From left to right: Aimee Allison, Andrea Mercado, Marleine Bastien, Quayneshia Smith and Roxey Nelson. Photo by Elizabeth Fernandez
Andrew Gillum may have been the star attraction at a Miami Florida Democratic Party watch party during Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, but just down the road, some powerful women of color gathered at a watering hole north of the city to amplify what they want to hear from the 20 candidates.
On their list: criminal justice reform, economic security, reproductive rights, universal child care and a living wage.
“I have a message to the people up the street,” said Aimee Allison of She the People, the group she founded in 2018. “No one will win the nomination of the presidency without enthusiastic support from women of color, and no one will win the presidency without winning Florida.”
Allison, named by the POLITICO power list as one of the national political figures to watch in 2019, served as moderator of a discussion with four women of color, an event co-hosted by the New Florida Majority.
Among those seen in the crowd: Academic and activist Cornel West, Democratic state Rep. Dotie Joseph, MSNBC commentator Alicia Hernandez and former Democratic legislator Dwight Bullard, who now serves as the political director for the New Florida Majority.
Women of color are a growing force in the electorate in states like Florida, California, Texas and several other states, Allison says, predicting that they will lead “an inclusive multiracial coalition” to victory over Donald Trump in 2020.
President Trump’s name wasn’t mentioned very often during the discussion. Andrea Mercado with the New Florida Majority said that while nobody on the left would support the president’s agenda, “that does not mean that people are going to turn out for the Democratic candidate.”
Mercado noted that more than a million people of color who were registered in 2016 weren’t inspired to vote, and warned in a recent New York Times op-ed that Florida Democratic Party officials “need to learn the nuances of Florida’s diverse black and Latino communities and build relationships with community leaders.”
Another hot topic: reproductive rights.
While all twenty candidates debating this week have positions supporting a woman’s right to choose an abortion, “they are not all the same on abortion rights,” Allison said, referring to the Hyde Amendment, the 1977 law that bans the federal government from paying for abortions for women who can’t afford it. That law – and the notion of “reproductive justice” – has become a flashpoint on the campaign trail this season, with former Vice President Joe Biden dropping his longtime support for the law only recently.
While many Democrats are bemoaning the large and still growing field of candidates (another Democrat, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, announced his candidacy over the weekend), Andrea Mercado with the New Florida Majority said she welcomes the diversity, and likes the fact that the candidates are pushing each other to come up with stronger proposals.
Quayneshia Smith is the South Florida regional organizer for Dream Defenders Action, a social justice group which received the wrath of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last year during his campaign against Democrat Gillum. Smith wants to hear the candidates talk about the 1994 crime bill and criminal justice reform. Roxey Nelson, the director of politics and strategic campaigns for 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told the crowd she wants to hear the candidates speak directly on issues like economic security, universal child care and a living wage.
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