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Black Women Voters Rally In Des Moines

Brandi Miller is pictured at an outdoor event wearing a mask that says "my vote matters."
Katarina Sostaric
Brandi Miller was lead coordinator for the Black Women Voters Rally Sunday in Des Moines.

With just over two weeks of voting left, Black women voters rallied Sunday in Des Moines at what organizers believe is likely the first such event in the area.

Brandi Miller, the lead coordinator for the Black Women Voters Rally, said it’s important to have an event focused on Black women because she feels they have been “muted.”

“When we share our concerns or frustrations, we get quieted down with, ‘well maybe it wasn’t like that,’ or there’s this disbelief in our voices,” Miller said. “And so having an event for us where we can come together and rally and support one another…We’re here to congregate together and say, ‘I believe you, sis. I support you, sis.’ So this is for us. To inspire us and to encourage us that our voices do matter.”

Miller said she is more involved in encouraging voter participation than ever before.

“Even though I’m disgusted by some of the things I’m seeing, it is inspiring us to move, and to be vocal, and to step up, and to rise up,” Miller said. “So sometimes the bad can turn to good because people get motivated to change something when bad things are going on.”

Speakers encouraged women at the rally to reach out and help others to vote—by educating them about the process and importance of voting, and even by giving someone a ride to the polls.

“The call to duty on us today and over the next 16 days is to not only participate in this election, but to bring others to the process,” said Deidre DeJear, a 2018 candidate for Iowa secretary of state.

DeJear said each of Iowa’s 2 million eligible voters should “use their voice via the ballot box” in this election.

Speakers also pointed to the fact that Black women tend to be very active voters, often turning out to vote at a rate higher than the national average.

“I wanted to sponsor this event because nationwide, we’re having conversations about the importance of Black women voters, but I haven’t really seen that conversation happening in Iowa,” said Reyma McCoy McDeid, who also leads the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living.

She said she wants to see everybody involved in the political process prioritize Black women voters.

“I was speaking with a campaign staffer a few years ago, and I was imploring them to reach out to Black women voters,” McCoy McDeid said. “And they said to me, ‘Well Black people are only 3.4 percent of the population in Iowa.’ And I said, ‘Well what’s the baseline percentage that we need to hit before our demographic matters to your campaign?’ And that’s what I tell everybody. When you talk about how every vote matters—okay, well let’s put those words into action.”

“We are one of the most sought-after voting blocs,” said Teresa Zilk. “And when we do vote, we go to the polls because we’re tired of police brutality, we want equitable housing, employment, health care, and we simply want the right to exist. We want to exist in peace.”

Several voters at Sunday’s rally said this election feels different.

“I feel like there’s a desperation going on right now,” Miller said. “Like people really see that there needs to be some sort of change going on in our system, in our government, with COVID and the racial tensions that’s going on, it’s just been a really difficult time.”

“Our lives are at stake right now,” said JoAnn Hughes of Des Moines. “That’s the way I feel.”

Hughes said she already voted, and she is trying to get as many people as she can to vote early, too.

Robin Calister said she’s excited to vote, and she plans to vote early.

“I feel like it is definitely a must that everyone come out and vote and get that orange person [President Trump] out of office, and I’m just going to keep nice today,” Calister said.

Dwana Bradley, owner of Iowa Urban Media and a Des Moines Public Schools board member, urged Black women to get involved in local politics and seek community leadership positions after they vote.

“We have a moment that I don’t think we’ll ever get again, if we don’t take the opportunity to seize it to make this world better for each and every one of us, but especially for Black people in America,” Bradley said. “This is our time.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter