Black Lives Matter. No Cop Academy. Reparations for survivors of Chicago police torture. Say Her Name. Mute R. Kelly.
These are just a few of the grassroots movements in Chicago with black girls, mothers and women at the helm. And now two black women are in a runoff to become the city’s next mayor. It’s a historic moment because Chicago will become the largest American city to be led by a black woman. At the same time, a number of black women are fighting to have their voices heard, working behind the scenes on political organizing and leading grassroots campaigns for change.
“As a black woman behind the scene, sitting at the tables that I sit at makes a different in shaping how things move,” said Erica Bland-Durosinmi, political director at SEIU Healthcare Illinois.
“When I walk into a room where a decision is being made, I am bringing my membership and the things that matter most to them into that room. I am speaking on behalf of the single mothers, of the women who are low-income, of the women who are working two jobs to get by. And what candidates will help to make their lives better.”
Those social, racial and economic justice issues include an elected public school board, increasing the minimum wage and lifting the ban on rent control.
Bland-Durosinmi is part of an organization that formed in 2014 called United Working Families that has created a platform to the left in order to push members of the Chicago City Council.
Hope Pickett is doing a fellowship with UWF. She helped Maria Hadden oust Joe Moore as alderman of the 49th Ward. Now she’s working with another black female candidate — Jeanette Taylor — on the South Side in the runoff to win the 20th Ward.
In her political work, Pickett says sometimes she’s the only woman in the room.
“You try not to look like what people see you as — this angry woman. But, I feel like I’m going into a lot of these spaces almost on the defense. I’m ready for the day where I feel like I don’t have to come in wearing armor, I’m feeling attacked or mansplained to. It’s very exhausting,” Pickett said.
During this current election cycle, black women are leading movements and pushing elected leadership to think differently, said Jenn Jackson, a political scientist who’s studying at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on black politics in the city.
“Political participation is dynamic. It includes activism, mobilization. It includes talking to people at churches. It includes handing out brochures about a kickback or a cookout where you’re going to have to talk about the new mayoral candidate,” Jackson said. “It includes a lot of ways that we end up within communities discussing the issues that affect us. A lot of black women are facilitating that dialogue, and it’s bubbling up and it’s making a true change. And it’s actually turning into action. And it’s turning into boots on the ground.”
Jeanette Wilson is a veteran social justice activist and adviser at Rainbow PUSH who said “this is the year of the woman.”
“Women have been able to push for some issues and be able to suggest to the masses that it’s time for a woman to lead the city. Women decided to stop begging people to address the issues women are concerned about. They started talking about them,” she said.
That’s because many of the problems that have existed in the city happened under predominantly male leadership, she said.
And Wilson is confident that things will be different with black women in command and wielding power behind the scenes.
Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @natalieymoore.