Sen. Kamala Harris spent her Election Day traveling the country on a last-effort campaign trail as the 2020 presidential election still hangs in the balance. Back at her alma mater, her “family” gathered to support her as she waited out the moments that could see her make history as the first African American and South Asian woman in the Oval Office.
Harris’ sisters from the spring ’86 line of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., met on The Yard at Howard University. Wearing their pearls and sorority shields, the AKAs posed by their sorority plot. The collective signed a commemorative poster, recognizing Harris for her achievements and contributions to the United States and to the Black community.
“Senator Harris is an example, hopefully, not just to young women of color but to young women in general,” said Dr. Elaine Witter, Harris’ classmate and line sister.
Harris has received an outpouring of support from Black Greek-letter organizations ever since Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected her as his running mate. Members of the Divine 9 organizations — Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. — have been seen “strolling to the polls.”
“Never in a million years would I have ever thought that this would be a banner, a flagship for voting,” Maisha Land, founder of the “Stroll to the Polls” movement, told 11Alive in Atlanta. “We can get the job done, and it shows that black women are always engaged. That culminates into something fantastic for our country, for our families, for our communities.” She went on to say that the success of the campaign shows the unity among Greek organizations.
Though they have not officially endorsed Harris, leaders of Black organizations have cheered her on as a Black woman, an HBCU alumna and a member of a Black Greek organization. They are quite aware that a win for Harris would signify the lasting political influence that Black institutions, history and culture can have.
“People are going to be excited again,” said Alpha Phi Alpha member Adisa Aarons of Columbus, Ohio. “They know when they bring their issues to the table, their concerns are actually going to be heard — not just a photo opportunity.”
“Having a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha at the table will be a wonderful thing. For when there are issues HBCUs or the black community are having, we have someone who can speak on our behalf.”
Since being announced candidate for vice president, the California senator has had a powerful network of people supporting her. During the course of the election, she has received negative commentary from the president calling her “mean” and “nasty.” Her supporters, including a collective made up of the four D9 sorority presidents and women civic organization leaders penned an open letter to Harris on Oct. 9, to remind her, “We got your back!”
“We are raising our collective 5 million voices to uplift and encourage you,” the letter said. “The strength and power you represent put fear in some. When you are demeaned and disrespected, all African American women are demeaned and disrespected. We will not let this continue without a response,”
Over the past few months, Harris has held several “Get-Out-the-Vote” events, encouraging eligible voters to go to the polls and exercise their rights. At each of these events, members of Divine 9 organizations made their presence known.
They wore paraphernalia, did their respective organizations’ calls and, in the case of the AKAs, held up pink and green signs in support of their sister. While the organizations are nonpartisan, their rank-and-file members stepped up nationwide to help with voter mobilization and outreach. Members report driving voters to the polls, passing out water on Election Day and hosting voter informationals.
The Divine 9 has launched several major campaigns for this election and set major financial goals. After Harris joined Biden’s campaign, the Democratic National Committee began receiving $19.08 donations as a tribute to the year Harris’ sorority was founded. The DNC has received over 14,408 donations in that amount. The Divine 9 has also called for their members who are lawyers to volunteer for the National Bar Association’s election protection initiative. This will protect voters whose registrations have been changed, voters who have been told that their ballots are invalid and voters who are still waiting in line when the polls close.
Each organization has its own national efforts to increase voter turnout. Members of Kappa Alpha Psi have been working alongside Alpha Kappa Alpha with former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” initiative to ensure communities of color are prepared for the election. The local Silver Spring alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi has been going to Philadelphia to register people and spent Election Day handing out water to voters waiting in line. Members of Delta Sigma Theta have held several events to encourage voter participation such as community issues and candidate forums, voter protection events, and voter education and mobilization events.
“I’ve been passionate about connecting and wanted to do a little bit more than just voter registration. A lot of people don’t realize there are a lot of things you can do virtually,” says AKA graduate member Sonica Dixon of Westchester, New York. “We held a voter education workshop that helped individuals learn that the homeless vote counts.” The workshop also informed participants about how those with criminal records could have their voting rights restored as well as the do’s and don’ts of in-person voting.
Members of Greek organizations at Howard University have been reaching out to their community of voters as well. The National Pan-Hellenic Council posted campaigns that informed students of the important reasons to utilize their voting power. Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Delta Sigma Theta and Harris’ initiating AKA chapter have been posting a series of graphics about the voting process and basic rights.
Biden stated that if he won the election, he would create a Divine 9 section in his White House outreach office. This office is responsible for providing the president and senior staff with information about the political climate that will help them construct outreach efforts. If Divine 9 organizations are given this opportunity, they will be able to ensure that issues specific to the Black community are being discussed in the White House and work toward solutions.
Divine 9 organizations have seized this moment to make their impact on the nation. Vice presidential candidate Harris has given her fellow Black Greek organizations a platform to showcase their community ties, showcase HBCU pride, encourage voter participation and illustrate what it really means to be a member of a Black Greek organization.
Jordyn Fields and Sarah Jones-Smith are reporters for the Howard University News Service.