Thanks to COVID-19 we are all communicating via Zoom and group chats, but imagine if your group chat turned into an op ed viewed by millions for the Washington Post?! That is just a normal day in the life for Angela Rye, CNN Correspondent, Amanda Seales, host of “The Real”, Sunny Hostin, co-host of “The View”, Brittany N. Packnett Cunningham, MSNBC Correspondent, Alicia Garza, Principal for Black Futures Lab, LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, and Tiffany D. Cross, Political Activist and author.
To get the scoop on #YouOweUs, we spoke with Angela Rye and Brittany Packnett Cunningham about how it started, Black Women, and the Black Vote in 2020.
TSR: It’s no secret that Black women have been holding down the Democratic Party since the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. How did #YouOweUs came together and why did you feel the timing was now?
Angela Rye: Man, I think the answer is simple is I coronavirus like we’re all in quarantine. We came together to do a conversation around the politics of coronavirus. It was two months ago, … but there’s a group of us that came together to have that conversation and this written piece is kind of an outgrowth of that. Since we all were in conversation on that on that panel we have been on text message.
TSR: So it started with a group chat?
Angela Rye: Yea, and the idea behind it and the three concepts that we lifted up in this piece around having a Black woman Vice President, having a Black woman on the Supreme Court, and having a comprehensive black agenda aren’t things that we pulled out of nowhere. There are things that we talk about all the time and I think that if Black folks are honest, for anybody that has any type of political interest, they’re having the same conversation and probably too often the debate around it. So we wanted to make sure we were on the record in empowering our people from our purview.
Brittany Packnett Cunningham: In this in this group chat, Angela reminded us of our collective responsibility… and all of us in our various positions have been demanding things of candidates and power structures throughout our work,
Throughout the primary process, before the primary process, and that doesn’t stop simply because a candidate has been identified.
I think one of the most important parts of the conversation we’ve been having is that in her loving way, Angela reminded us, to look at how the climate change activists have made demands of Joe Biden after the primary was over, and that the women’s groups have made demands on Joe Biden, the youth groups have made demands of Joe Biden, the progressives have made demands of Joe Biden. Not only do Black people get to make make demands of Joe Biden we have to make demands of Joe Biden. We are dying. Ahmad Aubrey needs us to make demands of Joe Biden. Breonna Taylor needs us to make demands of Joe Biden. That doesn’t mean that we’re not strategic. That doesn’t mean we don’t still need to get Trump out of here, but what it does mean is that we recognize the power of our votes and we recognize the power of our platforms.
We have to be responsive to deal with that and like Angela said, we are at the beginning of this of this general election. There is a long road ahead and anybody who has done any kind of negotiating work puts the the responsibility where it belongs and the responsibility belongs on the party, to make sure that they don’t just get the people out who are already going to vote for them, but that they do the things to get out all the people that they possibly can to make sure that they actually take back the White House in November?
TSR: How can #Roommates take their group chats and mobilize to collect what they’re owed leading up to Election Day?
Brittany Packnett Cunningham: The answer is always to plan backwards and that something black women do and that’s also from my experience as a former teacher. You always are trying to think of the issue that you are trying to effect and plan backwards from there – based on what you’re trying to affect, what is the thing that’s going to change that? Is it going to be an op ed? It’s going to open the door for you. Is it going to be an action? Is it going to be a letter writing campaign? Is it going to be a phone tree? Is it going to be a pan zoom panel? What what is going to affect the change that you want to see? And who do you need to get on your side to make that happen? Start to plan backwards from there… it is always ordinary people with extraordinary ideas that change the world.
I am I am so glad that all of us come from a people who never thought that they were too small to accomplish what needed to be done for us to be free. There is no group chat that is too unimportant. There is no group of friends that doesn’t have the talent. There is no group of people without all of the skills and power that they need to do exactly what they want to do. They just have to start what they are with what they have and be creative about going after what they want to change.
Angela Rye: I have watched [Brittany] time and time again walk in integrity and say, I see you doing this work. You don’t have the same platform I have… Yet she will still share that space for those folks. That is the one thing that I would love to see our community do, not just around our electoral politics right now, but even in our activism… What I hope our video does is create space for their minds and our community to say, Y’all hit three, I got three more, Y’all hit three, I got 20 more.
TSR: Are there any plans to make #YouOweUs a larger movement? How can roommates who do identify as a Black women support this initiative beyond voting in November?
Angela Rye: We started the conversation and what would be sad is if we started the conversation and didn’t allow for the theme to evolve. I wanted to evolve into a win for all of us. A collective win for all of us are several collective wins… If you don’t agree with everything we say. What do you disagree with? What is the path for Black Voters? What is the path for more abundant life for Black people in this country? What is the path to get us beyond? So what’s the path? And when is it ok for us to have dialog around what we need to really survive and to thrive and weigh in with that?
