“Our representative democracy is supposed to represent us,” urges a joint letter—part of a recent push from a coalition of notable feminists to convince California Gov. Gavin Newsom to replace Vice President-Elect Harris’s Senate seat with another Black woman.
Presently, the number of Black women in the Senate totals just one—Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.
And while feminists continue to celebrate Harris’s ceiling-shattering victory as an incredible milestone, her leaving the legislative branch of the Senate to join the executive branch as second-in-command will drop the number of Black women in the Senate down to zero—that is, unless a recent push from a diverse group of feminists can convince California Gov. Gavin Newsom to replace Harris with another Black woman.
Newsom is the focus of multiple efforts urging him to appoint a Black woman to fill the remainder of Harris’s term, including a joint letter from over 200 women leaders, philanthropists and activists.
In a press conference on Thursday, signatories of the letter—including Dolores Huerta; Aimee Allison, founder of She the People; Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza; Alfre Woodard, actor and activist; Women’s Foundation California CEO Surina Khan; Kathy Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms.; Susan Pritzker, philanthropist and Women’s Foundation board member; and others—underscored their message.
In the Senate’s 231 years, only five women of color have served, according to the Center for American Women and Politics: Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), a Black woman, was the first woman of color elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1993 to 1999; and at present, Kamala Harris serves alongside three other women of color: Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii); Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
“Women know exactly what it feels like to be passed over and looked over—even though they are qualified for positions of power,” said Garza, at Thursday’s press conference, hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation, Women’s Foundation California, Dolores Huerta and She the People. “For too long in this country, we have had our lives governed by people who don’t live our lives. … We must make sure we break this trend.”
“There is a long list of very qualified, ready-to-go Black women here in California who would both honor the legacy [of Kamala Harris] and provide us with the representation we all deserve and desperately need right now,” said Pritzker.
The coalition of feminist leaders has rallied around two Black women replacements in particular. The first is Rep. Barbara Lee of California’s 13th congressional district, which includes Oakland. The only African American woman in Democratic Leadership (serving as co-chair of the Policy and Steering Committee), Lee has advocated for legislation aimed at fighting poverty and hunger, ending HIV/AIDS, and providing legislative oversight.
The second woman being considered for Harris’s seat is Rep. Karen Bass of California’s 37th district, which encompasses a large portion of Los Angeles County. Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Bass boasts legislative priorities like restoring voting rights, protecting and strengthening health care access, and enforcing criminal justice reform.
Californians elected Kamala Harris—and she should be replaced with someone who looks and thinks like her, argued Woodard during Thursday’s press conference: “That person would be a woman of color, and in particular, a Black woman. … an advocate, an activator. In Congresswomen Karen Bass and Barbara Lee, we have a duo that fills those shoes perfectly without breaking stride.”
Reports say Newsom is also eyeing Secretary of State Alex Padilla to finish out the last two years of Harris’s six-year term, ending in 2022. At the same time women’s groups have upped the pressure on the governor to pick a woman of color, so too have Latino organizations and legislators who advocate for Padilla. But advocates of the #AppointABlackWoman movement say increasing the number of Black women in political leadership is long overdue.
“Women’s voices are desperately needed—but Black women’s voices are particularly needed in this time of history,” said Huerta, when asked by a reporter why not a Latino/a replacement. “As a Latina, I do believe that at this unique moment in history to represent us all … it will be a giant step toward political equality and representation.”
“The fact that today represents a multiracial force of women calling Governor Newsom to appoint a Black woman should speak volumes,” said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, an Oakland-based organization. “We cannot backslide: Senator Harris cannot be the only woman of color at the table from our state.”
If you too want to speak up about the need for Newsom to appoint a woman of color to Kamala Harris’s seat, you can write to the governor’s chief of staff, Ann O’Leary (email@example.com), to tell her why you believe appointing a woman of color to the Senate is what’s best for the U.S.