Among the voters who pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton in 2016, 21 percent were women of color. However, women of color make up just 16 percent of House Democrats and only 8 percent of Senate Democrats. As the Democratic Party tries to shed its past complicity with constructing the infrastructure and ideological frameworks for white-supremacist policies, more women of color are demanding that their voices be heard inside Congress.
There are currently 19 white Democratic members of Congress that represent majority-minority House districts. (Three of them, Representatives Gene Green, Bob Brady, and Beto O’Rourke, are vacating their seats). Many blue or blue-leaning states, like Massachusetts and Colorado, still do not have any people of color in their congressional delegations.
But a group of young, progressive women of color want to change that: In Delaware, Colorado’s first district, Massachusetts’s seventh, and New York’s fourteenth—-the most diverse district in the country still represented by a white man—-white male incumbents are facing well-funded and well-organized challenges from women of color.
Ayanna Pressley is running to represent the people of Massachusetts’ seventh district, a majority-minority district with a highly educated voter base. Pressley was the first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council, and her current at-large seat represents 70 percent of the seventh district. Early polling put her opponent, incumbent Representative Michael Capuano, up by a mere 12 points. The most recent filings show Capuano raising twice as much as Pressley, though he leads by only a few thousand dollars among individual donors. (Pressley has refused corporate PAC money.)
Pressley is running on a racial-justice and survivor’s-justice platform—-what she calls an “Equity Agenda.” The premise of her campaign is that inequalities are driven by policy choices, and must be reversed in the same way. “The economic inequality, the wealth and wage gap, the structural racism, the gun violence, these conditions were created by policy, either discriminatory or short-sighted policy-making or well-meaning policy with negative policies,” she said. “When I think about the conditions my family grew up in, we were in the residual aftermath of redlining and welfare reform and the war on drugs and Reaganomics.”
“These policies were manufactured by men, and they can be disrupted by women,” Pressley added.
Capuano has accused Pressley of playing identity politics, and he doesn’t intend it as a compliment. He told local radio station WBUR, “Look, I cannot be a woman of color. And if that’s what people care about, that’s fine. I accept that, I understand that. I just don’t think there are that many people who will vote for me because I’m a white male or vote against me because I’m a white male.”