If you’re saying, OK, we have the black agenda. Well, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about that, Right.? And then let’s build around the items. I think that it was the other thing that’s important to me is that it’s not just about a campaign. It’s not just about a candidate. It’s not just about a hashtag. It is about a paradigm shift that forces us into believing that we are worthy of more than we can make demands of people who want something from us. There is never a negotiating table that you would sit at where someone presents their first offering and you have to accept it in any other circumstance – that shouldn’t be the case here. I hope that we’re just beginning the dialog so that we can begin to move towards real action.
TSR: Outside of the three points outlined for the VP, what other issues, if any, should Black Women and America be advocating for right now?
Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, one of the things, though, obviously, our community has been focused on for quite some time is the issue of police violence. Obviously, it affects us all, but yes, it affects black women, too. My sister already touched on Brianna Taylor. We launched Campaign Zero in 2015, which is a policy platform to end police violence in America… There are lots of very specific policy solutions that we know will greatly diminish the amount to which police officers take our people from us…
I fully believe that nothing about it should ever happen without us and I don’t believe in other people writing my destiny for me. The idea that somebody else should write the policies for my life, I don’t believe in that. We wrote the policies. They’re right there on the website. There’s also, as Angela has already talked about, a full agenda for black people at Black to the Future – everything from economic justice, to issues of police violence, to issues of mass incarceration, to Black health and Black health needs. They’re all right there and it’s based on the largest census of Black people in one hundred fifty five years. It wasn’t just ten Black people who got in a room and said, This is what we need. They literally polled Black people and said, What do you want for yourselves? …those are just two of the places that we can go and research the solutions that we should be advocating for at the local, state and federal level and so those are just some of the things that can go on the list.
Angela Rye: To me, leadership isn’t about meeting someone where they are and making them feel comfortable. It’s about stretching them to believe what’s possible. If there is an opportunity to engage the roommates on, you know, here’s where things are right now, but what could you do differently to shift those things here right now? Where are we now? Where do you fit in and making them believe that it’s possible. It’s just like you have the ability to ask for what you want in every situation in your life. If there’s one thing I want for Black people to know right now, whether anything else is that you are worthy and you are worthy enough to make your request known. Period Full stop. Whether that’s of the businesses that you patronize, whether it is the churches where you attend, whether it’s your sorority/fraternity… but, you know, whatever it is make your request known. If you don’t like the way something is, you would have the right to demand that it shifts and that’s just it.
TSR: There are a lot of conversations from multiple leaders, celebrities, and influencers encouraging people on if and how they should use their vote – Do you have any thoughts on some of the conversations and people providing their opinion within the space?
Angela Rye: I don’t think that it’s responsible of us to tell people not to vote. That’s certainly not my position. What I will say is super important from my vantage point is for people to understand the power of their votes and their political activism, period. I don’t think that we are serving the ancestors well ourselves or future generations by sitting at home or staying on the sidelines complaining about where politics happens to us because we didn’t have an impact on politics.I’m definitely not there at all. I want people to understand is that if you do not engage somebody, that they engage on your behalf. If you do not weigh in with that elected official, whether they’re on the local, state or federal level, somebody is going to do that on your behalf. If we’re tired of being silenced, if we’re tired of being treated as invisible, the least we can do for ourselves is show up in full force at every turn. We have an obligation to ourselves to do our best with everything that touches our lives. Period. We just do and I’m not of the opinion that we should be in it like entering or engaging in a hostage negotiation. What I do believe is that what you don’t want to see is the consequence if you don’t do what we’re telling you to do. It’s not because it’s a hostage situation. It’s because you should know better. How many times do you have to repeat the same thing?
Brittany Packnett Cunningham: If you see results from a little bit of investment, wouldn’t you say to yourself, let me go and invest some more so that I can get more results? Yeah. All we’re saying to the Democratic Party is if you get this from a minuscule investment, from a modicum of an investment, from a minimal investment, imagine what you can get from a massive investment. You already get such a large share of the Black folks who turn out. Imagine what share you could get of Black folks if you get a bigger turnout of Black folks. If you get more Black folks to come out. If you get young Black folks to turn out. If you get Black folks who ain’t never voted before in a lives to turn out. Isn’t that Black folks fault that they never turn out? If you’ve never shown an interest in them. Right… We’re not ever talking about holding votes hostage. I will never in my life tell somebody not to vote. I spend far too much of my time trying to get people to vote; Trying to make sure the incarcerated people get the right to vote… We worked so hard to try to get 1.4 million Floridians back their right to vote. I literally every single day am working on trying to make sure that people, especially in the coronavirus, have access to the right to vote and don’t have to choose between their health and their vote. I’m never going to tell people not to vote. I think it’s deeply irresponsible and smart.
Nothing about us should ever be decided without us. If our right to vote did not matter, they would not be trying every single thing to steal it from us, would they?