Where you at, JESSICA??
Having spent nearly a decade working for and with Democratic candidates and progressive political organizations, Jessica Byrd knows the challenges we face in recruiting, electing and engaging a reflective Democracy. With 90% of elected political power currently held by white people in a country comprised of 37% people of color — we are overdue for a focused and intentional approach to changing the face of power.
#WeBuiltThis: How did you get involved in Black liberation work?
Jessica Byrd: I have been working on electoral campaigns since I was 17. My Mother was a poll worker in our neighborhood and taught me to ask questions of the system – who is missing, who is leading and why, how do we change it? Candidate campaigns were my first taste of how to work towards change, but my role in that has always included questioning who was at the table and how we create a system that affirms the lives of Black people.
“A day in which Black folks are free would be a day when our lives are fully invested in.”
WBT: How do you engage the electoral process in your work, and why do you find it important?
JB: I lead Three Point Strategies, a political consulting firm working at the intersections of social justice and electoral politics. I believe that electoral politics is one tool of many that we use to transform our communities. Running winning campaigns & recruiting candidates is the current skill I’m mastering, so that is my contribution to the movement. Electoral power is important because it creates a portal for deeper dialogue and action on our issues – it is a flawed system, but our work is incomplete without it.
This election cycle, I’ve been wearing several hats. I am currently Campaign Director for Democracy in Color, a campaign to hold Democratic campaigns accountable to its most base voters, voters of color. TPS is also working with radical people of color organizations to recruit candidates and train on voter mobilization called The Pathway Project. And the work that makes my heart beat fast is my work with Black women candidates – I’m working with several Black women candidates across the country and hopefully many more into 2017/2018 election cycle.
WBT: #WeBuiltThis believes in the idea of “payday” espoused by Malcolm X—a day in which Black folk can truly live free in a nation literally built on our backs. What does this day look like to you?
JB: Wow. That day includes waking up to Beyonce as President. I kid.
BYP100 (shout-out to an incredible organization) has been leading a campaign called Build Black Futures, intended to expose the ways that we overinvest in systems of policing and criminalization and underinvest in education, infrastructure and jobs. A day in which Black folks are free would be a day when our lives are fully invested in. And for me that means Black people holding elected offices, Black people as accountability activists, and Black people writing public policy.
WBT: Every day, we’re inundated with grisly footage and callous rhetoric reflecting that our lives and our bodies are detested by our country. How do you find joy amidst this?
JB: Black Feminists.
I am in deep, spiritual, loving community with Black women. We dance and laugh and cook and send epic group chats and make music videos and just listen to each other talk. They are my joy. I am whole because of my community.
WBT: What is something you want to express to people who criticize Black youth and our enthusiasm about or engagement of the election?
JB: Enough already with the lecturing. Yes, we should all vote, I agree 100%. But that’s not the full story of our capability to engage in the political system. We want you to tell the full story and expect more from us. We must reimagine civic engagement to include all of the ways that young Black people are engaging by asking questions, taking up space, & innovating new tools. If you disrespect our voices for a year only to show up in the final hour and demand that we do it your way – is that really engagement? And if your answer is yes, we’re already building without you.