In a recent article titled,”South Carolina’s Most Valuable Democrats for 2020 Presidential Primary,” the Post & Courier’s Jamie Lovegrove details the paper’s list of politicians, activists, and operatives it considers the party’s most plugged-in members. Most surprisingly, and not surprisingly at all, the list of notables is overwhelmingly populated by men and includes a very meager showing of black women representation.
South Carolina’s standing as the “first in the South” democratic primary makes it a hotbed for political courtship during presidential campaigns. Far too often black women are expected to fall in line while their voices and their efforts are erased. The Post & Courier completely floundered a valuable opportunity to elevate the black woman’s voice and contribution into the 2020 conversation.
According to Lovegrove, The Post and Courier compiled the list with the help of some of the party’s “most plugged-in” officials. Yes, there are some truly phenomenal black women listed in the Post & Courier’s article. Those women, such as my State Senator, Mia McLeod have unashamedly been vocal and consistently worked for causes and candidates which align with our mission to leave the world better for generations to come. Their inclusion, however, is a sub par representation of the contributions black women make for the party and democratic causes. Given the ongoing national discussion of black women’s role in carrying the Democratic Party and consistently showing up for candidates and issues, the less than adequate inclusion of black women on the list lends itself to several valid points and questions:
Black women are often described as the backbone of the Democratic Party, and anyone who has spent any time in and out of Democratic campaign offices across the state of South Carolina, knows that the party would not be able to pull off the occasional victories it does without the women of color, specifically black women, who stand on the frontlines.
From field organizing efforts which include effective relationship building and strategic training, amassing large teams of volunteers and supporters to canvas, knock doors, and phone bank to galvanizing constituency groups such as faith-based organizations, beauty and barbershops, young professionals, and women; black women are the reason the South Carolina Democratic Party is “fired up and ready to go,” if it is at all.
There are several black women across the state who remain consistently engaged in politics — building coalitions, giving their voices to issues which matter, and organizing in one of our country’s reddest states — even when the cameras are not on and checks are not being cut. Those women work twice, if not three times as hard as their male counterparts and are usually more effective in establishing and maintaining the relationships essential to the party’s advancement of it’s causes.
The Post & Courier’s (and presumably party who’s whos) exclusion of so many black women from the list makes it clear that the most valuable is not always the most valued.
2. How effective are the Post & Courier’s “valuable” players?
If we’re really putting it all on the table, South Carolina Democrats lose — a lot. And our victories often come as a result of piling our resources and manpower into races we are guaranteed to walk away from with a “W.” The most recent gubernatorial efforts were another instance of failed strategy and efforts on behalf of South Carolina Democrats. Somehow, however, even a campaign operative who only recently arrived in South Carolina to work on the failed gubernatorial race made the Post & Courier’s list over several black women who have been doing the work and are a key reason many black women, especially millennials, remain as engaged with the Democratic Party as they do.
To be clear, I want democrats to win at all levels, and several people on the original list have been instrumental in the party’s growth. We could, however, be farther along if the party truly tapped into the black women’s talents, aligning its actions with its words about inclusion and diversity.
3. Journalistic representation matters.
Should we really be surprised at the overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white list published by the Post & Courier? After all, the political team at the paper is overwhelmingly, well, male and white…
Black women’s stories and experiences matter. Being a political journalist in South Carolina and being even somewhat privy to the national conversation around the party and women of color as well as the state party’s history of riding the backs of black women; it seems thorough research would lead to a larger representation of black women on the Post & Courier’s list.
4. A list of democratic party influencers which doesn’t highlight faith-based leaders is significantly flawed.
Are you kidding me? With the way candidates pop in and out of black churches vying for votes in this state, it’s ludicrous not to intentionally include faith-based representation. Historically, black churches and congregants have organized to create some of the most impactful and meaningful changes in our country. The failure of the Post & Courier’s list to acknowledge this information further indicates the disconnect and lack of representation from the paper’s staff and the undervaluing of minority efforts by the Democratic Party.
It is what it is …
This isn’t the race card or divisive politics. This is calling a spade a spade and standing firm in my conviction that it’s high time that black women’s work is no longer diminished at the expense of elevating a man, especially a white man’s prestige. Black women are consistently placed on political ladders to nowhere when they more often than not carry the brunt of the work for the democratic party. Failing to list a meaningful representation of black women in the Post & Courier’s list perpetuates the harmful narrative that black women’s work is obligatory and black women should be grateful just for modest levels of inclusion. It’s problematic, and it has to end. I said what I said.
