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Nine Issues Black Women Organized Around in 2023

Black women are consistently on the frontlines organizing to preserve and strengthen democracy. Below is a reflection from the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative (BSWC) around the issues that impacted our communities in 2023, and the issues we will continue to challenge in 2024.

By way of background, the BSWC includes Kendra Cotton, CEO of the New Georgia Project; Nsombi Lambright, executive director of One Voice in Mississippi; Ashley K. Shelton, founder and president of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice; the Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida; Phyllis Hill, national organizing director for Faith in Action and founder of the BSWC; and Tameka Greer, executive director of Memphis Artists for Change.

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1. Black women resisted threats to reproductive freedom.

We understand that our fundamental fight for freedom includes bodily autonomy. Black women have always been the subject of attacks on our person, our decisions, and our right to decide. While many states have resisted the wholesale attack on reproductive rights, Black women have been front and center advocating for current and future generations. Organizers have used ballot measures as a way to hear directly from the people, and ensure that there are fundamental protections for reproductive healthcare. As the Movement 4 Black Lives has said, “Liberation for Black people is not only the end of police violence or incarceration. Liberation of Black people is the liberation of our bodies in all ways, including having access to all we need to live healthy, vibrant, long lives.”

2. Black Women Resisted Attacks on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a crowning jewel for the Civil Rights Movement. It ensured that Black people could vote and participate in our nation’s democracy. But just before Thanksgiving, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that only the federal government – not private citizens or civil rights groups – could litigate under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Civil rights groups, individual voters and community activists have long challenged voting irregularities and injustices using Section 2 of the VRA. This latest decision is essentially put masking tape over the mouths, and rope around the hands, of those who believe that voting should be accessible for all. It is particularly damaging given the scope of attacks on voting rights in the United States, and available tools to pushback.

As Politico’s Zach Montellaro has noted, “A decision to bar private challenges under the Voting Rights Act would reverse decades of legal practice. Outside groups have repeatedly brought successful Section 2 challenges, and litigate alleged violations of the law far more frequently than the federal government does.” The decision is particularly disappointing considering attacks on voting rights, given that the U.S. Supreme Court in Holder vs. Shelby County in 2013, gutted Section 4 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Those provisions had been key tools under which advocates challenged voter suppression. Since that time, the nation has witnessed a wave of voter suppression laws, discriminatory redistricting practices, and other schemes that have had the cumulative effect of denying and abridging the right to vote.

The BSWC will continue to challenge this unfair attack on democracy.

3. Black Women Publicized the Criminalization of Protests.

Speaking up and resisting injustice is not without risk. In opinion pieces for Truthout and the Commercial Appeal, BSWC member Ashley K. Shelton of the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, and BSWC member Tameka Greer of Memphis Artists for Change, warned of the increasing attack on dissent. Greer wrote, “The Constitution’s first amendment protects our rights to freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble; despite this, we see efforts to criminalize protests rather than address the reason people are protesting in the first place. This is deflection.” In her piece for Truthout, Shelton wrote, “that anti-protest laws were not about safety, but rather silencing dissent.” These leaders continue to be on the frontlines highlighting efforts to undermine democracy and what the rest of us can do to push back. As Zora Neale Hurston has said, “if you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

4. Black Women Challenged Voter Purges in the South and Beyond.

BSWC members once again raised awareness about the ways in which voter purges are used to strip away the right to vote. From One Voice to the New Georgia Project, to Memphis Artists for Change to Faith in Florida and the Power Coalition, BSWC members urged voters to double check their registration status and later challenged widespread voter purges.

On Oct. 25, One Voice, MS NAACP, Civic Engagement Roundtable, MS Poor People's Campaign, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law held a press conference to highlight the improper purges occurring in Mississippi. BSWC member Nsombi Lambright, executive director of One Voice said, “We found that many counties are putting voters on inactive lists or removing them without notice. After an analysis of data from the circuit clerks' offices throughout the state, we reminded voters to do all they could to ensure they have not been removed from the voting rolls.” This was a prevalent issue in 2023, and it will continue to an issued to be monitored in 2024.

