Oprah Winfrey is all the talk this week after her powerful and moving Golden Globes speech. To many, it served as a rallying call for change in culture, power, and male oppression over women’s bodies.
For others, it read as something more—a 2020 presidential election run. There were immediate mixed reactions, with many being ecstatic about the idea of an Oprah run.
Others, however, were not so happy.
In an anti-black society, it can be disappointing to see people work within the same systems that tend to oppress them. Regardless, it’s clear that Oprah is qualified whether she’s previously been elected to office or not.
Nonetheless, there are a host of Black women who we may also want to pay attention to—who understand the political and policy landscape—and who we should not immediately leap over to reach Oprah.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA-43), often referred to as “Auntie Maxine,” does something different than many in her position of celebrity in the public domain: she listens to younger, progressive voices in shifting conversations, shaping culture, and amplifying policy concerns.
Not only does Waters continuously call out the Trump administration and their white supremacist programs and policies, she has served in the U.S. Congress since 1991 and is one of its loudest voices. Waters is pro racial justice, gender and LGBTQ equity, and believes in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all people and women and girls, in particular. We deserve that type of leadership.
And the beauty is we already have a campaign slogan for Waters: “Reclaiming My Time!”
Waters is still Black, still woman and still bold. She once said, “Let me just say this: I’m a strong Black woman and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O’Reilly or anybody.” She has the energy and spirit that we need, and unlike her feelings about former FBI Director James Comey, she has all of the credibility.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) is one of my personal sheroes. She has consistently voiced concerns for how the U.S. government is helping people who are living with HIV. Not only that, but Lee has gone many steps farther by even continually proposing legislation to enact a federal prohibition on HIV criminalization laws.
For context, Black Americans have disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic’s beginning, and that gross disparity has only deepened over time. For example, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, “Blacks account for more new HIV diagnoses (44 percent), people estimated to be living with HIV disease (40 percent), and HIV-related deaths (44 percent) than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S.” Lee did not turn her back on these communities and instead fought even harder to ensure that discrimination would not ensue because of a medical status.
While other public officials are turning their backs on people outside of the margins, Lee has never been that person. We deserve a president who will tackle these issues head-on because of the impact it has on marginalized people.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) seems to be the Democratic Party’s golden child. Just this week, she became one of two Black people—the other being Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—selected for the Senate Judiciary Committee this century. This Committee is arguably one of the most important in Congress, which is an incredible feat for civil rights.
In her career, she has made many important decisions: refusing to defend on same-sex marriage in California, refused to seek the death penalty against someone who killed a police officer, successfully sued for-profit colleges for misleading students; and increased transparency on in-custody deaths.
To be clear, Harris isn’t a perfect candidate, with a history of often being too tough on crime. During her time as a prosecutor, Harris helped to triple the amount of misdemeanor cases sent to trial and prosecuted the parents of truant children, which helped slash the truancy rate by 23 percent.
Nonetheless, it’s obvious that she is a viable option to run for president and that, with the right team and less status quo, could be a reasonable pick.
As an Ohioan, it always brings me joy to see former Ohio state senator Nina Turner. She’s a spitfire who often disrupts the status quo and ideas of the “establishment.”
During the 2016 election, Turner publicly criticized the Democratic Party and explained why she supported then-candidate Bernie Sanders for president over Hillary Clinton. Though we didn’t share the same level of excitement, Sander’s understanding of race, economics, and electoral strategies fascinated me and made me realize she centered people of color in her analysis.
She is who we may need to lead the country.
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11) doesn’t often get the respect she deserves. In 2016, she stepped into an unexpected role as Chair of the Democratic National Convention, and made it her business to open the official procedures with a level of command and respect. Even though Fudge may appear new to the national arena, she is no stranger to being a lifelong servant.
According to NBC News, “She served as the first African American and the first female Mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio from 2000 to 2008 and before that she was a prosecutor. Fudge was the President of one of the oldest African American sororities, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, from 1996 to 2000. In 2008, after the sudden death of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Fudge was elected to Congress and in 2013 she was elected Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.”
She has unapologetically spoken up for food assistance, poverty, school diversity, and safe drinking water. Fudge shows us what it’s like being thrust into a position of power and being accountable, fair, and loving Black people in the process. That’s exactly what this country needs.
But don’t count Oprah out
In “Why I don’t want another Black president,” Hari Ziyad rightfully stated, “Rather than a sustained and necessary critique of the anti-Black state, Black people are encouraged to defend the president’s shortcomings [when they are Black].” That said, it sure does feel good to imagine another Black person running for and winning arguably the most important position in the world.
Realistically, Oprah could have a successful run as president—she has a strong base, political capital, and an important story to tell. Despite her telling the Hollywood Reporter that she would never consider public office, a new poll from Rasmussen finds Oprah Winfrey beating President Trump by 10 points in a hypothetical 2020 matchup.
Forty-eight percent of respondents said they would vote for Winfrey, compared with 38 percent who said they would vote to reelect Trump. Fourteen percent were undecided.
But even if we don’t consider Oprah being a plausible selection, rest assured there are a number of Black women that understand the political landscape enough to lead us to a 2020 victory, should they choose to do so. We should also look to many Black women in state office should they choose to run.
That is, if we ever bothered to listen outside of our own selfish wins.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with theGrio and has written for the Atlantic, Slate, Think Progress, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, The Root and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.