Essence: Emily’s List Gala Honors Stacey Abrams, Celebrates Diverse Lawmakers
By Donna Owens
Women of color were in the room when the team at Emily’s List hosted its annual conference and gala, taking a victory lap for its role in helping to elect historic numbers of women in the 2018 midterms and building momentum for the 2020 elections.
Freshman Congresswomen Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Lucy McBath (D-GA), were on hand. So was Stacey Abrams, the recent Georgia Democratic nominee for governor, and New York Attorney General Letitia James, to name a few. They were joined by Latinas, Asian, Native American, LGBTQ and Muslim women who gathered on April 4 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Washington, D.C.
The multicultural and multigenerational crowd drew more than 1,600 guests, and included a mix of elected officials, community activists and political strategists from around the country.
Many attendees had spent the day attending a series of panels that tackled topics ranging from the specific challenges women face when running for office, how to overcome them and win, to the need for more female candidates at the local, state and federal levels.
That evening, the 34th-anniversary gala featured a sit-down dinner that took on the tone of a lively political pep rally. Some of the Freshman in the 116th Class of Congress strutted and danced on stage to Beyonce’s girl power anthem “Run the World (Girls).” The voice of the late Maya Angelou was featured in a short film about women and courage. And a standing ovation was given to former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a deadly mass shooting in 2011; during the event, California Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo received the 2019 Gabrielle Giffords `Rising Star’ award, sharing her family’s immigration story.
Meanwhile, there were shout-outs given throughout the night to various politicos—some in attendance, others there in spirit. Cheers erupted at the mention of the late, pioneering Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm; Rep. Maxine Waters; Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Hillary Clinton. And there were roars of approval for the multiple women in the U.S. Senate who’ve launched presidential bids, a field that includes a Black woman, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the audience that while the midterm elections yielded significant victories, the current political climate demands greater representation of women elected officials who can empower themselves, their families and communities.
That dovetails with new polling data released by the group Intersections of Our Lives that speaks to the growing power of Black, Latina, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women voters.
The group noted that some 63 million women of color are living in the U.S. today. This growing demographic is becoming an increasingly strong voice in the electorate, with post-election data demonstrating women of color voted at higher rates in the 2018 election than in past midterms.
The poll of some 2,600 women found that women of color voters are overwhelmingly concerned about the state of the country (75 percent) and believed the stakes were too high not to have voted in the 2018 election (88 percent). Moreover, a majority of women of color surveyed said they are paying close attention to the actions of their elected officials. They want to see progress made on the issues that include affordable health care, ending racial discrimination and access to clean water.
Since its founding by Ellen Malcolm in 1985, Emily’s List (the name is an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast) has backed pro-choice, Democratic women candidates who tackle these types of issues and more.
“The work we do matters now more than ever,” Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List told the audience.
The organization recruits and trains women, supports their campaigns, researches issues and helps turn out women voters to the polls. During the 2017-2018 cycle, Emily’s List officials said they raised a record $110 million and endorsed nearly 600 candidates on the ballot. They fielded upwards of 46,000 inquiries and trained some 5,000 women on how to run for office.
Such support proved important in the last election that saw record numbers of women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and 24 seats flipped from Republican red-to-Democratic blue.
On the local and state level, Emily’s List endorsed 49 African American women and reported that 38 of those candidates won their races. Overall during the 2018 election cycle, the organization said it contributed more than $4 million via its independent expenditure arm, WOMEN VOTE! to African American candidates.
Besides endorsing all of the Freshman Black Congresswomen—Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Ilhan Omar (MN), as well as (the aforementioned) Reps. McBath and Underwood—Emily’s List stood behind local and state candidates such as Abrams. The former Georgia House Minority Leader was presented with the annual “We Are EMILY Award” for her leadership at the gala.
Amid chants of “Stacey! Stacey!” from the audience, Abrams touched on topics that ran the gamut from women’s wage inequality to ending the cash bail system, to immigration policy and gun safety.
The Spelman College grad and Yale-trained lawyer also discussed her 2018 gubernatorial campaign against Republican Brian Kemp who was accused (his camp has publicly denied the allegations) of voter suppression tactics.
Abrams received more than three million votes. She told the audience that youth and Latino turnout dramatically increased, and some 1.2 million Black people voted for her.
“It worked. I may not be the governor,” she said, “but that’s a different conversation.”
Abrams—who launched and leads `Fair Fight Action’—a group that promotes transparent, fair elections—is generating buzz for what may be a potential U.S. Senate, Vice President or Presidential bid.
She told the crowd that Americans may have “visible” differences but “common beliefs bind us together.” Still, she noted, women will have “a fight on our hands” in order to build a better nation.
Schriock offered a similar call to action.
“So in 2020, we’ve got to do it again. We have got to win — and by a massive margin,’ she said. “We’ve got to take the Senate majority. Hold the House…sweep the Statehouses…And deliver a total, crushing defeat of Donald Trump.”
She told the crowd the stakes are higher than ever. “Electing women with diverse voices and the vision and values to lead is a life-and-death decision for our democracy.”