We Must Fight For Women of Color Who Fight For Us

we must fight for women of color who fight for us like Kristen Clarke and Vanita Gupta.
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People For The American Way president, Ben Jealous we must fight for women of color who fight for us like Kristen Clarke (on right) and Vanita Gupta.

President Joe Biden has nominated extraordinary women of color to high-level jobs in the Biden-Harris administration. Many of them are being attacked and smeared by the far right. That’s why People For the American Way has launched the #HerFightOurFight campaign.

We cannot let far-right forces silence and smear these trailblazing women who are eager to advance the progressive values that Americans voted for when we put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House. Our first ad tells the story of Vanita Gupta, who has been nominated for associate attorney general.

Gupta was a young civil rights lawyer in her first job after law school when she heard about a gross injustice in the small town of Tulia, Texas. Almost 40 people—nearly all of them Black—had been wrongly arrested, convicted by all-white juries, and jailed on bogus drug charges. It was a big percentage of the Black community in that town. It was devastating to the individuals and their families. And they saw little chance to get justice.

But then Gupta, who was working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, took up their cause. She exposed the injustice and won their freedom. She even got them pardons from a Republican governor.

Gupta has been fighting for equal justice ever since. She led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for part of the Obama administration. And for the last few years she has led the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. But right-wing groups are running a more than million-dollar ad campaign to smear her. And unprincipled politicians like Ted Cruz are attacking her over her civil rights work in the Obama administration.

Our #HerFightOurFight ad is narrated by Shirley Sherrod, a former government official who lived through a dishonest smear campaign that twisted and distorted her words to try to destroy her career. She sees the same thing happening to Gupta and other brilliant women of color, and she’s speaking out.

It is important to defend women like Vanita Gupta who are being unfairly attacked. But this campaign is about more than these specific women. It is about all of us. These women are ready to make change happen—the change we voted for. They represent the kind of inclusive multiracial and multiethnic society we are building together—and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to building one of the most diverse governing teams in our nation’s history.

I am sad to say it is not surprising that many of Biden’s nominees are being attacked by people who see that vision of our future as a threat. It is not surprising that the descendants of the Jim Crow south whose power is threatened by people of color turning out to vote are passing new laws to try to stop us. It is not surprising to see racism and sexism used as a political weapon.

We know that progress is often met with backlash. Our long march toward justice has sometimes been beaten back temporarily—on the blood-stained Edmund Pettus Bridge, in courtrooms where whiteness trumped justice, in state legislatures where the Constitution’s promise of equal justice was repeatedly betrayed, and in the U.S. Senate, where the filibuster was used to delay passage of civil rights laws.

Time and again, we have overcome, often led by courageous Black women and other women of color whose leadership was frequently overlooked and overshadowed.

Today, we fight for Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, a brilliant Black woman nominated to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and other brilliant women who are ready to help President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris fight for a country that comes closer to meeting our ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity for all. #HerFightOurFight.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.

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