To help The Post & Courier and anyone else interested in knowing more about black women doing work in Democratic politics in South Carolina, I’ve compiled a list as an addendum to the amazing black women included in the original list and in the honorable mentions:
Jessica Bright conducted African American outreach for Joe Cunningham’s successful Congressional race, was a vital member of her mother’s historic State Senate race, and is a highly sought-after fundraiser.
Margie Bright Matthews
Margie Bright Matthews was elected in a 2015 special election by voters in South Carolina’s 45th Senate District after the district tragically lost Senator Clementa Pinkney in the Charleston 9 Massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church. Matthews is one of only 4 women represented in the SC Senate.
Gadsden is the lead representative of South Carolina’s official Women’s March on Washington chapter and manager of the Charleston Activist Network platform.
Tameika Isaac Devine
According to her website, “City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine was first elected to Columbia City Council in April 2002, becoming the first African-American female to serve on City Council and the first African-American to win an at-large election in the history of Columbia, S.C. Devine is a successful attorney and entrepreneur as well as one of the region’s most sought-after speakers on matters related to politics, civic engagement, spirituality, and work-life balance. Devine has a pulse on the experiences and concerns of women, especially working moms, across demographics.
Jil Littlejohn represents the City of Greenville’s 3rd district and is Mayor Pro Tem for the city. She was first elected to City Council in 2011, and currently serves as the first female president of the Greenville Urban League. She is also the founder of the CIty’s Talented Tenth Leadership Conference. Jill is the recipient of several local and national awards for her community involvement and service.
Tiffany James leads community outreach efforts for The Comet, Columbia’s transit system. James uses her knowledge of transit and her passion for social justice to advocate for access to affordable transportation and to educate grassroots and grasstops leaders on the issue. James has also worked on campaigns as early as Inez Tennenbaum’s Senate race. Tiffany has worked several issue-based campaigns.
Jamison’s LinkedIn profile describes her as, “Dynamic public relations professional with a broad-based knowledge of educating and motivating others through a range of techniques and mediums.” That description barely touches on the presence in local organizing and community outreach she is. Jamison has worked methodically and effectively behind the scenes on issue-based and electoral campaigns for over a decade. Additionally, she remains a well-respected and vocal presence in many non-partisan community-serving organizations.
Bre Maxwell is the current district scheduler for Congressman James Clyburn and immediate past president of the young democrats of South Carolina. Bre has won several winning local council races, runs her own consulting firm, and was noticeably instrumental in the 2018 midterms. She is a highly requested speaker and panelist at democratic and progressive events nationwide.
Brettica Moody has been working on races since 2009. She served as an intern during Vincent Sheheen’s first gubernatorial campaign. Her campaign resume include being an Obama Fellow in 2012, several local races in the Charleston area, and some statewide races. She was a Regional Field Director with the SCDP in ‘17.
Shaterica Neal, a rising star in the Democratic Party, has just launched an ambitious campaign for a seat on Grey Court’s City Council. Neal is a graduate of Emerge SC, a Black Lives Matter activist, and a passionate advocate for black youth. Shaterica is a graduate of SCDP James E. Clyburn Fellows political class. She also sought out by Clyburn for Congress to serve as a field organizer for the Congressman’s statewide initiative ( Adopt-A-Precinct Project) to increase African American Voter turnout for the 2018 General Election.
Very few millennial women have their feet so firmly planted in both the political and non-profit realms as Kara Simmons. Just recently finishing a stint as one of the Obama Corp’s community leaders in Richland County, Kara is also the Executive Director of The Bethlehem Center — a community center, a professor at Columbia College, and a well-known consultant. Kara’s worked political campaigns, organizing and galvanizing voters at every level of politics. Her communal upbringing in North Charleston gives her an edge in connecting individuals to resources and education.
Melissa N. Watson
Melissa N. Watson is the Executive Director of Emerge SC. Per its website, “Emerge South Carolina is the state’s premier organization that recruits, trains and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office.” Melissa, a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, has a broad range of political insight and experience, including efforts with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.
Melissa W. Watson
Melissa Watson is the former 2nd Vice Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and an educator. Her passion for politics and leaving a brighter future for our youth has led to her activism and political involvement across the state of South Carolina. Melissa is well-known and well-respected but firm in her values and intentional in her execution. She is also the Chair of Berkeley County which flipped more Republican seats than anywhere else in the state- house district 15, house district 117, and congressional district 1.
This list is certainly not comprehensive, but merely serves as a sampling of the phenomenal black women doing work on behalf of democratic politics in South Carolina. Any of these women could have rightfully been included on the Post & Courier’s list. For the black women who pour themselves into this work late nights and early mornings, often pulling together unfathomable victories with less than substantial resources and support, I see you. I see you, and the black girls who will grow up to lead us see you. Here’s to standing in our truth and elevating our voices in 2019 and from now on.