Black History Month became official in 1976 when President Carter announced it was high time to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Over 40 years later, BHM is all that, and a lot more. Here at REVOLT, we’ve kicked off our celebration with a week-long look at politics and justice. We began by discussing why this year’s midterm elections are so important, and now we go a step further by looking at the people primed to make the legislative change we need.
And while this is a list of politicians who hold or have held office, it’s worth mentioning that this year we’re seeing an unprecedented number of black women running for office at the state, local, and national level — over 400 at the time of this writing. How’s that for Black History?
Without further ado, a look at the politicians in office who are worth watching closely.
Senator Kamala Harris – California (D)
Oakland’s own Kamala Harris is no joke. Born to an Indian mother and Jamaican father, the law school grad is just the second African-American woman ever to serve in the U.S. Senate, one of three black Senators we have right now, and the only female at that. Just named to the Senate Judiciary Committee, she and Cory Booker are just the second and third black Senators to have that honor in the Committee’s 201-year existence, so she just keeps making history. She was born for it: Kamala was raised under the banner of activism — her parents met at Berkeley and were active in the Civil Rights movement — and the combination of her bold and progressive voice, combined with the bright lights of her platform in California, has her on a lot of shortlists for a possible Presidential run as soon as 2020.
To top it all off, she’s picked up where Obama left off (and President Trump dare not go), sharing an official Spotify playlist of her “all-time favorites” from African-Americans, and she gets heavy with it, featuring new fire like SZA and Migos, ’90s classics like B.I.G. and T.L.C., and of course some O.G. classics like Nina Simone, Funkadelic, Stevie, and of course, Beyoncé. Presidential, indeed.
Rep. Keith Ellison – Minnesota (D)
Keith Ellison is a Representative from Minnesota who attained some national shine as a serious advocate for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. In turn, Bernie endorsed Ellison for Democratic National Committee chair in 2016. While that didn’t work out for Ellison — he lost after an old essay he wrote questioning America’s allegiance to Israel went public — he was later unanimously voted Deputy Chair of the DNC. That status, plus his pro-Bernie progressive bona fides, make him a serious player in liberal politics, and thereby the national discourse.
Mayor Muriel Bowser – Washington, D.C. (D)
In 2014, then-42-year-old Muriel Bowser won an historic election, becoming the second female African-American mayor of our nation’s capitol. She’s up for reelection this November, and while she’s expected to win, her work is cut out for her. In recent years, D.C. has seen an influx of wealth, while incomes for blacks and Latinos have actually decreased compared to white households. She says she’s ready for the challenge, telling the Washington Post: “I want to be remembered for having more Washingtonians participate in a fast-growing, changing city,” Bowser said. “How can we close the gaps between the haves and the have-nots in our Washington, and let this be a story of true renaissance of the city that focused on bringing everybody along?”
For more of a feel of Mayor Bowser, check out my interview with her at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 where we talked about the relief forces she sent to Baltimore during that city’s riots.
Senator Cory Booker – New Jersey (D)
Savvy on Twitter, educated at Stanford, Oxford, and Yale, and great at rescuing freezing dogs, Newark mayor-turned-New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is a fan-favorite for Democrats seeking a prospect for the next black male Presidential candidate. As one of just three black Senators, he’s making his mark, sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Along with Kamala Harris, they are just the 2nd and 3rd in the Committee’s history.) And he’s using that platform: Last year, he commanded headlines for dramatic and unprecedented testimony against Trump Attorney General appointee Jeff Sessions on racist grounds. That moment garnered applause from the left, and complaints of grandstanding for a possible Presidential run in 2020 from the right. In any event, with his combination of talents and ambition, Booker will be one to watch for as long as he’s in the game.
Senator Tim Scott – South Carolina (R)
South Carolina’s first black Senator Tim Scott joins Kamala Harris and Cory Booker as one of three African-Americans in the Senate — and the only Republican. He walks an interesting line, ideologically: In 2010, he was endorsed by the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement, but he’s also broken rank on issues that resonate with the African-American community, like urging the Senate to hold hearings on forcing police to wear body cameras. He’s been called a “ventriloquist’s…dummy” by an NAACP official while trying to distance himself from Trump’s more divisive actions (like the “shithole” moment), but still voting for Trump anyway. He’s taken the Senate floor in the wake of 2016’s Dallas police shootings to say he’s been pulled over seven times in a year, that there is a “trust gap” between police and black America, and also that police are heroes. So how will he navigate his racial identity and his community’s interests at a time of increasingly divisive rhetoric from the White House? Well, he’s on the “Politicians To Watch” list for a reason.
Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax – Virginia (D)
Justin Fairfax is a 38-year-old history maker as only the second statewide elected office holder in Virginia’s history, and the only one at the moment. As such, he’s holding down an important role in the South’s political tapestry. And he’s also not here for the South’s ongoing Confederate glorification. Just the other day Fairfax stepped off the dais in silent protest over Virginia commemorating the birthday of Confederate war General Stonewall Jackson, causing something of a commotion in the aftermath. We’ll be watching to see what other steps he takes in his journey toward progress.
Rep. Cedric Richmond – Louisiana (D)
As Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, 38-year-old Cedric Richmond has his work cut out for him in 2018. The midterms are crucial, the rhetoric is roiling, and the way things are going in DC and everywhere else, you never know when the CBC’s leadership and intermediary work will be needed. Keep an eye out.
Nina Turner – Ohio (D)
Nina Turner is a rising star in the Democratic party. The Ohioan became a familiar face in 2016 for her passionate endorsement and advocacy for Bernie Sanders, appearing on many cable news programs and birthing many shareable, viral soundbites in the process. And while she doesn’t hold elected office at the moment, she’s factoring deeply into the party’s future: At a recent conversation Senator Sanders held about his 2020 presidential prospects, there were a few familiar faces. And one was Nina Turner. Last year she became President of the Sanders-affiliated group Our Revolution. She’s making moves.
Black history can never be forgotten, but the future of our Black America is something to be shed light on. Black culture’s ownership of its leverage and economic impact in sports, film/television, fashion, and music is being unapologetically claimed. Get ready for the #NewBlackRenaissance.
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