PAC is hopeful that the general election will result in an increased number of Black womxn in the state legislature. Such a victory would mean that a Black Womxn’s Caucus could be created to move important legislation and to change the conversations and considerations that can influence how policies are shaped.
“It’s the dream that so many people have worked so hard for,” Turla shared. “It’s a little bit scary to even think that that is possible. But what that equates to if you could have a Black Womxn’s Caucus, is many of the big issues come down to a plus five vote. They can stall a conversation. They can hold a conversation. They can push a conversation. The leverage is significant. When it came down to the issue of I-200, that effort came down to the Caucus of Color saying that we will not pass this budget until we see some credible change. So that is where you have the opportunity of several people to say we are not going to even stand to make any other moves until we see equity happen.”
The power of a Black womxn’s Caucus is even more significant when considering the kind of critical issues and complex decisions to be made in the upcoming legislative session.
“We have a significant downturn in the economy due to COVID-19,” said Turla. “So how are we going to build an equitable recovery and not have austerity measures that will have the most impact on Black and Brown communities and police accountability?”
Persist PAC leaders find a sense of hope that a Black Womxn’s Caucus could find solutions to these complex issues, largely through the regional perspective they would collectively bring to the decision-making table.
“This Black Womxn’s Caucus will represent such a wide swath of the state from Vancouver to the Peninsula, Pierce County, Snohomish County,” said Taylor. “And so, the idea of having Black womxn from such a wide swath of the state saying, actually this is what our communities need across the whole state. And we have those leaders in each part of the state, serving as an example and a voice and working together.”
With election day underway , Persist PAC could soon see this dream come to fruition. In the meantime, through their continuous, tenacious efforts, these PAC leaders continue to lead by strong example. Their actions demonstrate the influential and dynamic impact that Black womxn can have in the political arena.
“Persist PAC is leading this with authenticity,” said Turla. “When we say we want to have Black womxn leadership, we also lead by example of having not only myself, but also with Crystal as our consultant in this work. In every sphere there is a fight to have equity and visibility of not just candidates, but consultants and policy people. And this is illuminating those places at all levels, that is of inequity. We don’t have to go to those four or five white male consultants. That Black consultants are equally as competent to lead this work and to develop messaging that, I would even argue, resonates more with community.”
On this momentous day, the continued fight for equity and visibility that Persist PAC so fiercely models and upholds could manifest in a collective dream for Black womxn candidates that has been painfully long overdue and so desperately needed.
Let’s make that dream come true. Get out and vote.
For more information on how to donate to Persist PAC, please visit here.
Melia LaCour is a columnist for the South Seattle Emerald, Executive Director and Founder of “Becoming Justice” and a Precinct Committee Officer in LD 37 for the King County Democrats. She identifies as mixed race, black and her work is rooted in the belief that racial healing is a fundamental component of racial justice work. She is a native Seattleite with a passion for justice and writing..
The featured image is attributed to teachingforchange under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.
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