To Protect Black Women, It’s Time To Change The Rules Of American Democracy
It has never been clearer that this nation is a democracy in name only.
October 13, 2020 at 6:43 pm
It’s a cruel irony that Breonna Taylor has become more famous in death than she ever could have imagined in life. Her name rings out in the streets, in the U.S. Capitol, on social media, on television and in the pages of Vogue Magazine. Millions have called for justice after Louisville police broke into her home and killed her on March 13. Yet, every week we’re learning more about how the judicial system conspired to deny her justice.
This is a brutal, gut-wrenching reminder that this country was never built to value or protect Black women — the rules have always been rigged against us. So if we want to see real change, it’s time to change the rules. It’s time to reimagine the very foundation of this country so it can finally work for me and other Black women across the country who deserve a just democracy.
As a recent article pointed out, our broken democracy is a racial justice issue. Obscure, racist rules like the Senate filibuster silence Black voices, and our rights are constantly under threat from just nine Supreme Court justices. Most of us are rightfully focused on the election, but coalitions like Just Democracy are taking the next step: reshaping our rigged democracy so we can pass meaningful police reforms and protect Black women.
I know that structural reform is possible, but this year has exhausted me like no other — from the pandemic ravaging Black communities, to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and the refusal to hold police accountable for Elijah McClain’s murder. It has never been clearer that this nation is a democracy in name only. Too many of its “democratic” institutions were not built to include Black people, so the tree of systemic racism still bears its “strange fruit” today.
Black women have led the fight against racist systems despite being, in the words of Malcolm X, “the most unprotected [people] in America.” We have led enslaved people to freedom. We have exposed the savagery of lynching. We organized the marches, freedom rides, sit-ins and boycotts that anchored the civil rights movement. We have built community food programs, become preeminent scholars and created art to shake the world. And we have done it all while birthing and raising Black families.
Yet, when we die at the hands of the state, it’s a struggle to even get the world to say our names.
This summer I watched as more than 80 protestors were arrested on felony charges while demanding charges for Breonna’s murder at the home of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. I couldn’t sleep that night. Everything in my spirit told me I had to go there — that we all should be there. So I put a call out, and a week later I joined protestors from my home state of Colorado and others from across the country on a 1,000-mile drive to Louisville that became the Caravan 4 Racial Justice.
The caravan continues to this day. Back at home, we are led by women of color who are addressing youth violence, helping to educate immigrants about their rights and registering people of color to vote. And we are still in the streets saying Breonna’s name.
Still, the denial of justice for Breonna Taylor reminds us that racism is structural. Yes, we have to raise our voices, cast our votes and make sure our leaders truly represent us. But we also have to strike at the root of the problem — a democracy that was built to block the true will of the people.
The Caravan 4 Racial Justice joined with more than 30 other grassroot organizations around the country to launch Just Democracy so we can fight for structural change and build a democracy that finally respects Black voices. We are working to unrig the system and give Black people the freedom, equality and justice that we have been denied for more than 200 years.
It’s time to eliminate the filibuster, which President Obama called a “Jim Crow relic,” so the transformative legislation we need isn’t blocked in Congress. It’s time to abolish the Electoral College so that every vote for President counts equally. It’s time to make Washington D.C. a state so the 700,000 Americans living there — most of whom are Black and brown — will finally have equal representation in Congress. And it’s time to add seats to the Supreme Court so the loss of a single, heroic woman like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will never again put our rights in jeopardy.
While we fight for structural change, the Caravan 4 Racial Justice will still be doing what we do best. This Friday, October 16, we’ll bring activists from across the nation to Washington D.C. for a rally to protect Black women — our bodies and our votes. We will be the generation to change the rules of America’s rigged game. And we will never, ever stop saying her name.
Shenika Carter is an entrepreneur, an activist, the Chair of the African American Initiative for the Colorado Democratic party and the founder of the Caravan 4 Racial Justice.