Women Vote, Women Lead, Women Win

Highlighting the intersection of civil rights and workers’ rights throughout our nation’s history, Melanie L. Campbell, president, and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, spoke at AFSCME headquarters on Wednesday at an event celebrating Women’s History Month.

During a Facebook Live conversation, Campbell talked with AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride about rising levels of political engagement among women and the potential to create lasting change in our communities.

“We see AFSCME as part of the whole movement – for labor rights, for civil rights,” said Campbell. “We’re all one movement.”

The Mims, Florida, native was raised in a union household and continues to carry those values. Campbell watched her grandfather play an active role in his local carpenters’ union, while her mother, a public school teacher, was a member of the National Education Association. Her father was a fixture in the local civil rights community, fighting tirelessly for decent living conditions for migrant workers in Florida’s booming citrus groves.

Campbell described how she would soon discover her own passion for grassroots organizing while studying at Clark Atlanta University, after which she worked for the NAACP to increase voter registration within the black community. 

The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation is a nonpartisan civic engagement organization that works at the local, state and national levels to “make voting and civic participation a cultural responsibility and tradition,” according to its website.

The organization was founded 43 years ago as a partnership between the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Eleven years after the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, there were still 15 million unregistered black voters. Many black voters were still not fully engaging in the process. So, although all the organizations were doing powerful work separately, the idea of the national coalition came about with an eye toward creating a voter-registration campaign.

“AFSCME was right there as a part of the founding of the organization,” Campbell said. “The vision was initially about registering those voters – 1 million new voters – and then it evolved over time. … There was a need to have a permanent coalition to work on not just voter registration but the whole component of voter empowerment in the black community.”

In her role as convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR), Campbell brings together people of diverse races, ethnicities, and backgrounds to advocate for policies to empower women. Earlier this week, she spearheaded the eighth annual BWR summit in Washington, a five-day event that focused on engagement and organizing priorities such as race and gender equity, living wage jobs and leveraging the power of black women’s vote in 2020.

Campbell encouraged all women to pursue leadership roles wherever they find them. 

“There are no permanent wins,” she said. “Own that power for the good of everyone.”