I have been amazed by the record-breaking participation by women in races at all levels across the country this midterm season. Now more than ever, women are poised to disrupt local, state, and federal elections and reach an all-time high of representation in elected office. As we celebrate these incredible achievements, it is important to remember and honor the sacrifices of our foremothers who paved the way for women today. Women like Shirley Chisholm, the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
A former educator, Shirley Chisholm worked her way up from State Legislator in New York to Member of the U.S. House of Representatives to Presidential Primary Candidate. Shirley Chisholm truly practiced what she preached. During her seven terms in Congress, Chisholm hired an all-female staff, half of whom were Black women. While serving in Congress she supported civil rights, women’s rights, social welfare programs and spoke out against the Vietnam War. She worked hard to support women’s rights to choose during pregnancy and sought to uplift women, especially Black women, up from restrictive gendered roles.
Chisholm started her Presidential campaign in 1972 and ran on a progressive platform that centered on prison reform, gun control, police brutality, and civil rights. It was an uphill battle, and despite her years of service to feminism and civil rights movement, she found little political support from white women or Black men. Many people were uncomfortable with the idea of supporting a Black woman candidate and her campaign was marred by racism and sexism. Despite these challenges, Chisholm did not let it dissuade her. While she would ultimately lose the election, she still garnered 152 delegates before withdrawing from the race. Chisholm continued to fight for equal rights in the House until her retirement in 1982.
Shirley Chisholm broke down racial and gender barriers in American politics and serves as an inspiration to the thousands of women running for office this year. Chisholm’s achievements were historic and paved the way for more people living at the intersections of several identities to find the courage to run for office. She is emblematic of the power that can be found in giving a voice to a diversity of people. We can honor Chisholm’s memory this election season by exercising our right to vote and supporting progressive candidates who, like Chisholm, want to create a better future by empowering women, people of color, LGBTQ people, low-income people, and immigrants.