Executive Director of BlackPAC and the affiliated nonpartisan Black Progressive Action Coalition
Adrianne Shropshire is executive director of BlackPAC, an independent, Black-led organization that engages Black voters to become politically active in order to change economic, justice, and political systems. With grassroots efforts and meaningful conversations, Black PAC centers and empowers voters to hold elected officials accountable. Shropshire’s political activism began as a student at the University of Southern California, where she began community organizing. After graduation, she worked for city council member Mark Ridley-Thomas in Los Angeles. It was during this time that the police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots began. This event was a turning point in Shropshire’s career, and she realized then that she wanted to be on the ground and in communities to affect change. Today, she works to mobilize Black democrats to vote and make sure Black people understand how important their voices are in political processes.
When did you first become interested in politics?
I grew up in the 70s and 80s so politics was never too far away from any conversation. Whether it was Black power, Reagan, or the air traffic controller’s strike someone always had an opinion about American politics at the cookout. But when I graduated from USC, I worked for a progressive city councilman who represented South Los Angeles and that was my first formal “job” in politics.
And then in April of 1992, the Rodney King verdicts came out. The uprising that followed was a reckoning, not just around the always present threat of police violence in our community but decades of neglect and disinvestment in communities like South Central. I went on to become a community organizer helping to organize and rebuild my community. In that work, I was reminded day after day of the importance of building grassroots power and having vehicles, organizations that make real the idea of democratic participation by bringing people together for collective action to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them.
What led you to found BlackPAC?
Like our community activism, our political activism also needs a home. Sometimes those can be the same thing but our country often bifurcates the social action required for policy change and the electoral engagement that’s necessary to put people in office to carry out the communities interests. Politics goes beyond the act of casting a ballot. It requires ongoing engagement by our community and our organizations. If we want to see progress on economic, social and racial justice it’s going to take continued, year-round organizing and mobilization. Politics for me is about constant civic education, sustained engagement, and a commitment to using that political power not just on election day but in the days and months after when decisions are being made in the halls of power.
BlackPAC was founded to be a home for Black people’s sustained political engagement, to connect that work across state lines and to center Black voters, our concerns, and our values. We’re working to both elect the right people and hold leaders accountable to the communities that elected them.
We do this work by engaging with voters or soon-to-be voters at their doors, online, on the phone and in mailboxes 365 days a year. The scale of that work may ebb and flow with the rhythms of electoral cycles but sustaining and expanding our base of voters, informing voters and building a common analysis, and developing strategies for collective action is what defines the work.
What obstacles did you encounter along the way?
The Democratic Party and donors have long understood that Black voters are essential to winning elections, but they do not always invest in ways that suggest that they understand the necessity of sustained engagement with Black communities both in and outside of election cycles. That younger Black voters continue to identify less and less as Democrats is a result of this sporadic engagement. But the loss of the 2016 presidential election was a real wake-up call and the subsequent Democratic victories, from Doug Jones in Alabama to the 2018 midterms to narrow Governor wins in 2019, demonstrated that serious engagement with Black voters isn’t optional, it’s required to win elections. Not learning political lessons and making strategic adjustments based on those learnings is a huge obstacle.
What has been your experience leading the charge as a Black woman in this space?
Being one of the few Black women in any industry has its share of challenges and politics is no different. Oftentimes when I walk into a room or join a Zoom call, I find that I am the only Black person in the room. We cannot build a multiracial democracy grounded in justice and equality if the architects of that democracy continue to not reflect its populous. The make-up of committees, operatives, consultants, and vendors has to evolve if we are going to put in place the right building blocks for a more equitable future. The work toward diversity, equity, and inclusion does not just live in the corporate sector.
What is one of the most rewarding successes you’ve had in a community grassroots effort?
The Black progressive coalition’s organizing efforts in the Trump era have yielded extraordinary results across the U.S. From flipping the Alabama Senate seat and Virginia’s governor’s mansion in 2017, to the blue wave in 2018 that ushered in record numbers of people of color into elected office, to the organizing work of our partners who held down wins in Kentucky and Louisiana and flipped the VA legislature in 2019, I’m incredibly proud of our work and the work of our partners.
But last year BlackPAC also launched Black Citizenship in Action, a civic education program that borrows from the citizenship schools of our foreparents, that brings together Black organizers and activist from across the country to study and learn from our history and collectively build a vision and path to our future. While we were able to be in person, before the pandemic, these workshops were the most amazing experiences for folks from Nashville to Dallas to Detroit. And even when we were all forced online we were able to keep that same energy and excitement for collective learning and community building. This is the work that will sustain us and push us forward.
What’s your advice to young women who want to pursue a career in political activism?
We stand on the shoulders of giants. From Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm and Ida B. Wells, to Karen Bass. These women have shaped our democracy in ways that we do not always fully appreciate. To those women who are looking to get into politics, my recommendation is to be clear about the role of politics in our society and make sure that it aligns with the contribution that you want to make. There are many paths to social change and it’s important to make sure that you are on the right one for you. Shiny objects are not always what they appear to be. Find a mentor if you can but practice self-care every single day.
What keeps you hopeful about the future of our nation?
The resilience, courage, and joy of our people inspires me every day. This nation is experiencing fear, division and racism in myriad ways. Black people in particular are dealing with a three-pronged crisis of an economic recession, a pandemic that is devastating our community, and systemic racism from the ballot box to police departments. And this year, we are already taking that experience and devotion to ourselves and a better future for our children to the polls. We keep showing up, we keep delivering, and we keep fighting no matter what is thrown our way. I remain grounded in faith and hope and will continue to forever lean on the wisdom of our ancestors.