With Kamala Harris becoming the first African American, Asian American, and female Vice President of the U.S., it is only appropriate to pay tribute to the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination — Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm was a trailblazing feminist who based her political career on creating safe spaces for marginalized people, especially Black women.
She first became involved in politics in 1953 when she joined an election group, the Belford-Stuyvesant Political League (BSPL), campaigning for racial justice in Brooklyn. She fought to allow women more power within the group but left the group after being met with resistance. Afterward, she joined various political groups — most of them predominantly white — such as the League of Women Voters and the Brooklyn Democratic Clubs. Like with BSPL, Chisholm championed diversity within these groups, encouraging more people of color to get involved in Brooklyn politics.
With her political repertoire, Chisholm sought to run for a seat in the New York State Legislature in 1964. She faced discrimination and resistance based on her gender but did not let that dissuade her. Instead, she used it to her advantage and appealed to women voters. Chisholm targeted women’s rights issues and used her feminist background as a springboard for her campaign. Her efforts were a success; she won the seat with 18,000 votes above any other candidate.
During her time in the New York State Assembly, she introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation — including extending unemployment benefits to domestic workers. She continued her efforts to create inclusive spaces by pushing for black representation on committees and providing underprivileged youth with opportunities to attend college.
In 1968, she ran for a seat in the New York 12th congressional district and won, thus becoming the first African-American congresswoman. As a congresswoman, she expanded the food stamp program and helped create a nutrition program for women and infants (WIC). She firmly supported increased spending on education and healthcare. During her time as a congresswoman, her entire staff was comprised of women.
Chisholm consistently fought for underrepresented groups: women, racial minorities, and people in poverty. When she ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972, she based her platform on inclusion. Her campaign slogan, “Unbought and Unbossed,” showcased her no-holds-barred attitude and her confidence in campaigning as her authentic self. She proudly portrayed her support for feminism through her campaign materials, including a poster of the female symbol encircling her face and a button proclaiming she belongs to the “Feminist Party.” Even though her opponent received more delegates than she did, Chisholm still succeeded in her goal of bringing racial and gender equality rights to a national level.
Today, we can and should thank Shirley Chisholm for paving the way for women and minorities in the political hemisphere. Thanks to efforts from individuals like her, marginalized people are occupying more spaces in politics. Just like her catchphrase during her presidential campaign, she was an important “catalyst for change” in U.S. politics.