Illinois state Rep. Litesa Wallace doesn’t mince words when she addresses the reason holding women of color from running for office: Money.
“There’s an economic challenge for women of color to enter into politics,” she told Refinery29. “We need the economic policies that will help bring us parity. But because we often run under the existing policies, there’s very few us who are able to break those barriers and become lawmakers.”
Wallace is straightforward when she talks about how obstacles such as the gender and racial wage gap, the lack of policies supporting working caretakers, and good ol’ discrimination impact the pockets of women of color. In return, she said, they find themselves at a disadvantage if they want to seek elected office.
“It takes us a lot of time and a lot of resources to be a successful candidate,” she said. “It’s very challenging to take on running for office when your own personal finances are very limited, and they are limited because of policies that have allowed race and gender disparities to exist.”
Wallace is an outspoken progressive. She’s currently running for lieutenant governor of Illinois, sharing the ballot with gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss. If the duo wins, she would be the first Black woman elected to statewide office and the first Black lieutenant governor in the history of the state. But as passionate as Wallace comes across, the reality is that this lawmaker didn’t originally set out to be in politics.
In fact, her heart was elsewhere just seven years ago: Wallace had always wanted to combine human services and higher education — which is why she had pursued several graduate degrees. While looking for a part-time job that would give her the flexibility to write her dissertation in 2011, she was hired by state Rep. Chuck Jefferson in the 67th District. She graduated in 2013 and started to look for a job that would allow her to pursue the path she always wanted.
But then, Jefferson retired in 2014 and Wallace realized that it was important for someone like her — a single Black mother, a domestic violence survivor, someone who as a graduate student had relied on the state’s childcare assistance program — to have a seat at the table. She applied to be Jefferson’s replacement and ended up being appointed to finish his term. Since then, she’s been elected to the seat twice.
“I learned along the way with him and other lawmakers just how important it is advocating for policy for people who don’t have access to policy makers, for communities like my own that are marginalized. Because we’re not voiceless — we’re silenced,” she said.
Biss and Wallace’s platform embodies the idea of amplifying the voices of people without a seat at the table: They’re championing policies such as universal childcare and healthcare, paid family leave, expanding voting rights, reforming the property tax system, and fixing the Illinois’ school funding system. Of course, their progressive values show a shift in the …read more