A conversation about women in politics can’t happen without highlighting the achievements of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Chisholm began her career in early childhood education, before moving on to the New York state legislature, then U.S. Congress where she served seven terms or 14 years, representing a newly carved Democratic district in Brooklyn. While in the House, Chisholm became the first Black woman to serve on the Rules Committee and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Caucus. Chisholm arrived in Congress with no intention of being a passive observer, fighting for affordable housing and education reform as well as gender and racial equity. Chisholm was an activist first and foremost, holding both Democratic and Republican leadership accountable for inaction. When Chisholm announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972, Washington’s gatekeepers prevented her from running with major party support. This is a truth that many of our candidates have experienced across multiple election cycles.
Yet, Democrats have managed to find ways around gatekeepers; to keep helping Americans live better lives. But currently, in Pennsylvania, Republicans control both the House and Senate, dictating which bills make it through for a vote, or even whether they make it out of committee. Because of this, Democrats in the state legislature face great opposition and rarely have the agency they require to pass meaningful laws.
And like Chisholm’s challenges in 1972, challenges crop up before many candidates for PA state races even make it to a primary. The leaders of the Democratic State Committee, local Democratic committees and caucuses make decisions on who they think is most visible to voters and what messaging is used or not allowed for a candidate’s campaign., These decisions make it difficult for candidates to campaign in ways that are meaningful, speak to their district or build a collective with other candidates in similar positions. No matter what point a candidate is in the process of running for office, the roadblocks to impactful change are plentiful. These challenges only become more prolific as a Black woman or woman of color. Without a unified collective of democratic women representatives, nothing will get accomplished in Harrisburg.
Like Chisholm, most Pennsylvanians want similar things – fair pay for a day’s work, time with our loved ones, a secure future. But Republican legislators in Harrisburg exploit divisions among us based on what we look like, where we come from, or how we worship. By uniting with Represent PA to elect leaders like the women we’ve supported, we can ensure all of us, no matter our color or gender, have our voices heard and our rights respected and protected.