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Groups look to mobilize women of color, low-income women for big November turnout

Black voters respond to Hillary Clinton speaking at the National Action Network annual meeting in New York in April. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

A coalition of groups focused on issues affecting women of color and poor women has launched a campaign to ensure that its concerns are not overlooked by candidates on the ballot this fall.

We Won’t Wait 2016 plans to hold 500,000 “kitchen table conversations” to encourage women of color to be vocal about issues important to them, including economic security, social justice and family care, and to show up at the polls to elect candidates who best represent those interests.

“Women of color are key to the outcome to every election, but even with those numbers our issues are often forgotten,” said Tracy Sturdivant, a spokeswoman for the campaign. “This election cycle it is so important for us to focus on all of these issues from an intersectional frame.”

For women of color and low-income women, the coalition argues, the "women’s issues" are much broader than reproductive rights and equal pay, but also include paid sick leave, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, gun violence and access to health care.

The “kitchen table” discussions will take place in communities across the country, in a variety of forums — from small in-person gatherings to video conferences — between now and Nov. 8, when voters across the country will go to the polls to elect a new president, as well as members of Congress and state and local officials, Sturdivant said. A summit has been planned for Sept. 19-20 at National Harbor, Md., near D.C. for activists to develop a strategy to continue the conversations and mobilize women of color and poor women to turn out to vote.

Black women voted at a higher rate than any other demographic group in the last two presidential elections, especially 2012, when 74 percent of eligible black women went to the polls. They, along with Latinas and Asian American women, were responsible for helping Barack Obama win the female vote in 2008 and 2012.

A Gallup poll last month found that nearly three-quarters of black women were “strongly afraid” of what will happen if their candidate does not win the presidential election. Polls have consistently indicated that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming choice of women of color.

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Sturdivant said the coalition wants to see women of color maintain their high rate of participation. “Don’t take your foot off the gas just because this person is not on the ballot. It’s time for us to lean in harder,” she said.

The campaign also will encourage women to focus not just on the presidential contest but to pay attention to other elected posts that influence laws and policies that affect them.

“Black women have been the largest voting demographic since 2006. We consistently turn out and we will be the ones that will be leading our families and our communities to the polls this fall,” said Melanie Campbell, national convenor of the Black Women’s Roundtable and CEO of the National Coalition on Black  Civic Participation.

Sturdivant is co-founder of Make It Work, a campaign to increased awareness and action to address the needs of working families, and one of the nine groups that make up the initial We Won’t Wait campaign. Others include the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Caring Across Generations, Family Values @ Work, Forward Together/Strong Families, Ms. Foundation For Women, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), MomsRising, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation/Black Women’s Roundtable.

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A coalition news release included a comment from Alicia Garza, a prominent leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, who in an interview with Elle told Melissa Harris-Perry that she would not publicly support Clinton.

“For too long, public officials have relied on the support of women of color while ignoring the issues that impact our lives,” said Garza, who is special projects director the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “That’s why this new campaign is so important — never before have this many organizations come together to demand the voices of women of color be heard.”

Sturdivant said the coalition is nonpartisan and has not made any endorsements. “But once we convene folks and start to have discussions and conversations about what issues are top of mind, and folks share what they know about candidates, it will become pretty clear,” she said.