5. Black Women Registered Thousands of People to Vote.

The New Georgia Project registered 40,000 people to vote through September 19, National Voter Registration Day. The NGP held over 20 voter registration actions across the state—including in Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Brunswick, Columbus, Macon, Savannah, and Valdosta. Remarkably, NGP has helped over 100,000 Georgians register to vote in just the last three years. Voter Registration is not a one and done game. And no election is an off election. We will engage in each and every fight as we continue the work our ancestors began decades ago.

6. Black Women Challenged the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on President Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan.

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Biden v. Nebraska, that “the Biden administration overstepped its authority last year when it announced that it would cancel up to $400 billion in student loans. The Biden administration had said that as many as 43 million Americans would have benefitted from the loan forgiveness program; almost half of those borrowers would have had all of their student loans forgiven.” The decision to halt the loan forgiveness program, directly threatens the economic freedom of millions of Americans, including Black Americans. Forbes reported that, “Biden’s plan would’ve wiped away $10,000 for eligible borrowers, or $20,000 for students who received Pell grants, which go to the neediest. More than 70% of Black debt holders have been Pell grant recipients, and they carry $25,000 more in student loans on average than their white counterparts, according to the research organization Education Data Initiative.” As the New Georgia Project has said, the Court “has sided with the so-called financial interests of six Republican-led states, rather than choosing to provide economic reprieve to millions of Americans.”

7. Black Women Resisted Inequitable and Unfair Redistricting Processes.

From Alabama to Florida to Louisiana, to Georgia and beyond, Black women have been on the frontlines challenging legislative district lines that were inequitable and unfair. Black women understand that without fair legislative maps, communities will be unable to elect candidates aligned with their interests. In Louisiana, Ashley K. Shelton, who leads the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice and is a BSWC member, continued to advocate for the redrawing of Louisiana’s redistricting maps as they had been ruled unconstitutional. In Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled the state’s lines were unconstitutional and had to be redrawn. Groups like the New Georgia Project were instrumental in raising awareness about the unfair lines that would have harmed Black voters. In every state, there were Black women championing equity and fairness in the redistricting process. As Lambright has said, “We know that voting is the linchpin of our democracy. We also know that we have a responsibility to finish the work our ancestors began decades ago. That includes being as aggressive in protecting the franchise as our opponents are in limiting it. We are informed, and we are determined – that is half the battle.”

8. Black Women Challenged Efforts to Restrict the Teaching of Black History.

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed AP courses in African American History and sought to undermine the teaching of race, the Rev. Rhonda Thomas of Faith in Florida created a toolkit and asked churches to teach Black history. She envisioned just Black churches signing up, but her movement caught fire and congregations across the state – indeed the nation – signed up to use her toolkit to teach Black history. She has recruited 500 churches from Florida and 20 other states to teach using the toolkit. Her work has been covered in publications from across the U.S. including The Hill, The Washington Post, MSNBC, the Karen Hunter Show, and more. She has said that “our history will not be watered down.”

9. Black Women Trained Leaders for Impact.

Led by the Rev. Rhonda Thomas, Faith in Florida conducted 784 trainings on base building, reducing gun violence, organizing for impact and more. They trained over 23,514 people in 7 counties including clergy, lay leaders, community leaders, and youth. The New Georgia Project provided Organizing 101 Training for all its 18-20 organizers, Reproductive Justice training with partners with 10-15 people at each, and Public Speaking training for 17 organizers. Memphis Artists for Change trained 67 community members, 39 whom are part of their fellowships, on base building, community engagement, and organizing. One Voice provided leadership development and skill building to 31 leaders in the MS Black Leadership Institute. Over 300 leaders participated in training on how communities can work together to access federal infrastructure dollars. As an entity, the BSWC hosted the Faith in Action Southern Training in June 2023 for 144 organizers and community members. The event attracted freedom fighters from Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi and elsewhere. The training included engaging workshops that equipped participants with essential skills.

The Black Southern Women’s Collaborative is committed to enhancing and empowering Southern Black life, particularly Black Women, regardless of their status, occupation, sexuality, spirituality or color. We hold regional space to strategize, train and fundraise, and create a political home for our community.


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