By Aaron Allen, Seattle Medium
With national and local elections getting underway politicians and supporters and gearing up for the contests ahead.
Here in the Pacific Northwest a group of women have put together a Political Action Committee (PAC) entitled the Opportunity PAC designed to bolster the idea of quality and qualified women of color, in particular Black women, are ready to run and represent their individual districts and to see more women of color in legislative roles.
According to the Opportunity PAC, their goal is to seek, identify and support talented Black women community leaders to blaze new trails.
The PAC will firstly support the campaigns of Black women throughout Washington state, including the re-election campaigns of Representative Melanie Morgan of 29th Legislative District and Representative Debra Entenman of 47th Legislative District. Next, the PAC seeks to raise up the youth vote, and also support women of color who will be the next wave of candidates for leadership in our nation.
“The Opportunity PAC strives to invest in the re-imagining of America where democracy is truly representative by getting Black women elected to public office,” says Shasti Conrad, co-founder and Chair of Opportunity PAC. ”With a shared desire to see more women of color in legislative roles, the PAC’s board and officers are joining together as a force multiplier to turn opportunity into momentum; leverage momentum into equality and capacity.”
Conrad, who served President Barack Obama as a senior staff assistant in the White House, and a briefings manager on the 2012 campaign, has a vast political portfolio and Josie Olsen, who has managed compliance operations for dozens of local and state campaigns in Washington and California, comprise the leadership team of Opportunity PAC. While the board contains several high-profile, politically minded women such as Michele Dotson, State Senator Mona Das (47th LD), State Senator Rebecca Saldana (37th) LD, Shukri Olow, Dawn Bennett and Erin Jones.
How important is this endeavor to expose politics to the capabilities of women of color? Well, according to board member Erin Jones, a former candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, very important.
“As a Black woman who has run for state office, I realized that there were very few people who looked like me running for office and in reality its harder for Black people to raise money,” say Jones.
“There is research all over the place that talk about Black women and men not being able to raise money, but Black women in particular,” added Jones. “So, when I was approached about Opportunity PAC, I said yes, however I can help, because I’ve already been down this path and if there are ways I can help I’m going to help my sisters.”
When looking at the number of Black women running for office this year, there appears to be a real opportunity for political empowerment. For example, when looking at the Washington State Senate races for example, a Black person hasn’t served in the state senate for a decade but this year’s elections could change that. T’wina Nobles running for the state senate seat in the 28th Legislative District in Tacoma hopes to be the candidate to change that trend.
According to organizers, “the Democratic electorate has been led by and built by Black voters, but our state legislature and other halls of power do not reflect that. Black communities need representation in the room where it happens. We have a terrific opportunity to multiply the number of Black women in the Washington State House this year — and adding a Black Senator for the first time since 2010.”
In addition to Nobles, there are a host of energetic and capable Black women who are running for several legislative seats throughout Washington’s legislative branches, including: Tanisha Harris, 17th Legislative District (House); Joy Pratt Stanford, 26th Legislative District (House); Rep. Melanie Morgan, 29th Legislative District (Re-Elect for House); Jamila Taylor, 30th Legislative District (House); Kirsten Harris-Talley, 37th Legislative District (House); April Berg, 44th Legislative District (House); Rep. Debra Entenman, 47th Legislative District (Re-Elect for House); and Shirley Sutton, 32nd Legislative District (House).
Representatives Morgan and Entenman are incumbents defending their seats, while the seven others are challengers for their respective districts. So far, Opportunity PAC has raised over $100,000.00 in its effort to get these Black women a seat at the table.
Michele Dotson says that the PAC and its support for highly qualified candidates can help eradicate the notion that people of color, in particular women of color, are not qualified or do not fit the archetype of the American politician.
“Opportunity PAC exists not only to repudiate the notion that people will not vote for qualified candidates just because they do not fit the archetype of the American politician, but to set forth the conditions to eradicate this notion by providing Black women candidates running for office an equal seat at the table in the political process,” says Dotson.
In the past, PAC’s have not been received with positive sentiments. After the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which was a landmark decision concerning campaign finances. The court held that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political communications by corporations, including non-profits, labor unions and other corporations. The decision remains highly controversial, generating much public discussion and receiving strong support and opposition from various groups.
When asked about the negative responses to PAC’s and the role they take in politics Conrad expressed the systems is what it is and that we have to take advantage of every aspect of it if we are to be successful in the game.
“I will admit throughout my experience, my original thoughts surrounding PACs were fairly negative” says Conrad. “But as I learned more, [I realized that] this is an opportunity to alter a system that has traditionally been run by men and run by White people and they raise all this money and yes, it is a completely imperfect way of doing business, but it is what we have and I see it as an opportunity to be able to exist in the system and direct that money towards something really positive.”
According to advocates, having Black and Brown voices at the table of decision-making is vital to the success of those addressing Black issues. It is difficult to address the need of our people and expect any other to speak for us or to even have empathy on our behalf. But again, Jones reiterates on just how important Opportunity PAC’s impact on Black politics is.
“I think it is important in this moment,” says Jones. “The White community is realizing how important it is to have Black voices at the table and it was one of the reasons I ran for state office.”
“How can you make decisions for or advocate for people you don’t know or not in relationship with?” added Jones. “It’s critical that we have Black and Brown women and men in office because our voices are not being represented on a decision-making basis.”